Iconic Tech Innovations That Are Already Obsolete

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Artefact Group/Flickr

Technology is always improving upon itself, but that doesn’t mean that newer is necessarily better. While there’s no denying that our lives are better with smart phones and streaming services, there are some outdated technological advancements that still have their uses. And even when they don’t, sometimes we just love what we grew up with.

These technologies have fallen by the wayside, but they haven’t left the hearts and minds of many of the people who used them.

Typewriter

The first typewriters weren't commercially available until 1874, but by the 1880s, they were commonplace in offices. For nearly 100 years, typewriters became more advanced by gaining the ability to backspace, automatically enter a new line and other features.

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Photo Courtesy: Macfadden Publications/Wikimedia Commons

Today, some parts of the world that experience regular power outages, including some towns in India, still use typewriters regularly. We can also credit the typewriter for the QWERTY setup of modern computer keyboards. While they may no longer be current, the sale of typewriters in antique stores across the country suggests they still have their allure.

Motion Pictures

Movies today actually aren’t "movies" at all. While digital video reigns supreme today, films — another term that’s no longer accurate — used to be made by placing images in sequential order and moving them in rapid sequence on a reel. One of the most famous examples involves a running horse.

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Photo Courtesy: pingnews.com/Flickr

Over the years, motion pictures became more complex, adding color, sound and practical effects to tell a narrative story. While it now takes minutes to string sequences together that used to take hours of developing and cutting the film, the vast majority of classic movies were originally shot on actual film, and they’ll always have a special appeal.

Thomas Guide

Thomas Guide atlases and maps date back to 1915 and made navigating a world newly connected by automobiles manageable. While the company was in decline by the 90s, the idea of traveling American in a classic car with only a map to guide you still persists in the nation’s collective imagination.

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Photo Courtesy: Powerhouse Museum/Flickr

GPS technology obviously made paper maps and atlases redundant for casual motorists, they’re still fascinating in their own right. Exploring the open road with nothing but paper has a sense of romance to it that a GPS never will.

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Commercial Mobile Phone

We can credit the development of mobile telephones to World War II. The military's use of radiotelephony with hand-held receivers paved the way for a communications boom in the late 1940s. Following the war, Bell Labs created a system for users to make and receive phone calls from their cars.

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Photo Courtesy: abaporu/Flickr

Even though they experienced limited coverage with spotty service, mobile phone use continued to evolve. The technology wasn't practical until the 1990s. While those clunky cell phones of yesteryear may seem hilariously impractical today, they once represented the result of 50 years of mobile telephone innovation.

Cinerama

Before IMAX and 3D movies, the latest technology to improve the moviegoing experience was Cinerama. After television became more prominent in the 1950s, theaters needed something to entice viewers out of their homes. Movie theaters incorporated expanded screens to set them apart from the home viewing experience.

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Photo Courtesy: Herbert Behrens/Wikimedia Commons

Cinerama projected images from three different projectors while using a curved screen to bring the audience closer to the action. In addition to the visual enhancements, Cinerama introduced a seven-track audio system that became the first attempt at the surround sound experience everyone knows and loves today.

Overhead Projector in Education

Blackboards were essential in schoolhouses across the world for over one hundred years, but the amount of time it took to write out each lesson cost teachers valuable time during a typical school day.

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Photo Courtesy: Gawler History/Flickr

Overhead projectors allowed teachers to pre-prepare lessons and involve more interactive instruction. Even many millenials remember seeing an Elmo projector in every classroom. Pre-printed plastic sheets significantly improved the teacher's ability to implement differentiated instruction. Now that projected computer screens have taken over, the overhead projector is all but obsolete.

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Cassette Tapes

The advent of cassette players made music more accessible. The technology was created for dictation machines, but they became more and more able to clearly record sound, the music industry adopted the technology for mass music production.

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Photo Courtesy: shankar s./Flickr

Cassette tapes allowed individual users to create compilations of their favorite music without having to change records regularly. While they may be outdated now, their cultural footprint remains with us. Amateur musicians and romantics continued to make mixtapes even after the tapes themselves were gone, first with CDs and now as digital playlists.

Atari

Atari brought the arcade experience into the living room with the first mass-produced video game console in the early 1980s. Suddenly, friends could challenge each other to a game of pong without the embarrassment of playing in public.

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Photo Courtesy: Kevin Savetz/Flickr

For most of the 1980s, the Atari Corporation dominated the home entertainment market. Atari was the last American-made video game console produced in the United States until Microsoft came along with the Xbox, and the games live on in the minds of Gen Xers everywhere.

CGI in Movies

The first film to utilize computer-generated imagery (CGI) was Michael Crichton's 1973 science-fiction Western, Westworld. Ironically, CGI's contemporary use, and far more convincing, was in a 1993 movie based on another work of Crichton's, Jurassic Park.

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Photo Courtesy: Vancouver Film School/Flickr

While CGI is by no means obsolete today, it’s come a long way. The once cutting-edge effects of early CGI films like Tron can seem silly to modern viewers, yet those same movies capture a sense of wonder about the technology that is now sometimes lost.

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Betamax

Betamax was a Japanese technology that brought video recording directly to consumers. Betacam was also prominently used in broadcast news as an easy way to edit footage onsite for up-to-the-moment reporting. Before the VCR, most home video entertainment came from Betamax technology.

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Photo Courtesy: Luis Villa/Wikimedia Commons

When Sony introduced Betamax to the United States, it had many legal implications for recording and copying video following the U.S. Supreme Court case Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios in 1984. The example set a precedent for modern-day infringement cases. Betamax ultimately lost in a technological duel with VHS, but not before changing history.

Calculator Watch

The first calculators that could fit in a pocket came to market in the 1970s following the invention of the first microprocessor. Math nerds rejoiced at the ease with which they could perform complex calculations.

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Although sales struggled initially due to their cost, they soared in the mid-1980s with the advent of mass production. By the time PDAs and cheap mobile phones were readily available, however, calculator watches were already gone. They are now considered a highly valuable collector's item.

LaserDisc

Most people only remember LaserDisc technology from science class. Introduced in 1978, LaserDisc players were costly. Most schools could purchase only one player that was shared throughout the campus. However, they came with unrivaled image and audio quality that pushed the boundaries of video technology at the time.

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The predecessor to the DVD was the size of a 78 RPM vinyl record. Surprisingly, it became available only two years after the VHS cornered the home video market. While LaserDiscs remained popular in Japan and much of East Asia into the 90s, it never had the chance to take off in North America.

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Sony Walkman

The Sony Walkman changed the way we listened to music, as well as where. Taking music on the go is something people take for granted today, but before the Walkman, they either had to listen to cassette tapes at home or lug around a Boombox.

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The Walkman put music inside people’s very pockets, improved the way they exercised and offered a new sense of privacy while enjoying music. By the early 1980s, the Walkman was a global phenomenon. While it may not be around today, it was truly a global phenomenon.

CDs

It seems compact discs came and went in the blink of an eye. Initially developed for audio, CDs brought music from analog to the digital realm. Gone were the days of fast-forwarding cassette tapes to find the next song. CDs also became a prominent method to store data.

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CDs lasted throughout the 1980s and 1990s until Apple developed the iPod. While they always problems with durability, CDs nevertheless began the age of digital music we continue to live in today.

Nintendo Entertainment System

The Nintendo company started out in the late 1880s by selling playing cards. They branched out as a toy company in 1966 before focusing on electronics in the mid-1970s. After a few models went into production, the modern Nintendo Entertainment System was launched in Japan in 1983 before coming to the United States in 1985.

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Even thinking of Nintendo can force us to think of the famous Super Mario Bros. theme song. It's still one of the best-selling video games in history. The console dominated the market for years to come, and while it may no longer be top of the line, it remains popular enough that Nintendo sells modern versions of the old console.

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Sega Genesis

By the time Sega released its console in 1989, Nintendo was making its third Super Mario Bros. game. The 16-bit video game console offered better graphics and performance than the already-aging Nintendo, but the Sega Genesis was too expensive for most consumers.

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In the mid-1990s, Sega replaced it's bundled package with Sonic the Hedgehog, and sales skyrocketed. Nintendo had just introduced the Super NES, but Sega captured over 60 percent of the market with more game options and a lower price point. The fact that a Sonic movie came out nearly 30 years later says everything you need to know about the success of the console.

Game Boy

With sales of the Super NES dwindling, Nintendo needed an answer to the Sega Genesis, which was dominating the video game market internationally. Although it only offered 8-bit games, the Game Boy became the first handheld option for those wishing to play their favorite Nintendo games on the go. Over one million units sold within the first few weeks.

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Eventually, the manufacturer improved on the technology with the Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Light. Even as generations of newer games have surpassed it, the original green-hued dot-matrix display with hundreds of gaming options can still trigger nostalgia.

Commercial GPS

Life before GPS technology involved a lot more cartography and memorization. The technology revolutionized how people navigate through cities and rural areas alike, but that doesn’t mean it was always the same as it is today.

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Photo Courtesy: Meadowatch Plot 5/Wikimedia Commons

The original global positioning system was only for military and later commercial air use. Even when it was first made available to the public, however, it was much less accurate than what we have today — not because the technology was worse, but out of fear that foreign nations would use the system against America. In 2000, however, the United States reversed course and unleashed the full power of GPS, and entire industries were born.

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Beepers

Initially developed in the 1950s, pagers — aka beepers — became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Most consumers purchased one-way pagers as a way to receive important messages. Eventually, two-way pagers allowed replies from the same device. Users even developed codes to communicate as an early form of text messaging.

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Photo Courtesy: Senior Airman Andrew Lee/U.S. Air Force

Today, the only people who still use pagers regularly are doctors. We still see the same technology used by restaurants to let patrons know their table is ready. As soon as companies introduced cellular telephone technology, pagers became practically obsolete.

Apple Newton PDA

The PDA, or personal digital assistant, was introduced by Apple in 1993. It was the first device to recognize handwriting and translate it into digital text. The Apple Newton PDA only lasted in production for about five years before being discontinued.

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Although the Apple Newton PDA boasted a high price and experienced multiple technological issues, it paved the way for similar future devices. Other telecommunications companies used the PDA as an example for the future development of smartphones.

Virtual Boy

The video game console wars of the 1990s exploded with companies trying to outdo one another with graphics and gameplay. Nintendo was ahead of its time when it introduced the Virtual Boy. The 32-bit portable game console included a headset and stereoscopic 3D graphics.

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Unlike the more detailed VR displays offered today, the visuals for the Virtual Boy only portrayed an illusion of a third dimension. The Virtual Boy was not as well-known as its predecessors, and it became one of Nintendo's biggest failures. However, collectors today can purchase one for as little as $230.00, and they provided an immersive experience decades before anything else like them came along.

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DVDs

Much like compact discs before them, digital versatile discs provided better quality and more storage space, leading to a new boom in video technology. When they came out, people flocked to Circuit City and Best Buy to purchase duplicate versions of movies they’d already purchased on VHS, only now as special edition director's cuts with deleted scenes and more.

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Photo Courtesy: Senior Airman Natasha E. Stannard/Fairchild Air Force Base

Like CDs, DVDs have almost become an obsolete platform with Blu-ray and digital download overtaking them. Within the last five years, DVD and CD sales have decreased by 50 percent. However, they remain an important part of the digital revolution.

MP3 Player

The almighty MP3 changed the music industry forever. Record companies started to scramble when people realized they could download a song for free on Napster instead of purchasing a physical copy from a record store. Although the audio file types did have its competitors, the compacted MP3 became one of the most widely used.

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Photo Courtesy: Petty Officer 1st Class Peter D. Lawlor/U.S. DOD

What once required one or multiple cassette tapes to listen to a variety of music, now needed hard drive space and minimum processing speed. Streaming services have mostly replaced the iPod, but MP3s still see use because of their ability to give ownership of music directly to consumers.

Sega Dreamcast

After digital discs took over music and film, it was time for the video game industry to change. Before Playstation and Xbox took over the billion-dollar market, Sega introduced the Sega Dreamcast. It served as a bridge between older consoles like the NES and all the boom in gaming that was soon to follow.

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While it would be an understatement to say that sales projections were underwhelming, the console added an innovative perspective to first-person gameplay. It was also the first console to connect us to the internet.

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Segways

Segways are like the Nickelback of the transportation industry. Everyone makes fun of them, but there's a small subsection of people who secretly call themselves fans. And now they are just right for a meme or brief mention in a movie.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter Griffin/needpix

It's hard to tell if sales spiked when former President George W. Bush misjudged the Segway's power without a spotter. Even so, Segways were the forerunners of a new boom in cheap, individual electric transportation, and some major U.S. cities offer tours where you can ride one of these vehicles of a future that almost came.

DIVX

Not to be confused with DivX, a digital video codec product brand, DIVX was offered by the now-defunct Circuit City as a video rental platform in an attempt to take over Blockbuster before Netflix came around. The format was similar to Redbox in that renters received a physical copy of a movie disc.

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Photo Courtesy: Ken Wilcox/Flickr

The difference was that the disc only worked for up to 48 hours unless you paid an additional charge. The player connected to a modem so that viewings could be monitored and re-charged. Most large studios and film companies denounced the service, and the cost far outweighed the profits. Even so, DIVX foreshadowed the arrival of both Netflix and Amazon video rentals.

Myspace

Myspace was where we could get together online and argue about politics before Facebook came around. The loose coding standards allowed users to have almost full control of the content of their Myspace pages. Unfortunately, most people didn't know HTML, so people were stuck listening to multiple instances of "...Baby One More Time" all at the same time.

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Myspace launched the career of Tila Tequila and started the influencer industry. Thankfully, the internet is a lot tamer. While it may be a millennial memory now, it showed the world what was to come in the social media revolution.

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Amazon Kindle

Initially called "Cadabra," the Kindle had its name changed by Jeff Bezos after his lawyer misheard it as "cadaver." It was the iPod of books; suddenly, dozens of books could be at your fingertips all at once.

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The end of Kindle’s rise came when the iPad cut into its sales and other technologies offered the same digital reading experience while performing other services as well. Even so, the Kindle brand still thrives as a book-reading app, and it paved the way for a new era of digital books.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Just when everyone thought that Apple had cornered the smartphone market, Samsung offered its Android-based Galaxy Note series. There were multiple models, including the Samsung Galaxy Note, which offered bigger screens and a stylus. The Samsung Galaxy series also challenged the iPhone on performance, speed and graphic displays.

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Samsung Galaxy phones were also far less expensive than Apple's iPhones, although today's models boast comparable prices. All-in-all, they were considered the first successful "phablets," or large-screened smartphones. While new models seem to supersede old ones every year, the older Notes still hold the honor of paving the way for any modern phone that isn’t made by Apple.

Google Glass

As soon as Google announced the production of its Glass brand of smart glasses, people knew they had entered the future. The idea was to provide us with a hands-free computing experience.

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Photo Courtesy: Antonio Zugaldia/Flickr

Unfortunately, high production costs, poor sales and concerns about safety and privacy scuttled Google Glass early. However, while the original technology ultimately proved unwieldy, Google released a new model in May 2019, and signs indicate that Glass technology may be the way of the future even if the brand itself doesn’t last.

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