Advancements in technology come in leaps and bounds, so it doesn’t take long for new gadgets to become obsolete shortly after they reach their target market. Some modern technologies, such as mobile phones and computers, offer the ability to do many of the same things that older gadgets were capable of, but in smaller and more portable forms.
Take a nostalgic stroll down memory lane for a look at some of the biggest, best and most memorable gadgets that have been outdated, outmoded or just forced into irrelevance by better, modern technologies.
While you might remember many of these, there are plenty of the younger generation that don’t.
Fax Machines – The humble fax machine was essentially a modern version of the telegram. For many years, it allowed people and businesses to transmit scanned documents from one phone number to another. The recipient would have the joy of a printed copy of the document bursting forth from their machine. This was all done by a transmission of audio frequency tones that were deciphered at the other end. Like many of the technologies on our list, fax machines have largely been rendered obsolete by the invention of email, the internet and advancements in computing technologies.
Floppy Disks – Floppy disks were a type of data storage medium that originally appeared in the 1970s. The first was the 8-inch floppy disc, capable of storing just 80 kilobytes of data. As the floppy disks got smaller, their storage capacity grew and by the mid-1980s the 3.5-inch floppy disk was able to store a respectable 1.44 MB. Unfortunately, floppy disks were vulnerable to magnets and heat and were easily corrupted.
By the 1990s software size meant many disks were required for most applications so CD-ROMs began to take over. The floppy disk now only lives on as a save icon in many software applications.
Cassette Tapes – Audio brothers to VHS and Betamax cassette tapes, the cassette tape used the same magnetic tape technology to deliver affordable audio to the masses. They were introduced in 1968. They were used as either blank tapes that could be recorded onto (via dictaphone or boombox for example) or as pre-recorded cassettes of music albums. Cassettes could also be used to store other data and were therefore used as a storage medium for early home computers. While cassette tapes gained popularity in the 80s, by the 90s they were outsold by compact discs which soon became the standard format. It wasn’t until 2001 that cassette tapes began to die, at least in pre-recorded formats. Blank tapes were still being sold right up until 2012.
Video Home System (VHS) – In the late 80s, VHS cassette tapes became the popular standard for home video. Whether used for recording family videos or rented for the local video store to watch the latest blockbuster, these small reels of magnetic tape wrapped in plastic housing brought joy across the lands. Unless of course, someone forgot to rewind the tape you rented or a sibling recorded over your copy of Terminator 2. The rise of DVD saw to the slow but steady demise of VHS and, by 2008, DVD replaced VHS as the favored video technology both for recording and film distribution.
Betamax – Betamax was the earliest version of consumer-level video cassette tape format, originally released in 1975. Developed by Sony, Betamax was the standard for magnetic videotape until it became obsolete as the VHS format appeared and dominated in the 1980s.Surprisingly, Betamax recorders continued production until 2002 and the cassettes themselves were still available right up until 2016.
Phonebooks – The simple phonebook is not really a technology, but it is certainly something made obsolete by technological advancements. These chunky paper directories included residential and business listings for all the phone numbers you could possibly need. Now rendered obsolete by the internet, these phonebooks are certainly a relic of a bygone era. Yet we still occasionally see them land in our mailbox or at our front door.
Nintendo N64 – There were many consoles both before and after the Nintendo N64, but it certainly was a great gaming machine and the last of the stubborn cartridge-based consoles to be released by Nintendo. Launching in 1996, the N64 came to market competing with the likes of the original Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. Strong competition aside, Nintendo still managed to sell 32.93 million N64 consoles worldwide. The N64 is remembered fondly by many, especially for its big gaming titles that included Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) – Nearly a decade after the Atari 2600 made its way into people’s homes, Nintendo released the first of its successful gaming consoles to the world market. Backed by a number of gaming titles that included names that would become part of gaming history, the NES quickly became the best-selling games console of its time. With the likes of Duck Hunt, Super Mario Bros and more being first released on this system, the NES shot Nintendo to the forefront of the gaming industry and turned them into a household name. Production ended in 1995, but Nintendo filled the world with nostalgic joy in 2016 when it announced the release of the NES Classic Mini, the tiny reimagined version of the console with 30 games pre-installed and the ability to work on modern HD TVs.
Overhead Projectors – A classroom classic, the overhead projector was a simple yet wonderful system for projecting images, text and drawings onto an appropriate screen. Transparent sheets of acetate were used in place of paper to enable presenters to transpose their presentation onto the screen in front of the class. Although still in use in some classrooms, these projectors have likely been rendered obsolete by modern projection technology and computers.
Portable DVD Players – With the rise of DVD and the ever falling cost of the technology behind it, as the well as the shrinking sizes of processors and advancements in screen technology, it was no surprise that portable DVD players made their way to market. However, the size of the discs and the quality of battery life meant that DVD players failed to gain widespread popularity and initially their cost was prohibitive. Now, with easy access to streaming video via mobile phones and tablets, the need for portable DVD players is almost entirely negated.
LaserDisc – LaserDisc was one of those niche formats of technology that was mainly popular among videophiles and film enthusiasts. Although it was the first format of optical video storage, available from 1978, LaserDisc failed to gain mainstream popularity due to the expense of the players. LaserDisc offered higher-quality video than VHS and Betamax and the technology behind it was the foundation for compact disc, DVD and Blu-ray in later years. Despite never going mainstream, it wasn’t until 2001 that the last video titles were released in this format and a total of 16.8 million LaserDisc players were sold worldwide.
Typewriters – The humble typewriter, the dumb precursor to the modern computer, was in its day a marvel of technology. A step up from paper and pen, the typewriter opened up a world of possibilities for those looking to craft novels, document history or scribe propaganda. The foundations for the typewriter were laid down as far back as 1575, but it’s rarely used in a modern world of computers, laptops and tablets.
Slide Projectors – A form of projector appeared in the 1950s and became a popular form of home entertainment. These projectors were used to put on slide shows of individual frames of images, one frame at a time. Generally, they were used to show snaps of family holidays or special occasions. Slide projectors were rendered irrelevant when video projectors became more affordable and accessible.
MiniDisc Players – Perhaps one of the least popular formats of optical based digital storage was the MiniDisc. With a high storage capacity of as much as 1GB, these discs could hold up to 45 hours of audio in a compact format. The MiniDisc appeared at a time when CDs were still dominating and struggled to gain popularity in the marketplace. MiniDisc sales began to dwindle when MP3 players started to gain popularity and were finally killed off as a format in 2011 when Sony (the main manufacturer) ceased production.
Vinyl Records – Vinyl records are one of the oldest and most long-lasting formats for storing audio recordings. Available in varying formats since the late 1800s, the vinyl record is still in production today and is another format that’s sworn to be the best by audiophiles and sound enthusiasts alike. The format has even had a sales resurgence of late. Vinyl reaches our list, not because it’s obsolete, but because it refuses to die.
Walkman, Discman and MP3 Players – Several formats of portable music player spawned over time to accommodate the preferred musical medium, these included portable cassette players (most notably Sony’s “Walkman”), portable CD players (the also popular Sony’s “Discman”), Minidisc players and MP3 players. Each of these formats of portable music player eventually fell into obsolescence as other more technologically advanced players appeared.
Analog and Dial-up Modems – In the days before modern broadband and 4G networks, at the initial birth of the internet, we connected to the World Wide Web via analog and dial-up modems. These marvels of technology required an open phone line and a lot of patience to get working. If anyone called while you were connected to the ‘net then you’d immediately lose connection. Browsing the web was slow and painful, but it was a thing of beauty and showed promise for the future that we now live in.
Atari 2600 – One of the ancestors of the modern games console, the Atari 2600 was originally released in 1977 and was a cartridge-based home video game system loved and nostalgically remembered by many. Atari is also well-known for the creation of games such as Pong, Missile Command and Asteroids, true classics that were playable on the console. Although the Atari 2600 was not the first cartridge-based games console (it was the second – the first being the Magnavox Odyssey) it is perhaps the most well-known and most memorable thanks to the games line-up and history behind it. And the fake teak panelling on the front, of course. This early technology quickly became obsolete as game console technology progressed swiftly forward.
Cathode Ray Tube Televisions – The scientific technology behind cathode ray tube televisions dates back to 1869, but it wasn’t until the mid-1920s that the technology was first put into an actual television set. These chunky televisions became the mainstay of TVs for decades until technology advances and the release of LCD and plasma flat screen televisions pushed CRT sets, also known as VDTs – Video Display Terminals, into obsolescence around 2007.
Daisy Wheel and Dot-Matrix Printers – Before the times of laserjet and inkjet printers, we had a number of different black and white printers that were essentially a short step up from typewriters. These printers were slow and cumbersome, but they did the job, even if they did make a lot of noise in the process.
Digital Audi Tapes (DAT) – The digital audio tape was the brainchild of Sony and offered a digital recording capability but with a similar design style to the compact cassette tape in a smaller format. DAT was capable of recording at a higher quality than CD and also boasted the ability to number tracks and skip right to them much like a CD. However, due to the cost of this format it never really caught on at consumer level but was used in various professional markets and as a computer data storage medium. With lacklustre sales of around 660,000 sales since 1987, Sony announced it would stop production of DAT machines in 2005. The format was essentially superseded by hard disk drives and memory cards but is still in use in some areas.
Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) – DVD was the evolution of the digital video format developed by tech giants Panasonic, Philips, Sony and Toshiba. With a high storage capacity, it became a medium for computer files, software and high-quality video. DVD had many benefits over that of previous magnetic storage formats, including larger storage space, but also durability that meant that in theory, the discs could have a lifespan of up to 100 years. With faster internet speeds, video streaming technology and other superior formats such as Blu-ray – even 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray – on the market, DVD is likely nearing the end of its lifespan. Meanwhile, other formats of DVD such as the 1080p-capable, Blu-ray rival HD-DVD never really even took off in the first place, much like the fabled LaserDisc.
Game Boy and Game Gear – In 1989, Nintendo released another gaming console that would help it dominate the gaming market. The Game Boy was a classic handheld gaming system, with a monochrome green and black screen and a simple design. Big gaming titles like Tetris helped the Game Boy to sell over a million units in the first year alone. A short while later, Sega released the Game Gear, its color competitor to the Game Boy. Backed by a strong catalog of games from the Sega Master System, the Game Gear should, in theory, have dominated the market, but struggled to compete with the Game Boy, mainly thanks to poor battery life. Both have long since become obsolete with the invention of newer devices, but Nintendo still leads the market with its various DS systems.