Technology has a tendency to evolve at an exponential pace, meaning what once looked like the newest gadget in town can become old news the second an upgraded model is released. For example, the iPhone X immediately made everyone forget about the iPhone 8’s unique capabilities. In fact, this has been the trend for virtually every “hip, new” product Apple ever released, and virtually every other electronic-based company has experienced the same trajectory. Unlike Apple, some other organizations failed to adapt to these changing times, and many of them went out of business for it.
Of course, the mere fact a product is a little bit old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s useless. On the contrary, in certain cases, the retro feel alone can add significant value to collectors, and the less technological a given item is, the more helpful it may be to keep it around on the event power lines go down at a pivotal moment.
Whether or not they have any secondary uses now that technology passed them by, the fact remains certain inventions of the relatively recent past simply don’t feel as special as they did when they were created. Keep reading to learn about 25 so-called “innovative” products of the 20th century that already seem totally outdated today.
25 Better Technology Caused People To Leave Talkboys At Home
Instantly making it popular with young fans, the Talkboy was originally created solely for Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Stylish and sleek as it looked, the technological capabilities of this device were relatively slim: all it could do was record audio and play it back at regular speed, sped up, or slowed down. Nonetheless, a low price tag made them incredible fun for '90s kids, who had yet to experience the thrill of a computer or phone with a built-in microphone and the capability to do much, much more with the sounds they recorded.
24 Standalone PDAs Are Now Just Part Of Phones
For anyone who skipped the trend, the idea of a personal digital assistant, or PDA, is basically the same thing as a smart phone today, which is why few of them exist. The only difference is that old PDAs, first introduced by Psion in 1984 with the Organizer, couldn’t make phone calls, and any wireless Internet capabilities were either slow or nonexistent. Sure, the technology got a little better over time, but when smart phones started added personal planning capabilities faster than PDAs allowed regular phone calls, quickly cornering their shared market.
23 The Earliest Video Games Don’t Even Have Retro Appeal
In modern gaming, it almost feels like retro titles from the '80s and '90s garner greater fan interest than the newest ultra-cinematic high-def games being released today. However, there’s a difference between nostalgia fans looking to replay Super Mario 3 and the idea of someone buying an Atari 2600 or hunting down a Magnavox Odyssey. Minimal graphics are one thing, but these earlier systems rarely featured more than a few white dots bouncing around the screen. Of course, in an era before Nintendo, the mere suggestion of playing tennis with a joystick was all kids needed to have fun.
22 It’s Time To Trade In That Electronic Calculator For A Phone
Math will forever be one of the most powerful tools society has available, and humanity has long sought ways to make it easier for people to perform complex equations quickly. Obviously, calculators will never cease being useful, but the idea of carrying around a machine that simply adds and subtracts in a person’s pocket isn’t just unfashionable; it’s irrelevant. The idea first came to prominence in the 1970s, ten years after calculators went electronic in general. No matter how big or small they were, though, digital calculators now exist on every phone and computer, eliminating the need for the physical variety.
21 Floppy Disks Didn’t Have Enough Memory To Be Memorable
As computers started becoming an essential part of business, people naturally looked for ways to transfer data from one machine to another. Storage of memory was also an important factor. In 1967, IBM employee Alan Shugart invented one of the first methods to solve both these problems with floppy disks. Once amongst the most popular computer accessories a person could own, in hindsight, floppy disks held a remarkably low amount of information, and the idea of them handling more than just text was laughable. Modern USBs and external hard drives are infinitely better, causing floppy disks to essentially disappear.
20 Cassette Tapes Lost Track Of The Market
Invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, record players existed for nearly 100 years before the next form of technology came along and started to replace them. Well, that was the idea, anyway, but collectors still own record players today, and one would be hard pressed to find a cassette tape outside of a particularly old automobile. Back in 1963, though, the Philips Electronics company expected their new creation would be the future of how people listened to music. Poor sound quality, an inability to skip from song to song, and the rise of better technology soon dashed those dreams.
19 Portable CD Players Just Get In The Way
Less than two decades after people were throwing out their old vinyl records for cassette tapes, they relieved the entire process with the introduction of portable CDs. The technology had existed for some time, and it finally reached the public in 1982 as a co-production of Sony and Phillips. Two years later, Sony phased out their Walkman line for the Discman, and before long cars likewise ditched cassette players for bigger and better CD based music systems. When it comes to actual music stores, CD is still king, but the catch is that digital sales absolutely dwarf the physical medium.
18 The Rolodex Rolled Out Of Style
Before social media could keep a record of every interaction friends had with one another, human interaction could only be as permanent as the power of memory. In other words, people forgot a lot about one another, up to and including important contact information. To help organize one’s friends, acquaintances, or any other important entities in their life, Arnold Neustadter invented the Rolodex in the 1950s. Of course, in today’s world, even without Facebook, any simple word processor can perform all of a Rolodex’s basics functions, with the added benefit of a search option — unless the power goes out.
17 The Original Moviefone Said Goodbye
Seinfeld reruns notwithstanding, moviegoers will never again experience the original Moviefone. From 1989 to 2014, residents of metro areas could dial 777-FILM and reach an electronic voice that knew everything there was to know about movie show times. However, as the concept’s expiration date would imply, even the folks at Moviefone gradually realized costumers could just as easily type a movie into the Internet and get even more information than their recordings could offer, hanging up the phone part and reframing the company to focus on an app version of the original service.
16 Standalone GPS Machines Are An Unnecessary Expense
When talking about GPS, or the Global Positioning Service, the real irrelevant invention at hand is old school paper maps, which only benefit people truly looking for an adventure. Those who simply need to get around are likely using constantly updating digital maps on their phones, thanks to the system created by the US Department of Defense in the 1970s. By the '80s, the government made GPS available to the public, although for many years it required a separate device typically used only in cars.
15 Society Will Never Rewind To Using VHS Tapes
Once motion pictures started showing in theaters, audiences dreamed of a way to easily watch them at home. That possibility finally arrived in the mid '70s with not one but two inventions that have since faded out of vogue. First up is the more popular option, JVC’s VHS, or Video Home System. Up until the late '90s, the combination of a VCR and VHS collection meant hours of entertainment without ever leaving the house. The only issues were a slow rewinding time and the fact tapes were a little bulky, which is how DVDs eclipsed them shortly after getting invented.
14 Betamax Couldn’t Win
Beating VHS to the punch by roughly a year, Sony introduced the Betamax in 1975. Immediately, this lead to Sony and VHS trying to beat one another to become the best videotape format in the '70s and '80s, and VHS quickly won, despite some critics feeling Betamax offered superior recording quality. The problem was that audiences cared more about length, and VHS could offer 2 hours of entertainment to Betamax’s 1. Somehow, these machines remained in existence long after losing, until they finally went out of production in 2016, after DVD and digital sales cemented the medium as irrelevant.
13 Laserdisc Fans Dreamed Too Big
In addition to the already cluttered home video market of VHS and Betamax, a third contender entered the fold in the late '70s by way of Laserdisc. While employing a vastly different technology than either competitor, Laserdisc essentially offered the same service of bringing movies to people’s homes. Just a few years late to the game, Laserdisc tried standing out with it’s enhanced audio/visual quality over video, which critics still cite as impeccable. On the downside, Laserdiscs were huge and extremely expensive for the average consumer, meaning few people could experience the medium’s glory.
12 Video Stores Now Fit In A Big Red Box
The second version of a VHS tape hit the market, consumers decided renting this new form of entertainment was preferable to buying it. Recognizing this desire, in 1975, a German man named Eckhard Baum started a business renting out his collection of Super 8 films, which he claims is the world’s first video store. Not long after that, George Atkinson brought the idea to America with store he called Video Station. By the 1980s, Blockbuster turned video stores into a vital destination for moviegoers everywhere. Until, that is, Netflix and Redbox came along and cut out any need for human interaction.
11 Rotary Phones Took Too Long To Connect
Fast typers can send paragraph long texts to their contacts in mere seconds, so even the idea of having to dial out a full phone number already feels like a slow process. Back before touchscreens, the problem was significantly worse, with phones only able to dial one digit at a time, by a mechanism that slowly rolled all the way around the device for larger numbers. Technically, rotary phones were invented in 1892, but they didn’t enter wide use until 1919. Either way, they were phased out in the 1970s when phone companies finally learned how to use buttons.
10 The Ford Model T Has Been Dramatically Improved
Just about everyone in the world has a car, or at least annoys a friend by constantly asking for a ride in theirs. Of course, modern day automobiles have gone through an outrageous number of improvements since the days of Henry Ford’s iconic Model T. Introduced in 1908, these weren’t the first cars on the road, but they were the first that the general public could actually afford. For that reason, people weren’t exactly concerned with style, simply accepting all cars were shaped like weird boxes and couldn’t go over 40 miles per hour.
9 Say Goodbye to Standalone Answering Machines
Believe it or not, telephones existed without any form of recourse to missed calls for nearly 100 years. It’s not that people couldn’t figure out the technology — phone companies recognized the need for answering machines as early as the '30s, but they didn’t make them commercially available until the '60s. Once introduced, answering machines proved very popular, leading to rapid experimentation and the introduction of digital devices by the '80s. Nonetheless, considering how few people even use landlines in the first place, there’s no surprise the machines that go with home phones were almost entirely replaced by voicemail.
8 Dial-Up Internet Took Forever To Place A Call
Were society still relying on dial-up, the world would be a much slower place. That said, before the glory of high-speed broadband entered homes, waiting several minutes to connect with the World Wide Web was the only option many people had. Unfortunately, there was a huge downside in that one person going online meant the rest of the household couldn’t use the phone. Sprint first offered dial-up to consumers in 1992, and it still exists in some areas where better connections aren’t available, but just about everyone who could make an upgrade has done so by now.
7 Pagers Beeped Out Of Existence
Imagine a world where instead of phones, people carried around a significantly larger device that could only text, and instead of modern-day texting, the messages could only be a few words, at most. That’s what it was like for anyone relying on a pager before cellular technology immediately bested the old idea. Originally, pagers were just used by police departments and hospitals, both of which could still see value in them today. However, the public version sold from the '60s to the '90s almost immediately faded out of style when texting could do everything pagers could and more.
6 No One Wants To Carry Around A Boombox
Even with the advent of digital music, it’s not out of the question to find a CD or record player in a person’s home. However, they certainly aren’t going to be carrying these bulky machines wherever they go, which was the primary appeal of the boombox. While huge by today’s standards, boomboxes were just small enough for people to hoist them on their shoulders and blast music wherever they went, until certain laws and noise ordinances curbed the activity. Boomboxes still exist and have strong nostalgic value, but smaller and more efficient music players have largely replaced them.
5 Slide Projectors Can’t Compete With Social Media
Fans of Mad Men will never forget when Don Draper turned the Kodak Carousel into an almost mystic device able to capture family moments. Inspiring as his presentation was, the truly impressive part is that it was written long after the entire concept of slide projectors had been entirely phased out by digital media. Beautiful as the stories projections could tell were, social media and cell phones are able to store literally thousands more photos, and they can be shared anywhere in the world, not just a darkened room.
4 “Instant” Film Wasn’t As Fast As Digital
Thanks to cell phones, people are now able to take photographs or even video and send them to their entire contact list in a manner of clicks. Once upon a time, though, any time someone took a snapshot, they would have to wait multiple weeks to see it developed. Before technology reached its modern conclusion, there was also a middle ground invented by Edwin Land in 1948 called “instant photography.” Cameras themselves could immediately print pictures, and after waving it around for a few seconds, people would see exactly what they shot.
3 Gigantic Cell Phones Are Now A Punch Line
Chances are the cell phone industry will never get over the obsession with creating the smallest devices possible, and knowing where it began, this isn’t really a surprise. The first cellular devices were released in the 1970s, with business executives and other wealthy individuals starting to use them regularly by the '80s. Fancy as they looked, in hindsight, these early cell phones were ridiculously large, sometimes even dwarfing the heads of people using them. Perhaps realizing how silly this looked, cell phones companies quickly developed technology to make phones as unassuming as possible.
2 The History of Flashlights Is Getting Dim
Truth be told, of all the items on this list, flashlights can still be the most crucial in a survival scenario. When it comes to every day use, though, people are always going to reach for their phones before picking up one of these huge objects. Were flashlights the same as originally design invented in 1899, we may have no use for them at all, as they could only emit literal flashes of light for a few short seconds. By 1922, they were actually helpful in the dark, but again, phones can still get significantly brighter without requiring separate batteries.
1 Early Computers Are Nothing Like The Modern Ones
In many respects, computers were the most important invention of the 20th century. Nothing makes this more clear than the fact almost every other product on this list was eventually made irrelevant by either a computer or something that computers made possible. That said, computers today are a far cry from the earliest versions of the devices, which look like they belong in technological museums when compared to modern designs. Gigantic and bulky, the earliest home computers couldn’t hold a fraction of the memory products today have at their disposal.