Tuesday 26 December 2017

2017: things that didn't quite make the cut

This year we've covered gadgets and geeky things from 1907, 1927, 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997, 2007 and 2012 (and actually even 2017). Out of all these years, 1977 stands out as the year that gave us the Commodore PET, Apple II, TRS-80 Model I, Atari VCS and DEC VAX. All of these were ground-breaking technologies that helped to shape the world we live in today.

But there were a few other things that didn't quite make the cut which are worth making a note of.

1927 may have been the year of the Jaffa Cake, but it was also the year that Newcastle Brown Ale was launched. Unusually for a brown beer, it comes in a clear bottle and the recipe has only slightly changed over the past 90 years to remove the caramel colouring. A huge export success, Newcastle Brown has been a little taste of home for Geordies the world over.

As well as chunky telephones and fancy cars, 1967 also brought the world's first Automated Telling Machine (ATM) in Enfield, London. Despite the rise of cashless payments, ATMs are still very common fifty years later... and perhaps just a little bit too common.

Another computer system launched in 1977 was the NASCOM-1 which was a computer kit built around a single board. Popular in its day due to the relatively low cost, it couldn't really compete with the fully assembled systems from rivals.

Newcastle Brown Ale (1927), ATM (1967), NASCOM-1 (1977)
 1977 also saw the release of the classic Crowther and Woods Colossal Cave Adventure. Featuring a rudimentary natural-language processor and some fiendish plot twists, Colossal Cave ended up being ported to a huge variety of computer systems and was massively popular.

We talked about the 1977 Matra Rancho, a stylish affair that looked like it could go anywhere but couldn't. Launched the same year, the Lada Niva actually could go just about anywhere but the 1970s Soviet styling couldn't compete with the chic French Matra. Thanks in part to its lightweight unibody design and dependabili, the Niva survives to this day (called the Lada 4X4 in most markets) where its simple and rugged charms start at less than €11,000 for a new one.

In 1987, personal computers were becoming more powerful with the likes of the IBM PS/2, Apple Macintosh II and Acorn Archimedes but they were also becoming more portable. The Compaq Portable III replaced the small CRT of previous models with a 10" plasma screen. At 9 kilograms it was still no lightweight, but it was finally a practical and reliable business computer that could be used on the move.

Colossal Cave Adventure (1977), Lada Niva (1977), Compaq Portable III (1987)

That's the lot for this year. See you in 2018.

Image credits:

Wednesday 20 December 2017

YotaPhone (2012)

Announced December 2012

A long time ago, phones used to have a really great battery life. Then powerful big-screen smartphones took over, and suddenly you had to charge your phone more than once a day. A lot of that problem was down to the screen itself, and as screens got bigger and bigger the problem became more acute.

Not every type of display is a power hog though, and electronic ink displays such as those found on e-readers offer much better battery life. But while displays such as that are good for reading text, for a lot of other applications they are not usable because of their slow refresh rate. So you can’t really fix the power drain problem of smartphones with electronic ink displays.

Russian company Yota had different ideas, and their approach was rather radical – give the phone TWO displays. The YotaPhone had a traditional 4.3” LCD panel on one side, and on the other a 4.3” 360 x 640 pixel capacitive touchscreen electronic ink display. The secondary display was designed for things like notifications, email, calendars and other reasonably static displays. Some clever software trickery was required to do this, but otherwise the YotaPhone was a pretty standard Android smartphone.

Although it was announced in December 2012, it took nearly a whole year to get to market, finally shipping in November 2013. The €499 price tag was somewhat expensive, but it found a market niche and its own fan base. In February 2014 the YotaPhone 2 was launched with some much needed improvements and in 2017 the YotaPhone 3 followed.

The YotaPhone concept lives in that no-man’s land where products that neither fail nor succeed live. Perhaps if the YotaPhone had a better-known name on it, it might have been more of a success. But perhaps the YotaPhone is simply ahead of its time, and in another five years we’ll all have dual-screen smartphone like this…

Image credits: Yota