Saturday 28 December 2019

2019: things that didn’t quite make the cut

This year we’ve covered products debuting in 1959, 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014. Here are a few of the things we missed.

It being Christmas and all a good place to start would be the Honeywell Kitchen Computer from 1969. Appearing in the Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog of the same year, the so-called Kitchen Computer actually a Honeywell 316 minicomputer in a desktop case which was designed for laboratory environments, however the imaginative folks at Neiman Marcus thought the pedestal would make a great chopping board while the wife of the household used it to retrieve recipes. A great idea, but the Honeywell 316 was totally unsuited to that role and total sales of the Kitchen Computer were approximately nil, but the myth still persists even to this day.

Although a kitchen is a difficult and unwelcoming environment for a computer, GRiD Systems Corporation made computers that travelled into space. In 1989 they launched the GRiDPAD, the world’s first tablet computer. While not as friendly as a modern tablet, this MS-DOS machine sold relatively high numbers with a price ticket of about $3000 for one with software.

Honeywell 316 aka "Kitchen Computer" (1969) and GRiDPAD (1989)

Atari too were experimenting with portable computing, and in 1989 they launched the Portfolio (that we already covered) plus the Atari Stacy and Atari Lynx. The Stacy (styled STacy by Atari) was a portable version of the Atari ST which had proved a hit in the mid-80s but was now fading. However, the Stacy found a successful niche with musicians who liked the portability and the excellent MIDI support, even though Atari gave up on making it battery powered quite late into development and ended up gluing the battery compartment shut. At the other end of the scale was the Atari Lynx was a handheld gaming platform that was advanced for its day but struggled against the Nintendo Gameboy... however even today the Lynx has its fans and now and again new games appear for it.

Atari Stacy (1989) and Atari Lynx (1989)
Like Atari, Zenith Data Systems had been a pioneer of early microcomputers and they too were keen to jump on board the portable computer bandwagon. The Zenith MinisPORT (launched in 1989) was one of the smallest DOS-compatible computers made to that date, and it featured a highly unusual 2” floppy disk drive in order to keep the size down.

Zenith MiniSPORT (1989)
Sega was another stalwart of the gaming industry, in 1989 they launched the Sega Mega Drive (also known as the Genesis) that proved to be a massive hit in Europe and North and South America – although officially replaced by the Sega Saturn in 1995 the popularity of the Mega Drive continued. 30 years later and Sega revisited the platform with the Sega Mega Drive Mini. Skip another generation from the Saturn and you get the 1999 Sega Dreamcast. The Dreamcast was an advanced machine with excellent 3D support, but it couldn’t compete against Sony’s Playstation 2 and it was Sega’s last mainstream games console.

Saga Mega Drive aka Genesis (1989) and Dreamcast (1989)

Back to 1989 again and we find a computing oddity in the SAM Coupé – an unusual machine that was compatible with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum with various enhancements such as a proper keyboard, floppy disk and more memory. It was a niche success against 16 and 32-bit rivals and it still has a dedicated following today. Don’t confuse the SAM Coupé with the Cozy Coupe though, this little plastic car for children was launched in 1979 and it would technically be one of the world’s best-selling cars if it was actually a real car.
SAM Coupé (1989) and Cozy Coupe (1979)

Looping round one last time to 1989, and Motorola launched their iconic MicroTAC series of phones. This flip-phone design was much more compact than the DynaTAC that preceded it, and many versions of the MicroTAC were made for all the disparate analogue and digital networks of the early 1990s. The design evolved over the years, and versions of the MicroTAC stayed in production until 1996. One of the MicroTAC’s spiritual successors might be the tiny Ericsson T28, the world’s smallest mobile phone when it was launched in 1999 weighing just 83 grams. Ultimately both the MicroTAC and T28 started a trend for mobile phones to be smaller and lighter, which is something we seem to have lost along the way..

Motorola MicroTAC (1989) and Ericsson T28 (1999)

That’s it for 2019. Next year we look to cover diverse topics such as the Acorn Atom, Epson MX-80, Squarial and Pac-Man plus many other things. See you on the other side!

Image credits

Honeywell 316: Scott Beale via Flickr
GRiDPAD: Association WDA via Flickr
Atari Stacy: Perfect Circuit Audio via Wikimedia Commons
Atari Lynx: Pete Slater via Flickr
Zenith MiniSPORT: Kris Davies via Wikimedia Commons
Sega Mega Drive: Barité Videojuegos via Flickr
Sega Dreamcast: Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons
SAM Coupé: Simon Owen via Wikimedia Commons
Cozy Coupe: Nick via Flickr
Motorola MicroTAC: Redrum0486 via Wikimedia Commons
Ericsson T28: The Norwegian Telecom Museum via Wikimedia Commons

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