Since her birth in 1926, The Queen has seen plenty of trends come and go. The fast-paced world of technology has been no different, with plenty of products and concepts appearing and disappearing over the last 90 years.
Here are 9 technologies that changed the world, albeit briefly, before disappearing into obsolescence once more.
1. The Differential Analyzer (1930)
One of the very first practical computing devices, the Differential Analyzer was built by Harold Locke Hazen and Vannevar Bush at the Massachusett Institute of Technology (MIT). The device was perhaps one of the first practical examples of an analogue computer designed to solve differential equations by integration.
As with almost every other analogue technology, the Differential Analyzer has been replaced by a more powerful, quicker digital equivalent – first the pocket calculator (1967), and more recently, the smartphone.
Notably, Vannevar Bush also went on to hypertext – the coding standard behind web pages – in 1945.
2. The Video Tape Recorder (1951)
Initially restricted to broadcasters and film studios, video tape went on to replace traditional celluloid film. The technology eventually established itself as the medium of choice for archiving filmed content. It’s worth noting that consumer versions weren’t available until 1971.
The arrival of DVD and hard drive recorders put paid to video tape in the early 2000’s, before on demand and catch up services delivered over the Internet completely killed the idea of recording ‘live’ video.
3. The Audio Tape (1961)
Incredibly, audio capture on magnetic tape took another 10 years, although cassette tapes took even longer to go mainstream. Developed by the Dutch company Philips, few predicted consumer demand to record their own audio initially. And none would have foreseen the 1980’s home taping craze of early home computer users and Walkman fans.
These days MP3 players and smartphones are able to provide all the same functionality of tapes – and with higher quality audio. Even dictation machines don’t need cassettes any more.
Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that video disks were developed just four years later!
4. The Floppy Disk (1970)
Providing an alternative to hugely expensive hard disk drives and tape-to-tape storage, the floppy disk was a landmark in helping to reduce the cost of computers. Floppy disks would also play a crucial role in simplifying data transfer and sharing for many years.
These days, the floppy disk exists as little more than the universal symbol for ‘save’ in most computer applications. It has since been replaced by memory cards, USB sticks, portable hard drives or Cloud file storage services that offer far greater capacity and speed.
5. The Word Processor (1972)
The humble typewriter had been the only alternative to handwriting for “one off” documents for decades – but the word processor changed everything. Not to be confused with word processing applications like Microsoft Word, these hardware devices featured in-built memory that would capture a number of words before committing them to paper. Suddenly typists were able to correct keying errors before they were committed to paper, reducing the time and effort involved in writing a letter.
But like so many devices, the word processor was eventually replaced by the personal computer, allowing infinite revisions, and the ability to store thousands of documents on the device simultaneously.
6. The First Mass Market School Computers (1981)
Regarded by some as the greatest home computer in the UK, the Acorn BBC Micro Model B was present in almost every school across the country. For most children in the 1980’s and 1990’s this was the first computer they ever got their hands on.
Many leading programmers learnt their craft on the affectionately named “beeb”. But falling prices, increased processing power, storage capacity and a shift towards Microsoft Windows-powered PCs eventually made the BBC Micro obsolete.
7. Desktop Fax Machine (1989)
Before email the only way to share documents (excluding snail mail) was to fax. Sadly, some business are still living in the 1980’s!
Computer scanning techniques and document sharing/email should have killed the fax machine years ago – and yet still these remnants of an archaic past can still be found in offices across the country. They are completely unnecessary, a waste of company budget.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the Queen’s progressive attitude that Buckingham Palace does not have an official fax number listed.
8. Games Consoles (1990)
While games consoles had existed since the 1970s, it was not until the 1990’s that the likes of the Gameboy, SNES, Mega Drive, and Game Gear began to drive mass adoption.
These consoles could perform just one task - to play games. Modern consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 have morphed into entertainment hubs, providing on-demand video, music service, internet access, photo sharing and more. In many ways, the disappearance of these traditional games consoles also marks the end of the “single device, single task” era.
9. Standalone Personal GPS Devices (2000)
In the early 2000’s before Google Maps was introduced and smartphones were yet to develop into touchscreen pocket computers, companies like Garmin and TomTom ruled the roost when it came to street maps and navigation.
These bulky devices would stick to your car window showing you the route to take. Almost every year you would need to pay a hefty subscription fee to upgrade to the latest, most accurate maps. Which also required you to plug the device into your computer to complete the upgrade.
Thankfully, Apple introduced the iPhone, Google released Google Maps and these awful devices from Garmin and TomTom were assigned to history.
So over to you – which technologies have you seen come and go? And which really need to be terminated sooner rather than later?