501 – Next of Kin

clip_image002ToW’s #350 and #353 looked back at technologies of old which are long gone – or at least should be. Lots of tech somehow lives on, though – did you know,  for example, that pagers are still a thing, and that more than 10% of the world’s remaining bleeps are used in the UK’s NHS? The same organisation has even been told to ditch the fax machine by April 2020 – a target that looks like being missed.

Some old tech has just been superseded by better, cheaper, easier alternatives – the erstwhile fax message gave way to email, the film camera largely replaced by digital photography, though there are always people who doggedly prove exceptions. Vinyl records came back from the brink, even prompting a potential rebirth of physical music retailing. There’s even a revival of cassette tapes for goodness’ sake (Hey kids! throw away your DVDs and get those VHS tapes from the attic…)

The path of progress is littered with the wreckage of ideas that didn’t quite work out; sometimes, they’re just a development that nobody wanted, or at least the target audience didn’t want in enough numbers, or maybe other forces combined to nix them (eg Google Glass) or at least to sustain their development enough. Some ideas were subsequently proven to be on the right path, but the first executions didn’t succeed: maybe the technology wasn’t advanced enough at the time.

The fab new devices previewed at the October 2019 Surface Event gave cause to recollect some old and perhaps before-their-time devices. The forthcoming Surface Pro X looks like the ultimate evolution of a Tablet PC, the due-next-year Surface Neo brings to life the “Courier” prototype that never made it out of the lab, and the especially groovy-looking (and also “available Holiday 2020”) Surface Duo makes Windows Mobile fans shed the remaining tears by embracing Android, though don’t dare call it a “phone”.

clip_image004Remember when 3G was going to set the world on fire? When people would pay handsomely to watch football clips or do video conferencing on their mobile device? The first such thing to enable that dream was the Orange SPV M5000, aka the HTC Universal. It was a folding device, had front-facing camera, 3G, Bluetooth, WiFi… It was ground-breaking, though too big and heavy to be a phone and too small and cramped to be a laptop replacement. It ran Windows Mobile 5.0, soon-to-be-eclipsed by the awesomeness that was Windows Mobile 6.0 (jokingly codenamed “Crossbow”, after a weed killer that had a deadly effect on blackberries…)

clip_image006Before Windows Mobile / Windows Phone was really a platform, Microsoft had the vision to build a tablet device with touch screen, UI navigation and handwriting recognition via a stylus, and all sorts of use cases and software that would differentiate it from other laptops.

The Tablet PC specification spawned a whole new version of Windows that eventually merged into the mainstream with Windows Vista. It only took maybe 15 years for technology and successive software improvements to turn the original dream into something of a reality.