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(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)
Cool handheld devices from yesteryear
Mobile tech has gone mainstream due to advances in the last few years, but in reality, it's been years in the making. Looking back at handhelds that appeared over decades, we have selected ten devices that changed the game in some profound way.
These aren't the only gadgets that shook the world by any means, but each one in this roundup made a big contribution to the advancement of mobile technology. This assortment of devices covers a lot of time, with the first one appearing way back in 1977. The youngest in the collection hit the scene in 2004, so the current stage of mobile technology we are enjoying today was literally decades in the making.
My obsession with mobile tech is evident as I owned six of the gadgets in this collection.
Join us in a trip down memory lane as we salute ten handheld devices that shook the world. If you have fond memories of a gadget that didn't make this list, share it in the comments below.
(Image: Texas Instruments)
1977 — Texas Instruments TI-59 programmable calculator
The year was 1977, and Texas Instruments released a device that was a scientific calculator at its core, but so much more. The TI-59 had a lot of firsts inside: solid-state ROM cartridges, magnetic memory strips for storing programs, and a printer module that produced hardcopies of technical programs.
The TI-59 was primarily used in technical endeavors such as engineering. Many of the cartridges had basic programs used in specific industries to simplify complex calculations of a repetitive nature. User's clubs sprang up worldwide, where programs were traded with glee.
Many of my early days as a geophysicist were spent hunched over the TI-59, running calculations simplified by programs loaded by reading various memory strips. The strip reader was a bit fussy, and it sometimes took several tries to get the little programs to load properly.
Clipping the TI-59 to the thermal PC100C printer module (pictured above) made it possible to save results to paper, an unusual feature for programmable scientific calculators. This feature, coupled with the memory card reader and the ROM cartridge, set the stage for computers with similar I/O capabilities.
TI59.com is a good source to see the full history of the TI-59.
On display at the Bolo EPFL, Lausanne, France. (Image: Rama & Musee Boloe)
1987 — Apple Newton
Jumping forward a decade, we witnessed the introduction of the Apple Newton. This was produced during Steve Jobs' hiatus from the company, and not finding it worthy of the Apple name, he killed it when he returned to take over the helm at Apple.
The Newton MessagePad was a large PDA that tried to do a variety of tasks with inconsistent results. The stylus was used to write naturally anywhere on the screen. The Newton would transcribe the handwriting to digital text for use in the PDA functions. While this handwriting recognition was advanced for its time, it was not accurate enough to make most users comfortable.
The Newton eventually had a modem option for getting online, a true advancement in mobile technology.
The Newton, cancelled in 1998, still has an active user community, and can be found online for purchase even today. The team responsible for the handwriting recognition in the Newton went on to form Ritepen, the folks behind Evernote.