(as published in West Country Life-Dec 2017)
I must admit that I was not really into Tech when I was younger, at least no more than your average person. As a child of the 1980s and 90s of course I remember our first computer which was the Sinclair Spectrum in a bespoke hefty metal flight case and bobbly foam inside to help protect it. I remember my first personal cassette player, a big blue monstrosity on a lanyard from Boots, and I remember my first mobile phone that would unwittingly spell an end to the bliss of being ‘unreachable’ for the day.
At the time I guess I just soaked up the hype of these new gadgets like everyone else, yet took it all with a healthy dose of scepticism. I probably never sensed that just like young seeds, these electronic toys would grow and adapt until they became so important to our daily lives that they would redefine the very essence of who we are, how we communicate and how we try to express and entertain ourselves. Now all these years later, I think I finally do understand, and others do as well. Although I’m an Antique Dealer of far more traditional pieces, I started HistoricTech.com with the simple aim to uncover and showcase some of the many fascinating sides of our more recent industrial and technological past, and then hopefully put these things in the hands of the people who will appreciate them the most. It’s an amazing story and one that the UK has played a major part in.
Learning where things came from
While it is easy to look back at the technological gadgets of the last 70 years through rose tinted glasses and laugh at their primitive crudeness and bulk, what we are actually seeing are the footprints of the path we have all chosen to tread and the grandparents of the gadgets we idolize right now. With the added benefit of hindsight, these vintage tech objects can also give us a better sense of exactly how we got here. Lets take for example, the mighty iphone……….
First launched exactly 10 years ago, the Apple iphone was an instant game changer around the world and has become a recognised word in pretty much every language. Did you know in the USA alone nearly 50% of all mobile phone users now are using an iphone, and in 2016 Apple sold their billionth iphone- yes that’s right, BILLIONTH!! So how did we get here? Did Apple just sit down one day and decide to design a global icon that would tear up the rulebook for what a phone should be? Of course not. It actually took a whole bunch of (mostly failed) other gadgets to get there.
Birth of the Smartphone
Most people credit the IBM Simon of 1994 as the first step in the Smartphone direction. It was the era of electronic PDA’s, and while these things were often no better than your old fuzzy-fur Filofax (and yes I had one of those too), IMB decided they should integrate one into a phone. A step too far at the time, the Simon was ultimately a flop, but it did show that phones could be more than just devices for calling someone and phone designers started looking around at what else a phone could do. Cult shows like Star Trek had long instilled the virtues of a universal handheld device, and with the gradual emergence of the internet during the 1990s, phone manufacturers began working towards achieving this potential.
Through the rest of the 90s many different phones would try to take up the smartphone mantle where the Simon had left off. These included the Nokia 9000 Communicator, Qualcomm PDQ and Ericsson R380. While none of these alone would combine all the ingredients that would make the iphone so successful years later, they each added something new to the pot. By the Millennium, phones had become pretty multi-purpose. You could use them as a diary, play games on them, text on them, take pictures and although a little slow, you could browse the internet as well. But while these were the technical features that perhaps mattered to a smartphone, it was arguably the subtler features that made the iphone so appealing when it was launched in 2007. Features like an interactive finger-controlled touch screen (instead of traditional moulded keys), tilting screens, swiping motions, double taps, apps, and of course the ability to zoom into pages with just your fingers. You probably didn’t know but most of these features were actually invented by an unknown company called MyOrigo back in 2001-2003 who were aiming to release their own smart phone nicknamed the ‘MyDevice’. This company sadly folded before their product could reach the market, but prototype versions were shown to the computer firm Apple who clearly learnt from and built on its possibilities. Fast forward 5 years and Apple would release their iphone to an excited world…..and the rest is history as they say.
Is it worth anything now?
This is a question as a dealer that I am asked all the time, and while the history of our gadgets is often fascinating, it does not automatically translate into a high value. These were items usually made in their thousands if not millions, and so like any field there is a sliding scale with Vintage electronic gadgets which is related to supply and demand and the spending power of its collectors. If one looks back to the iphone again, then with up to a billion units potentially in circulation they are never going to be rare. But does that make them worthless? While a battered and unboxed iphone 1 may only sell in the tens of pounds range and probably won’t increase in value for a long while, a factory sealed boxed example is far more desirable and could currently set you back over £1000. And of course if you are lucky enough to find a genuine prototype of the first iphone, then do get in touch! For a product that is merely 10 years old that is not a bad return really!