Then and now

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 23 Jul 2013

Many a tech has fallen victim to the rapid pace of progress.

YOU HAVE probably heard some old-timer say the old phrase, “Back in my day...” when describing how things were better/worse when he/she was young.

Well the world of technology moves so fast that “back in my day” could be as little as seven years ago, when the first Apple iPhone came out and literally changed the market for phones forever.

This got the whole Bytz team thinking about what other tech has gone the way of the dodo and how it’s changed how we do things.

Entertainment: Then

A lot has also changed as far as multimedia entertainment equipment is concerned.

The living room staple, the television, has morphed from its boxy form in lieu of the more aesthetically pleasing razor thin form.

Back then, the squarish CRT (cathode ray tube) form came with either switches or dials, and having one that could be controlled remotely was already considered high tech.

Before it was scrapped in 1999, you also had to have a licence to own a television in Malaysia. The licence fee went to helping broadcasters fund their service.

Slightly more than a decade ago, there were also fewer channels to choose from — it was basically TV1, TV2 and after 1984, TV3 — and if you were fed up of TV fare, your only other option was to pop a VHS tape into your video player. (Hands up those of you who remember Betamax!)

OBSOLETE: If you could afford it, you would have enjoyed having a LaserDisc player at home.

If you didn’t want to buy them from video stores, you could rent them for a fee from your neighbourhood video shop. Of course you then had to remember to return them or you could be fined.

If you could afford it, you would have enjoyed having a LaserDisc player at home. But because it was so expensive — one disc could set you back about RM180 — it didn’t really take off.

Some towns had LaserDisc theatres, which were basically shops with several rooms fitted with a home entertainment system. It made a good outing to catch a movie with friends especially when there were no proper cinemas in the area.

And if all you wanted was to listen to music, you could get the boom box or the portable Sony Walkman, which eventually morphed into the Sony Discman. Just be sure you have your cassette or CD collection with you.

Entertainment: Now

Nowadays, TVs are no longer just “idiot boxes” in the living room. Samsung’s range of Smart TVs, for example, have taken remote control to a whole new level. Instead of pressing buttons, you can use hand gestures or even tell it what to do — like recommend a show or surf the Web.

INTELLIGENT: Samsung’s range of Smart TVs, for example, have taken remote control to a whole new level.

Portable entertainment systems have also been rolled into one device — the smartphone. And the cassette collection has been replaced by virtual copies from iTunes.

VHS tapes and LaserDiscs were subsequently replaced by VCDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, but nowadays you can also download a movie from iTunes and watch it on your tablet or Apple TV.

However, just because the formats died, doesn’t mean that the companies that made them followed suit. Instead they evolved and reinvented themselves.

It may be harder to find VHS tapes these days but the company that developed it, JVC, is still very much in business. It merged with Kenwood Corporation and now focuses more on car and home electronics and high-end wireless systems.

The Sony brand name is also still going strong with its line of consumer electronic products. And although the Walkman was taken off the production line in 2010, the brand name was slapped on its line of mobile phones. These days, the Walkman is an app on Sony’s mobile device range as well as its brand of MP3 Players.

Broadcast technology has also moved forward. Today, satellite and IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) give viewers a wider choice of channels to choose from.

And yet, sometimes there still isn’t anything good to watch on the tube. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Phone: Then

Can you imagine a time before you were Facebooking, Tweeting and Instagramming photos on your mobile phones?

Indeed, the mobile phones in our pockets have come a long way from the days when they were as big as bricks and could only make voice calls.

A lot of innovations have taken place over the past 20 years to the point that they are as smart and powerful as a computer.

Before the advent of the mobile phone, the closest thing to a mobile phone was a car phone — massive 36kg affairs that were built into cars, with only three channels for all users in any given area.

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Mobile phones only truly took off in the 1990s with classic phones like the Nokia 3310.

Due to the limited number of frequencies available, the service normally reached its capacity quickly. It was only in the 1980s that handheld mobile phones were introduced into the market. Motorola’s DynaTAC mobile phones were among the first to be introduced, weighing about 700g, measuring 25cm high (not including the rubber antenna on the top) and had a talk time of just 60 minutes. Though considered huge by modern standards, they were revolutionary for their time as they were portable enough to be carried around by users.

Mobile phones only truly took off in the 1990s with Finnish mobile phone maker, Nokia dominating the market with classic phones like the Nokia 3310.

Research In Motion, now called BlackBerry, is another prolific name in the mobile phone industry, having introduced the first BlackBerry smartphone that gave users the ability to access their e-mails while on the go.

Phone: Now

In 2007, Apple’s highly successful iPhone shook up the mobile phone market and brought about wider adoption of smartphones.

GAME CHANGER: Apple’s highly successful iPhone shook up the mobile phone market and brought about wider adoption of smartphones.

Google soon followed with a mobile operating system of its own Android, the following year, releasing its first Android smartphone, the T-Mobile G1(or HTC Dream) in October 2008.

Microsoft also joined the smartphone fray in 2010 with Windows Phone, its successor to its Windows Mobile Pocket PC platform.

While most of the companies mentioned are still in existence, some players like Nokia and BlackBerry has suffered diminished market share as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices pulled ahead.

Smartphones dominate the market today, extending the usefulness of mobile phones beyondmaking voice calls and sending texts.

Many feature touchscreen displays that negate the need for styluses, built-in cameras, media players, GPS navigation and can act as a WiFi hotspot for other devices.

Surfing the Web, taking pictures and checking email are standard features in almost every phone, making them multi functional devices.

Tablet: Then

Like the mobile phone, the idea for tablets came from science fiction works. This included the likes of Star Trek, Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Contrary to popular belief, the iPad was not Apple’s first attempt at creating a tablet as it had already begun developing the Newton tablet in 1987 with the intention of reinventing personal computing.

FIRST TABLET: Apple’s had already begun developing the Newton tablet in 1987 with the intention of reinventing personal computing.

Named after the famed English physicist, Sir Issac Newton, the tablet was more of a personal digital assistant (PDA) that came pre-loaded with software made for personal data organisation.

It used a stylus for taking notes and was supposed to be able to decipher handwriting but the recognition software was flawed and had very short battery life.

Unfortunately, the device did not find commercial success when it was released in 1993 and is considered one of Apple’s greatest flops.

Microsoft later took a shot at making tablets with its Tablet PCs in the early 2000s. These tablets, which were in actual fact modified PCs, were largely targeted at business users for field work and had the capability to run regular desktop programs.

Similar to the hybrid notebooks of today, many of the Tablet PCs came in many shapes and sizes with some taking on convertible forms with attached keyboards, others took on writing slate forms while others had dual screens that folded like a book.

Most of these tablets were stylus driven as the desktop operating systems they ran require high precision to navigate.

However the Tablet PCs failed to catch on to the consumer space as many were bulky and mostly ran application software created for desktop interfaces, that were ill-suited for the tablet form factor.

Tablet: Now

In 2010, Apple finally got the tablet formula right with the iPad which was met with critical acclaim.

Ironically, Apple was developing the iPad before the iPhone but realised that the concept could work as a mobile phone.

In many ways, the iPad owes its success to the iPhone and its interface is largely based around the same multi-touch screen interface as the popular smartphone.

The iPad would go on to sell 15 million iPads in the first year alone.

TABLET SUCCESS: Apple finally got the tablet formula right with the iPad which was met with critical acclaim.

Following in its wake, device manufacturers began producing Android tablets though the operating system was not optimised for tablet sized devices.

Google would later introduce the tablet-only 3.0 Honeycomb before unifying the operating system in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to support both smartphones and tablets.

This saw the introduction of Google’s flagship Nexus series with Nexus 7 and Nexus 10.

The tablets of today are definitely better devices that grow better with each passing iteration. The popularity of tablets has been so immense that it has even affected the sales of PCs.

Even Microsoft has recognised this shift and designed Windows 8 around tablets, going as far as introducing their own Surface tablet.

Regardless of iOS or Android operating systems, users today enjoy a large variety of apps that make them useful for consuming content as well as for productivity with many popular applications like Microsoft Office available for tablets.

Camcorder: Then

Just five years ago, people still bought a separate video camera if they wanted to record video and a still camera if they wanted to capture stills.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

BULKY: Consumer camcorders which converted video into electrical signals have been around since the 1980s when Sony introduced the first Betamax camcorder.

Unlike still cameras, consumer camcorders which converted video into electrical signals have been around since the 1980s when Sony introduced the first Betamax camcorder which captured video via a CCD (charge-coupled device).

However, these electrical signals were recorded in analogue format on the Betamax tape.

The problem was that being analogue, editing was fairly difficult and involved using complicated timing and professional editing hardware and resulted in a loss of quality with each subsequent edit.

Camcorder: Now

By 1995, however, all the major Japanese companies including Panasonic, JVC and Sony introduced Digital Video (DV) which recorded video and converted it into a true digital format, although still onto a magnetic tape format known as the DV cassette.

In the early 2000s, camcorders using tapeless formats were introduced by all the major manufacturers which used a variety of recording medium, from specific solid state memory cards to SD (secure digital) and built-in hard disk drives.

MORE ADVANCED: In the early 2000s, camcorders using tapeless formats were introduced by all the major manufacturers.

The main advantage of recording digitally is that it makes transferring files to the PC and editing much easier, and today, very professional results can be obtained by any user with a MacBook and iMovie.

However, while HD camcorders are still being sold today, most of the YouTube generation have opted for a completely new kind of camera — the DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, which these days not only shoots still images, but very high quality video as well.

Camera: Then

Unlike video cameras which have been capturing video electrically using CRT (cathode ray tube) technology since the 1940s, still cameras have been using silver halide film technology until only about 1991 when Kodak released the first commercial digital SLR, the DCS-100 which was a mere 1.3-megapixels and cost a whopping US$30,000 (RM90,000)!

Before digital, there was only film which came in a variety of sizes from large format 4 x 5in (100 x 120mm) film to as small as 110 film which measured just 13 x 17mm.

By far the most common was 35mm film (36 x 24mm), which was used in SLRs (single-lens reflex) and compact cameras.

Nikon FM

In those days, you bought a roll of film, opened the back of the camera and loaded it in, pulling out a bit of the film and making sure it catches and winds on properly in the camera.

ISO settings are determined by the type of film you bought — if you bought ISO100 film, that’s what you got till you finished the roll.

Even at the height of the film era, most commercially available high-sensitivity films topped out at ISO 800 and ISO 1600, although ISO 1600 films were so “grainy” that they produced almost abstract pointillistic prints.

LCD monitor? Forget about it — there was no such thing on a film camera and you composed your shot, took a picture and hoped for the best.

And 35mm film only allowed you to shoot 24 or 36 exposures and then you were done.

You only got to view it once you’d sent it off to the print shop to get back your prints a day later.

True photo enthusiasts who wanted to make the best prints had to buy an enlarger and turn their bathrooms into darkrooms.

After handling potentially harmful chemicals to develop the film (mostly in the dark) the photographer would then put the developed negative into the enlarger and then bring out a piece of printing paper.

The image would then be projected onto the printing paper for a set amount of time and then the print itself would have to be developed in chemicals to produce the final print.

Companies that were king during the film era were Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, Mamiya, Rollei, Vivitar, Yashica, Contax, Leica and Konica. amongst others.

While ultra-expensive professional DSLRs existed before this, consumers were only introduced to an affordable digital camera with the launch of the Canon EOS 300D in 2003 and shortly after, the Nikon D70 in 2004.

Camera: Now

With 1.8in LCD monitors, and 6-megapixel resolutions, the Canon EOS 300D and Nikon D70 may seem a little primitive compared to the 3.2in screens and 36-megapixel and 24-megapixel DSLRs of today, but these DSLRs were the first to hit the price of round RM3,500.

The introduction of these DSLRs, which were quickly followed by models from other manufacturers, signed the death warrant of film cameras and today, in just eight years, no new film cameras are being produced by any major company besides Russia’s Lomo.

Canon EOS 300D

Companies that couldn’t make the move to digital quickly closed down, including Kodak, Agfa, Mamiya, Rollei and Yashica, while Minolta was bought over by Sony.

By 2008, Nikon had introduced video recording in a DSLR with the D90, which offered 720p video recording and again, this was quickly followed by models from Canon and other manufacturers, all offering video recording.

Before its demise, Kodak and camera maker Olympus introduced the Four Thirds format and then the Micro Four Thirds format, which did away with the mirror box design altogether and instead offered only live view and/or an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical viewfinder.

Today, taking a photo and video on a DSLR is relatively simple. Just snap away and see your results immediately.

Want to do video? You can record so easily on the DSLR or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that these devices are starting to supplant the camcorder as the go-to camera for people who want to shoot short films.

In fact, the smartphone is now taking over the function of low-end compact cameras and camcorders, with its ability to take reasonably high quality photos and videos.

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Rise of social media
Staying connected
The storage explosion 

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