The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years

41. BellSouth/IBM Simon Personal Communicator (1993)

Not to be confused with the Milton Bradley game Simon (#38), the Personal Communicator was the first mobile phone to include a built-in PDA. Jointly marketed by IBM and BellSouth, the US$900 Simon was a combination phone, pager, calculator, address book, calendar, fax machine, and wireless e-mail device--all wrapped up in a 20-ounce package that looked and felt like a brick.

42. Motorola Handie Talkie HT-220 Slimline (1969)

The first portable two-way radios introduced during World War II weighed up to 35 pounds apiece, but the HT-220 weighed just 22 ounces--in part because it was the first portable radio to use integrated circuits instead of discrete transistors. Back then it was a favorite of the Secret Service; today it enjoys a small but fiercely dedicated following of radio geeks. Photo courtesy of Motorola.



43. Polaroid Swinger (1965)

In the mid-1960s, no gift for teens and preteens was cooler than the US$20 Polaroid Swinger instant camera. (Okay, it actually cost "nineteen dollars and ninety-five," as immortalized in one of the catchiest ad jingles of the decade.) The Swinger's big innovation was its pinchable photometer button: When the shot's light was just right, the word "YES" lit up in the viewfinder. Of course, the newbie photographers for whom the camera was intended were likely to focus more on the "YES" than on the actual composition of the shot. Photo courtesy of Polaroid.

44. Sony Aibo ERS-110 (1999)

Sony's US$1500 robotic pet, the ERS-110, was cuter than your average mutt and a whole lot smarter. Advanced artificial intelligence allowed it to learn from its environment, as well as sit, stand, roll over, and act puppyish. Later "breeds" recognized your voice commands and featured a built-in Webcam, so you could hire Aibo to babysit the kids. Photo courtesy of Sony Electronics.

45. Sony Mavica MVC-FD5 (1997)

Yes, it wasn't the first digital camera, but it was the first that saved photos on a platform that every PC user knew and loved: the ubiquitous 3.5-inch floppy. The FD5 provided a very easy--and familiar--way to get images out of the camera and onto a PC. Storing photos on floppies also meant that people could keep taking pictures as long as they fed the camera more disks. Photographers could easily share digital snapshots with family and friends because everybody used floppies. Like many first-generation digital cameras, the US$599 Mavica was bulky and ugly, but its specs were up to snuff (for the time): Image resolution topped out at 640 by 480 pixels (which translates to 0.3 megapixel), and the camera had a sizable 2.5-inch LCD.

46. Learjet Stereo-8 (1965)

They're the butt of jokes these days, but 8-track tapes and decks changed car audio forever. The Stereo 8, which first appeared as an option on Fords, had minimal controls and was often mounted under the dashboard with ugly U-brackets, but aesthetics weren't the point. With an 8-track in your car, you were no longer at the mercy of local radio station playlists. That was a very big deal at a time when only the largest cities had stations that played what was then known as "album rock." And the sound! In those days 8-tracks blew the doors off anything coming from a radio station, despite their infamous fadeouts when the tracks switched. The 8-track didn't last all that long, falling out of favor in the early 1970s as smaller, more convenient cassette tapes (and later CDs) came along. Photo courtesy of 8-Track Heaven.

47. Timex/Sinclair 1000 (1982)

Invented by British gadget king Clive Sinclair and marketed in the United States by Timex (which knew a thing or two about affordable gizmos), this everyman's computer sold for a rock-bottom US$100. The slab-shaped T/S 1000 was cheap in every sense of the word--it packed a minuscule 1KB of RAM and had a barely usable flat keyboard. Even so, it was a blockbuster, briefly: Timex shipped 600,000 of them, many more were sold in other countries, and clones even appeared. For an exhaustive look at the whole phenomenon, consult the Timex Sinclair Showcase.

48. Sharp Wizard OZ-7000 (1989)

It didn't quite fit into a shirt pocket, and its non-QWERTY keyboard wasn't the most intuitive of input devices. But long before the PalmPilot 1000 (#4) or even the Newton MessagePad (#28), the first Sharp Wizard helped popularize the concept of a small, lightweight electronic address book and calendar, thereby becoming the granddaddy of the modern personal digital assistant. Want to read more? The Open Directory Project has a page full of Wizard links. Photo courtesy of Sharp.

49. Jakks Pacific TV Games (2002)

For decades, the Atari 2600's black joystick has symbolized the raw spirit of early console video gaming. How fitting, then, that the joystick itself evolved into an entire videogame console in 2004, when a small toy company called Jakks Pacific launched the phenomenally successful TV Games line. The TV Games controller/game console hooks directly to standard inputs on a television and runs off batteries. Atari TV Games was the first version, bundling ten of the most popular classic Atari games from the 1980s--Pong, Asteroids, Breakout, and more--in a controller that looked just like the original Atari VCS (#7) joystick.

50. Poqet PC Model PQ-0164 (1990)

Years before the Pocket PC, there was the Poqet PC. About the size of a videotape, the Poqet was pricey (US$2000), but it ran off-the-shelf applications and could go for weeks on two AA batteries. Highly praised during its brief life, the Poqet vanished from the market after its manufacturer was acquired by Fujitsu. As with seemingly every interesting computer of yore, it still has its devotees, including Bryan Mason, proprietor of the informative Poqet PC Web Site. Photo courtesy of the Obsolete Computer Museum.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dan Tynan

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?