Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hand-held Media

I suspect that, given the topic for this week, you probably weren't expecting to see .. a "transistor radio." It was the latest in hand-held media technology when it d├ębuted in 1954, in an era when a "radio" was a piece of furniture only slightly smaller than the sofa. It was co-produced by Texas Instruments, who would later be a pioneer the field of computing; four years later, its laboratory would be the birthplace of the integrated circuit, and it would produce the first hand-held calculator in 1967 -- for the low low price of $2,500! It was probably around that year that I first got my own transistor radio, complete with a single monaural ear-bud, and saw one of the TI calculators my dad had brought back from the lab at General Electric (he actually had to sign it out, since it was such an expensive piece of hardware).

Of course no one foresaw in these early days that there would come a slow, Frankenstein-like convergence which would create a new device that would serve not only as a radio and a calculator, but also as a camera, video camera, music player, and telephone. The sheer weight and size of all the devices and media that an iPhone or Android smartphone replaces would easily top a hundred pounds, and take up an entire living-room wall. Weighing in at an average of 140g (about 5 ounces), the LP's that would be needed to equal a 32 GB iPhone loaded with music (400) stacks up to 125 pounds, not counting the weight of the sleeves and covers!

The milestones along the way are worth remembering, even as they fade from our sight: the Walkman (1978), the Discman (1984), and the first iPod (October 2001, scarcely fifteen years ago, if that's possible), and the first smartphone (IBM's Simon in 1992). One could very well ask, what could possibly be next? Or will the hand-held be supplanted by the strapped-on-the-head, the wearable, or even the implanted?


  1. I'm all for increasing cybernetics as long as they've got good design principles. With a topic like the iPhone or iWatch or any innumerable portable apple device, I think design is a key element to making the market move with portability.

    I've brought up products like the Newton before -- it's horrific design choices and mediocre programming turned it into a bust. My first iPhone was the 2 and while by no means a perfect product, I think there's an argument to the iPhone and iPod's design becoming its most essential feature and the real reason behind its sales. Yes its innovative -- but innovative products that lack good design principles rarely become ubiquitous. I think there's a similiar argument present in cybernetics as well. There's not going to be a huge market for cybernetics if they're not chic.


  2. 040717 Hand Held Media
    What’s better than hand held media? Headphones! Remember the boom box in the 80’s? I do not want to hear your music selection at all hours and at all levels of distortion and low fidelity. You have six 15” subwoofers in your whip? I do not want to hear the new Drake track in my car, louder than my radio, with the windows up, assaulting me from your car! Why do people have conversations on earpieces while waiting in line? It’s rude to the cashier and the other people in line. Plus, it’s embarrassing when I think they’re talking to me and I answer someone who is staring into space. Even that is better than the people who walk around talking into their phone on speaker-phone like a walkie talkie. Put the thing up to your head! How about I walk around with a hologram of the medical recording of my gall bladder operation playing? Poke-Mon Go-Away! “Always connected” has become “always disconnected”, from physical reality. On the head, wearable and implanted technology will further encourage people to walk into traffic or off a cliff face. Darwin would be so vindicated, as our electronics cull the herd!
    Tony Ricci