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Goldstuck on Gadgets

Smartphones are so 1960

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Measure cellphone evolution in automobile years, and you realise we still have a long way to go, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

We all know about dog years (7 for every human year) and Internet years (the time it takes for online technology to evolve as much as other technology evolves in a year typically a few months).

Cellphones and their rapid evolution supposedly obey the calendar of Internet time.

But what if we all have it wrong? What if cellphones are in fact still at a very early stage of their evolution? That sounds counter-intuitive, because they inspire such fear and bafflement.

That, however, is exactly how we can see we are still at an early stage in cellular history. See what happens when we look at the cellphone according to automobile years.

From the moment the first long-distance trip in a self-propelled vehicle was completed by Bertha Benz in her husband’s creation in 1888, the myths about the dangers of both automobiles and women drivers created a traffic jam in the collective psyches of the industrialised world.

Only in 1896 was the law completely abolished that required men with red flags to walk ahead of cars (women are still not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia). Even by 1907, the satirical Punch magazine characterized car drivers as ‚”motor fiends‚”. By the end of the First World War, numerous adults still shunned cars, partly because of cost, partly because they were still regarded as dangerous.

Karl Benz’s first car was the equivalent of the 1972 Motorola DynaTAC, a massive cellphone that was almost bigger than a human head.

The Model T Ford, the first mass-produced vehicle, can be likened to the Motorola MicroTAC, the first flip phone. But both were still finicky devices.

It was only with the arrival of more streamlined vehicles, like the Austin 7 in the 1920s and the Nokia 2110 in the 1990s, that ordinary people began to feel it was safe to use the things.

Finally, when cars and phones became cool the MG in the late 1930s and the Nokia 6310i in the early 2000s the mass market embraced them. But then came ‚”the next stage in the fine art of motoring‚”, namely the 1950 Studebaker, and the next generation cellphone, the BlackBerry 5810 smartphone, to prompt people to ask who needs all THAT in a gadget?

Chevrolet and other manufacturers responded with the first truly useless accessories: tailfins. Their 1960 Bel Air can be compared to the first iPhones in 2007: filled with features no one would use, but also designed to be desired.

Just as the old-timers railed against the kids with useless tailfins, so the media today rants about the useless bells and whistles on the cool smartphones. And we complain bitterly about the potholes in network coverage and data plans. We are stuck in the mid-60s in automobile years.

I can’t wait for the 1980s, when fuel efficiency became a standard selling feature for cars, battery technology improved, and the modern era of car design began.

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