Most influential gadgets of all time | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 16, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:24 AM, July 16, 2019


Most influential gadgets of all time

Children growing up these days, or in fact, the early 2000’s, have had the wonderful opportunity to grow up with things that we, the so-called ‘Gen Next’ could only dream of, or see on TV. Where once it was amazingly cool to see a talking black car, that same feature is now so commonplace that it borders on sheer annoyance.

While most of pop culture may not have aged well, the one thing we can all look back on with fond memories were the gadgets we all lived with and loved to bits. Granted, we have way cooler, and perhaps more efficient stuff now, but the nostalgia factor that works with the gadgets of old is something that simply will not be echoed for our current gadgets in the near future.

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And there is a simple reason for that; the rarity factor.

Think about it, nearly everyone and their dog has a smartphone or two these days, but two decades ago, you would be hard pressed to find someone with either a polaroid camera, a camcorder, or any of the other iconic gadgets we had googly eyes for.

So, without further ado, let us take a stroll down memory lane, and go through the devices tied to our cherished memories, in no particular order than what caught my fancy. 

Sony Walkman

If you are the type to drown out your environment by putting on headphones and listening to music, you have Sony’s Walkman to thank for it.

Having a whole social effect named after it, this insanely successful product has changed the landscape of personal entertainment forever when it was unveiled back in 1979. You can understand why it was so popular; before this came along, music could only be enjoyed at home or the record store blaring out songs on speakers, but with the Walkman, you could take your music with you wherever you’d go, and listen to it in the middle of a crowded space without bugging anyone, by using headphones.

You could say it started a revolution, and it truly had. Later models even featured cool tech like Dolby and Auto-Repeat. Many other companies like Panasonic, Aiwa, Sanyo, etc. tried to cash in on the popularity of the Walkman with their own take on the gadget, with varying degrees of success. If you didn’t “temporarily borrow” your elder sibling’s Walkman to take on your school field trip, you really haven’t lived adventurously. 

Sony Discman

Despite being launched in the mid-80s, it really starting catching on in the mid-90s, when people started shifting from the cassette to the Compact Disc or CD as it is more popularly known. Another reason it wasn’t a smash hit on debut was because CDs were notorious for skipping when there was any movement, but that all changed with anti-skip, featured on later versions.

While it was really cool, it never really managed to live up to the same hype that the Walkman enjoyed, principally because the better sound quality was not enough to offset the price difference between cassettes and CDs, along with the convenience of a smaller device.

Nevertheless, the Discman remains a marvel of engineering, and fond memories to “some” 13-year-old who listened to his Discman while stuck on the eternal Panthapath intersection traffic.

Sony Playstation

You’ve seen the bout between Hunt and Lauda, you will see the bout between Ford and Ferrari pretty soon in theatres, but there’s one equally exciting bout that led to a revolution in the gaming industry.

While many don’t know the history, everyone knows the outcome – the Sony Playstation. Launched in 1994, it created waves in society akin to its Walkman line. For one thing, it demolished the notion that gaming was a hobby for children that they eventually grew out of.

Another would be its frankly revolutionary tech; who could imagine playing full 3D games with proper sound, thanks to its CD Drive, in the comforts of their own home? Do remember, this was at a time when games were still 2D, like Sonic the Hedgehog 3 or Super Metroid. As for that exciting bout, it all began when Nintendo asked Sony to make a CD-ROM version of their Nintendo NES console in 1989, but then dumped them for Phillips, in fear that Sony might reverse engineer it and make their own console, leaving them with apoplectic rage.

In the end, it happened anyway, and me and millions of other gamers are glad for it.

Motorola DynaTAC/StarTAC/Razr

If you truly cherish the cellular device in your pocket, even though it forces you to listen to your friend’s incessant ramblings at 3 AM, Motorola deserves your hat tip. Let’s start in the ‘70s and ‘80s with the DynaTAC, the first truly mobile handheld phone.

Ok, so it was 1.1 kgs, and took 10 hours to charge, only to have 30 minutes of talk time, but consider the fact that cell phones before this were heavy suitcase styled ones, you can forgive the term ‘mobile’.

Our story now moves to 1996, and Motorola has just unveiled the StarTAC, successor to the MicroTAC, the first proper semblance to what would later become the template for clamshell phones. Even though the new phone was broadly similar, what set the StarTAC down the path of success was its lower price, paving the way for it to become one of the most popular mobile cell phones ever.

All roads lead here — the Razr. If you were not salivating and contemplating which kidney to sell to be able to afford one when seeing its ad for the first time, then I am sorry, but something’s properly wrong with you.

Building on the formulas laid down by their previous devices, Motorola made something look and feel decidedly futuristic. The aluminium body, the razor thin dimensions, and thoroughly modern (at the time) specs, which even included a colour screen. On a phone!

You could even capture all your friends’ dumbstruck faces with the on-board camera.

Apple iPod/iPhone

By the late ‘90s, mp3s were all the rage, and their convenience still cannot be understated.  However, things in the portable audio market weren’t budging, and Discmans and Walkmans were still reigning, even though mp3 players were already around.

Enter the iPod.

The second product after Steve Job’s return to turn the fortune of the ailing Apple around, this thing captured the audience very much like the Walkmans of old. With catchy ads, a really modern and convenient way to carry around music, and of course, popularising the colour white, iPods ruled the market and ushered in a new generation.

Think about it, being able to carry your ENTIRE library of music, and not just a CD with one album; the appeal of it was outstanding. Plus, their iTunes Music Store managed to turn an ailing music industry back on track.

What the iPod did for music, the iPhone did for smartphones. Motorola may have put cell phones into people’s pockets, but Apple brought the smartphone to the masses in 2007. Before the iPhone, smartphones were reserved for niche members of society, and every model was different, creating quite the fragmentation in the market.

Apple solved it by unifying all things that make a good smartphone; a functioning touchscreen sans any stylus, Internet connectivity, an all-in-one media device, and of course, a cell phone. Smartphones are now a dime a dozen, thanks in part to Google’s Android powered smartphones, but we can thank the smartphone’s popularity to Apple.


Before there was Netflix, torrents, and DVDs, there was the VHS, and along with it, the VCR. VCRs represent a quantum leap in terms of consumer freedom. VCRs brought the theatre to people’s living rooms, giving birth to the phenomenon we all know and love called ‘weekend movie nights.’ But the real contribution VCRs had to consumers were their ability to record whatever was playing on TV in order to view them at a later time. Think about it; the ability to record Charlie’s Angels (the original show), ThunderCats (when it was actually new), and so many other gems because you weren’t there to watch it when it aired, or to have your own reruns later on. With later models coming in with timers, you could just set everything up and it would do the recording all on its own. Thanks to the VCR, I myself grew up watching classic gems like Knight Rider, MacGyver, way before they hit shelves as DVDs in the early 2000’s. Children these days also don’t know of experience of renting out VHS tapes of movies from shops, and the disappointments that followed if someone rented out something you wanted for your weekend chilling.

Nintendo Gameboy

It’s safe to say that the Walkman was a cultural icon. If I were to think of another device that shares the same status, my instant pick would be the Nintendo Gameboy, and if you disagree, you are wrong!

Those uninitiated in the gaming world will probably mistake its look and function to just about any other electronic handheld game devices like those brick games, but that is so not the case. This had more in common with a home gaming console than anything else, minus the need for a hefty TV. That means you were free to swap games all day long, and with titles like Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Land, Pokemon, and Legend of Zelda, it’s no wonder this became one of the bestselling game consoles in the world.

My own encounter with the Gameboy was back in 1999, belonging to a friend. Of course, I could never have one because I wasn’t allowed, because obviously if I had one, my brains could melt (parent logic). Thankfully, that friend “lent” it to select people (rented via payment of stickers or collectible cards), so safe to say, I lost a whole bunch of stock, but gained some irreplaceable memories.


Nokia 3310

It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, it’s certainly not Superman; it’s just a Nokia 3310 hurtling towards your doom because some idiot dropped one from the roof. Meet the star of many a meme regarding its indestructability, its ability to destroy worlds if dropped, or battery stamina that rivals the sun.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the 3310 gained its now folkloric reputation, but we assume it started after smartphones took over the world, and we all finally experienced the price you pay for advancement; fragility and a battery life akin to our current attention spans.

Nokia did make a modern version of the device, but you know what they say; impossible to improve upon perfection.

Cordless telephones

For people who grew up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, rotary dial wired telephones were the norm. You’d swipe numbers over the dial before swiping was cool, and be stuck at the spot the telephone was throughout the conversation, making easy for mothers the all-important job of monitoring our every conversation. And then came the cordless phones, like rain to a desert.

While cordless telephones have been around for much longer, their popularity and widespread adoption here only really kicked off around the mid-90s. With a base connected to the telephone line, you were free to roam around with the handset, chatting to your heart’s content, leaving your thwarted mum to dole out ‘the death stare,’ unless of course you were unlucky enough to have a parallel line, in which case, my condolences.

Apple iMac G3

If you asked anyone in the late ‘90s how a computer looked, they would all have the same thing in mind; a white plastic box with a screen. That notion quickly hit the curb when the iMac G3 hit shelves in 1998.

Incorporating the system into the monitor and then giving it a curvier egg shaped design and bright translucent colours was simply an inspired move. Small wonder then that this was one of the most popular desktop computers around, quickly turning around the fortunes of a then down-and-out Apple.


Photo: Collected

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