It's a strange thing about human beings that most of us tend to live in the present. Of course we all do physically live in the present, but that's not what I mean. I'm thinking about the way in which we perceive the electronics products that we use in our day-to-day lives.
On the one hand, we have a tendency to forget how rapidly things have changed in even the very recent past. On the other hand, we subconsciously think that "this is as good as it gets," and deep down in our bones we really don't expect things to change too much as we head into the future.
But if you could purchase crystal balls tuned to reveal the technological developments that are headed our way, thenmuch like the side mirror on your carthey would doubtless come with a warning along the lines of: "Caution! Objects in the Crystal Ball are Closer Than You Think!"
Nostalgia Isn't What it Used to Be
First, let's briefly remind ourselves how much things have changed over the last few years. Let's cast our minds back just 10 years to around 1999 and consider a few products that we currently regard as everyday items. Surely things like cell phones, portable music players, and global positioning system (GPS) units cannot have changed too much in the last 10 years, can they?
Well, everywhere you look these days you see people using their cell phones to send text messages and pictures to their family and friends. These activities are so ubiquitous that we don't even pause to think about them. However, although these capabilities seem to have been with us forever, in reality they are fairly recent developments. The use of texting, for example, was minimal until appropriate billing plans were in place and text-capable cell phones started to arrive on the scene around 2001.
Similarly, camera cell phones started out as an oddball novelty. In fact the first camera cell phone was built by a guy called Phillipe Kahn in 1997. Phillipe jerry-rigged a cell phone with a digital camera and transmitted his ground-breaking picture from the maternity ward when his first child was born (it remains un-recorded as to whether or not his wife was delighted to be making history in this way). Three years later in 2000, the first commercially available camera cell phonethe J-SH04was introduced in Japan by J-Phone and the Sharp Corporation. Even though this came with a hefty price tag of $500, the sensor in the J-SH04 actually had a resolution of only 0.1 megapixels. Believe it or not, it wasn't until two years later in 2002 that camera cell phones manufactured by Sanyo were first introduced in North America by Sprint.
How about MP3 players? The world's first such player, the MPMan, which was Manufactured by Korea's Saehan Information Systems, went on sale in the summer of 1998 for $250. The player featured only 32 MB of flash memory, which could be upgraded to 64 MB via mail-in scheme (because there were no standard Flash cards at that time) and connected to your PC via that great big parallel port they used to have (USB wasn't widely utilized in those far-off days). Although it's difficult to imagine a world without it, the first Apple iPod didn't appear on the scene until 2001.
And what about GPS? Ten years ago the best we could hope for was a chunky, expensive, relatively inaccurate unit with an unintuitive text-base interface. Today, of course, we're used to small, handheld devices that are accurate to a couple of meters, and that display our location using incredibly cool, multi-colored 3D graphics.