Hall of Fame Consumer Electronics: Stories of the Best Gadgets of the Last 50 Years, Part 2

Original author: Brian Santo
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First part

Bowmar 901b

In 1973, Bowmar / ALI was the largest calculator manufacturer in the world. In 1976 it closed

Goodbye, slide rule: the Bowmar 901B calculator (nicknamed “Brain”) is considered the first calculator with an LED screen and the first pocket calculator.

Creating a Bowmar Brain calculator was a gesture of despair. In 1968, Monsanto created the first fairly cheap LED screen that could be used in consumer electronics. It was followed by several other companies, including Bowmar / ALI, which was then a tiny subcontractor of the defense industry from the city of Acton, Massachusetts.

At first, Bowmar / ALI wanted to simply manufacture and sell LED screens. They were new, but then they were also very small and dull, and there were few commercial opportunities for them. One possible option was compact calculators, which began to appear quite recently - but Bowmar had problems with entering this new growing market.

The earliest battery-powered calculators, which began to appear in Japan around 1970, thanks to Canon, Sharp and Sanyo, used bulky vacuum-luminescent or gas-discharge indicators, or even tiny thermal printers. Could Bowmar succeed with a handheld calculator with LED-screen? In 1970, the company decided to find out. So the model 901B was born.

Manual at hand: the first Bowmar calculators on the back of the page were given comprehensive instructions aimed at users who had most likely never used a calculator before.

Bowmar used Texas Instruments' TMS0103 chip, as well as their Klixon keyboard buttons. The calculator of 76x127x25 mm appeared in 1971 or 1972 (there are disagreements in the sources on this score). It was priced at $ 240, which is equivalent to $ 1,400 today.

Soon, Bowmar had several customers who wanted to resell the 901B under their own brands, including Craig (naming the model 4501) and Commodore (C110). Among the retail stores wishing to sell the following models of calculators under their brand were Sears and RadioShack.

901B and his followershelped Bowmar / ALI to become the largest calculator manufacturer in the world for several years in the early 1970s. But portable calculators quickly became a popular commodity, and by 1974 their prices had collapsed. Texas Instruments began producing its own calculators, and has already surpassed Bowmar in volume. By 1975, Bowmar could not provide the flow of the necessary number of chips for calculators, some of which, as you might guess, came from TI. This did not allow the company to reduce prices enough to compete with competitors. In five years, the company launched 28 different models on the market.calculators. Five years later, in the calculator business, Bowmar / ALI filed for bankruptcy in 1976. However, her parent company, Bowmar Instrument Corp., is still alive today and still works with the Department of Defense under the name Bowmar LLC .

GoPro Hero

The original action camera started with a home-made bracelet that fixed a disposable camera to the wrist.

The first hero: the first GoPro, introduced in 2004, was a camera for 35 mm film made by a Chinese company.

There are entrepreneurs who want to be entrepreneurs, especially not caring about exactly what to earn. And there are entrepreneurs who are so attracted by the idea that entrepreneurship becomes only a means to an end. Nick Woodman refers to the latter.

After two of his startups failed in a row, he decided to take a little vacation to travel and surf. Slacking and riding the waves in Indonesia, he suddenly thought how cool it would be to take photos from the point of view of the surfer. There were practically no such photographs, because there was a surprise: it’s almost impossible to hold a camera in your hands while standing on a board. To correct this omission, Woodman took a detached shoulder strap from the surfboard and a rubber band, and assembled a mount from them that could securely hold the Kodak disposable waterproof camera on his wrist.

Camera, motor: the original Hero had a locking mechanism that held the camera horizontally at the wrist when the device was not used for photographs.

Woodman decided that it would be interesting for other surfers to document their activities, and he thought that it was possible to make some money on the production of fasteners. He bought plastic bars, Dremel, borrowed a sewing machine from his mother and went to work. He combined o-rings, a plastic mount made with Dremel, and a simple but ingenious self-made latching mechanism that could hold the camera horizontally on the arm. When you unhooked the latch, the camera turned. The surfer could at that moment take a photo, and put the camera back by snapping the buckle. Everything worked like clockwork.

“I thought that would be enough to help people to fasten a disposable waterproof camera on their wrist, and this would be a huge leap forward, and allow sorvers and other athletes to wear the camera, capture their actions from their point of view, and not rely on third-party a photographer who takes them off the beach to a telephoto lens, ”he told IEEE Spectrum magazine.

Wrist shot: GoPro founder Nick Woodman demonstrates an early prototype of his action camera around 2001.

The drawing for patent 6,955,484 B2 shows the key components of the device.

He clearly felt the right path, but it was harder to go through it than he thought. It turned out that the cameras, called waterproof, were just water-repellent. “The waterproof cameras were not designed to resist water jets,” explained Woodman. - Before the advent of GoPro, there was no waterproof camera that could have been slapped on the water with all my might, without fear that jets of water would leak in and destroy it. I would not have been able to sell many camera holders if what I had invented was a killer of cameras. I needed a camera, but I didn't know how to do it. I barely managed to make a buckle. ”

Woodman began searching online for someone who had already managed to create a truly waterproof camera. He went to exhibitions of photographic equipment, and again searched the Internet. As a result, he found a manufacturer in China with a suitable film camera. Company Hotax Manufacturing Co. agreed to take up the manufacture, but she needed drawings for attaching the camera and fasteners.

Compact, durable, waterproof: GoPro cameras allowed you to take photos of almost anything. The photo shows a kayaker making a wet and shaking trip with a GoPro camera in 2014.

“I had no education in the field of CAD,” says Woodman. - I still do not understand CAD. I did everything I could from plastic and dremel bars, and manually cut out the places for fixings and the fixings themselves, and then with the help of hot melt put them on the camera, and sent them via FedEx to China. ”

“They emailed an .IGS file, a simple file for CAD, but I did not know what .IGS was. I googled, downloaded the program for viewing, and I remember how great it was to see my ideal camera, the first GoPro camera, on the screen, in 3D, as I turned it, and thought: Wow, but we really can make this thing ” .

Hotax told Woodman that he would have to pay $ 5,000 for the mold, and Woodman realized that he didn’t know if this was a serious company and not some scammers.

“I figured everything out, and going to China to check the company was more expensive than just paying them $ 5,000 and cross your fingers for luck, hoping they would make a shape and the product itself. But they did it, and the first Hero camera was born, ”Woodman said. The first model, introduced in 2004, removed the 35 mm film. The first digital model, Digital Hero, appeared in 2006.

Woodman and GoPro made sports photography a democratic hobby. A simple, reliable camera allowed everyone to share their feelings in a way that was previously impossible. If the Internet is dominated by photos of kittens and shooting with GoPro, then the latter, at least, are fascinating: the spectacular waves unfold slowly , the eagles soar majestically , crazy tricks are performed. And, of course, the best video with a dog .

Woodman is proud of the fact that GoPro cameras, which have gone from film photos to digital video, already have four different models, gimbal gimbal and drone, and their capabilities are constantly expanding, increasing video resolution and wireless connectivity options. He is also proud of their invulnerability. By the end of a conversation with a journalist, he suggests: “Try to kill GoPro. I challenge you.

Epson R-D1

This strange hybrid camera had a mechanical shutter and a 6.1 MP photomatrix

Unexpected pioneer: the very first digital rangefinder camera was not made by Leica, a company known for its rangefinders. It was made in collaboration with Epson and the camera manufacturer Cosina Voigtländer.

Since the 1940s, and in the next 30 years, distance measuring cameras have been an indispensable attribute of people seeking to take professional photos. But in the 1970s single-lens reflex cameras appeared, then digital SLRs followed, allowing even inexperienced beginners to take decent photos from time to time. With the growing popularity of DSLRs, the rangefinder cameras have become a wonder - suitable, apparently, for occasional use by professionals and people who were seriously keen on this process as a hobby. And then Epson introduced the R-D1, the first digital rangefinder camera, which single-handedly returned rangefinder cameras to the stage from both commercial and artistic points of view.

The rangefinder cameras have two optical paths — one through the lenses, one through a separate rangefinder — and they give two slightly different angles of view on one scene, which are then superimposed. The photographer rotates the focus ring, and when two images overlap, the object is in focus.

The mirror uses mirrors and prisms to project the image visible through the lenses onto the viewfinder, allowing the photographer to focus on it. When pressing the trigger, the main mirror physically turns, leaving the path between the lenses and the film (or photomatrix). As the images seen by the photographer in the viewfinder go through the lenses, they get exactly what they see. Therefore, this scheme works well in a system in which you can change the lens. By the end of the 1970s, the SLRs were already far ahead of the rangefinder cameras in sales.

Quiet sniper: compact and quiet, rangefinder cameras especially esteemed by street photographers.

And yet the rangefinder cameras did not disappear completely. They did not have mirrors and related equipment, so they were smaller and quieter. The absence of a mirror made it possible to place the lenses closer to the film or the matrix, so that you could get sharper photos. There are reasons why Leica still produces rangefinder cameras, and why people are ready to dump $ 8,000 apiece (no lenses included).

Nevertheless, few people foresaw the appearance in 2004 of a digital rangefinder camera, created jointly by Epson and camera maker Cosina Voigtländer, known, like Leica, for its rangefinder cameras (the company stoppedmake cameras in 2015). The R-D1 became the first digital rangefinder camera, surpassing the debut model Leica M8 for two years. He had a 1: 1 type viewfinder, which allowed the photographer to see the entire frame through the camera as if with the naked eye. And its recommended price of $ 3000 was aimed at professional photographers and wealthy fans.

Epson has given its technological innovation the obvious features of retro design. After 1980, part of the appeal of rangefinder cameras was their vysprenny appearance. Then and now many lovers of rangefinder cameras avoided autofocus and autoexpression, preferring old-fashioned manual control.

Old and new: the R-D1 had an APS-C photomatrix and a 5 cm screen. The lever on the top right looks exactly like a film rewind lever, but it lowered the mechanical shutter.

The R-D1 was an intriguing hybrid of old and new. It looked and worked about like a classic rangefinder camera on a 35 mm from the 60s and 70s, although it had many advanced digital features, for example, a 6.1 MP format APS-C CCD sensor from Sony. Some photographers could use it with most of the lenses they had — it was the first digital camera to use the Leica M bayonet, a standard of high-end optics developed by Leica in 1954, and used in Leica cameras, Voigtländer and another half dozen manufacturers.

The company even provided a lever, which looked like a device for rewinding a film on old rangefinder cameras, and at first glance was not needed, because there are no films in digital cameras. In fact, he cocked the mechanical descent - yes, the descent was mechanical. This delighted many enthusiasts who were nostalgic for the rapidly disappearing world of film cameras.

Sony walkman

The idea of ​​the player was born at the co-founder of Sony, who adored opera.

Industry leader: the original Sony Walkman TPS-L2 worked on a pair of AA batteries, it had two headphone jacks and lightweight headphones included.

Approximately half of the people living today were born after the appearance of the Walkman player. And thanks to the Guardians of the Galaxy, almost everyone knows what it is. But if you have not yet been born by 1979-80, you do not understand how shocking the revelation was this subject, how radically it changed the playing and consumption of music, and with what amazing speed it became ubiquitous.

In the 70s there was a lot of tape decks, but the main trend was on the way to increase, not decrease. People boasted to those who will be more powerful sound. The most prestigious were the boom boxes, and by 1979 the largest of them had reached the size of Fiat 128 and had a much more sophisticated backlight (well, let's say with the size I exaggerated. But for some, the backlight was really chic).

And then suddenly, Sony begins to produce this player, small enough to fit it in a large pocket, and inexpensive. It could be taken anywhere. Today, when smartphones and earplugs are as mundane as socks, it will be difficult for young people to understand how crazy this revolution was: you could listen to your music with headphones personally. Nobody knew you were listening to Captain & Tennille orAir Supply , if you do not tell.

Walkman generally appeared because one person wanted to listen to opera singing in airplanes, without annoying other passengers. This man, Masaru Ibuka, was one of the founders of Sony, so his desires attracted much more attention than the wishes of most people [ Viki says that the other founder, Akio Morita, liked to listen to the opera. trans. ].

Sony has already released portable cassette players, but almost all of them focused on recording, mainly for voice recording. Almost all. In 1978, Sony introduced the nominally portable system TC-D5.. It sounded great, but was rather cumbersome and cost about $ 1000. Ibuka used it in his opera dreams as he traveled, but asked him to do something that would be easier to wear. The request went through Norio Og, who gave this task to Kozo Oson, lead engineer at Sony Pressman, an expensive tape recorder designed for professional journalists. Oson produced a cropped version of Pressman for playback only, which Ibuke enjoyed.

At that time, sales of Sony's portable voice recorders were plummeting. Ibuka and another founder of the company, Akio Morita, decided that if the recorders were not for sale, then perhaps the players would go. Morita commissioned Oge and Osona to create an even cheaper version of the device, which they made for Ibuka. Technologically speaking, the Walkman was nothing new. But in terms of form and use, it was radically new.

Sony co-founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita helped bring about the Walkman. Ibuka asked to make a portable player so that he could enjoy the opera during business trips. Morita ordered engineers to make a cheaper version of the player for sale .

First Walkman TPS-L2appeared in Japan in 1979. In the USA, it was introduced to the market in 1980 as Soundabout, and in other markets it was advertised as Stowaway or FreeStyle. But whatever the name, it was a metallic case of blue and silver colors, weighing about 400 grams, measuring 150x90x35 mm, working from a pair of AA batteries and selling in some markets for only $ 150. The first model had two stereo headphone jacks so that two people could listen to it simultaneously. The kit included specially designed headphones , weighing only 50 grams, perhaps because the finished headphones at the time weighed no less than the player itself, and this combination seemed to Sony designers to be absurd.

Walkmanit wasn’t selling as fast as the iPod did a couple of decades later, but it still diverged pretty quickly. Accidentally, the player's exit coincided with the beginning of an obsession with running in the USA. The runners enthusiastically adopted a player that helped them take their favorite music with them for a run. Sony noticed this and the response released a bright yellow model that marked the beginning of sturdy devices, which the company called Walkman Sports.

Immortality in pop culture: Thirty-five years after the Walkman was released in Japan, he got into the first film Guardians of the Galaxy. In a memorable scene in the second part of the film, one of the characters dances to the Electric Light Orchestra composition “Mr. Blue Sky.

Sony was able to sell 186 million Walkman cassette players by the end of March 1999. Along with the evolution of storage formats, both the Walkman developed and Sony released models that first lost the CD, and then the MP3. Until now, Sony has been selling portable digital players under the Walkman brand. The recent surge in interest in the retro-sound (mainly for vinyl and turntables, but also for tapes, too) has led some eBay vendors to ask for $ 450 for running TPS-L2.

Nokia N85

The first AMOLED cell phone failed on the market, despite combining several very advanced technologies.

Visitors from the future: Nokia N85 was the first smartphone with a screen-active matrix on organic light-emitting diodes (AMOLED). Such displays will become the most popular type of screens for many years after that.

Nokia N85 is not included in any list of the best phones of its time. She did not even hit the list of Nokia phones in 2008, which occupy the top five places in sales. Its peculiarity lies in the fact that it was the first phone that presented the highest quality screen for smartphones: an active matrix on organic light-emitting diodes.

Today Samsung is associated with AMOLED screens, but Nokia is ahead of it. The N85 was released in October 2008, and the first Samsung phone on AMOLED, i7110, was released in February 2009.

In those days, most phones had TFT screens (thin-film transistors), although some had OLED screens. AMOLED gave a richer color palette and contrast compared to TFT. There was still no smartphone without battery problems, and AMOLED consumed less power than OLED, and much less than TFT. They have a greater viewing angle than TFT. And AMOLED is also flexible - although for almost 10 years almost no one used this advantage, but it is a key feature of the curved screens that some manufacturers play today. AMOLED screens did not start as touchscreens; This feature was created later by adding a touch sensitive layer on top of the screen.

In 2008, there was still a zoo on the phone market of various screen sizes, some of which occupied half of the phone, and some almost the entire surface. N85 belonged to the first. He did not have a touch screen, so he needed a place for buttons. The screen diagonal was 2.6 "and the resolution was 240x320.

Call of the future: the second smartphone from AMOLED was the Samsung i7110. Later, Samsung began to use AMOLED on all premium models.

The N85 also included other advanced features for that time, including WiFi connection, 5 - a megapixel camera with autofocus and Zeiss lenses. The phone was priced at € 450 for € 100 cheaper than the then Nokia flagship, the N96, which many considered inferior in quality.

After the release of the N85 and i7110, critics ached about the poor visibility of the screens in the sun, but many other screens also failed this test (and many do not cope with it even today).

Although AMOLED technology is now associated with Samsung, it was invented at Kodak in the 1980s. The first product with an AMOLED screen was the 2003 Kodak EasyShare LS633 camera. But by that time, Kodak's star had already entered, and the company began to close down businesses and sell off assets, including AMOLED sales in 2009. LG, one of Nokia and Samsung’s competitors in the field of smartphones, bought it. LG saw the N85 and i7110, and correctly decided that AMOLED will become the standard for smartphones.

As for Nokia, it sold its phone business to Microsoft in 2014. Two years later, in the course of a difficult transaction, independent company HMD Global issued a license to sell Nokia-branded phones. At the same time, HMD Global buys some of the AMOLED screens from LG, including the current flagship of Nokia, Nokia 8 Sirocco.

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