As part of GeekTech’s Retro Week, what better way to celebrate the technology of the 1980s to early 90s with a nostalgic rundown of popular and much-loved gadgets from the decade? Here are some of our favorites; don’t forget to add your favorite gadgets to the comments section if we missed any!
Forget those iPods and smartphones! A must-have gadget of the 80s was the first Sony Walkman. It was the first time people could really listen to their music collection while on the go. Of course, at that point it could only play cassette tapes (remember those?), so unless you were prepared to carry around a bag full of tapes, your choice was pretty limited–compared to today’s thousands-of-songs-in-your-pocket gadgets, at least.
The Nintendo NES (which stands for Nintendo Entertainment System) is a pretty remarkable 80s gaming console. Not only do people still play on the 8-bit system nearly 30 years on, but it was also believed to help lift the gaming industry out of the 1983 video game crash with its higher-quality games. Its controller also set an industry standard in game controlling–to this day, consoles use some form D-pad and an equivalent to the B and A buttons on the NES controller.
The NES was the console to own in order to play now-classics such as Mario and Zelda by yourself or with a friend. While it cost $250 to buy at the time (which was a fair chunk of change in the 80s), Nintendo went on to sell over 60 million units.
Speak & Spell
It was an educational tool that lots of kids (and maybe some adults!) wanted. As the name suggests, the toy would say out a word, and you would have to type out the spelling of the word with the keypad. Of course, there was also a slot so you could have more word-related fun in ROM game form. It was fun perhaps if you were gifted with lingustics, but hell if you weren’t (although if you were crafty, you could make it swear). A fun fact about the toy: it was first introduced at CES in 1978, therefore making it the first electronic handheld toy.
Released in 1982, the Commodore 64 was the the ultimate computer at the time. Its popularity came down to the fact it wasn’t just available in electronics stores, it could be hooked up to a TV set easily and the accessible original price of $595. Specification wise though, it only had 64KB of RAM. It’s also argued that it is still the best selling computer of all time, shifting 17 million units.
The Gameboy was another runaway hit for Nintendo–it was an 8-bit handheld mashup of the NES and Nintendo’s first attempt at handheld gaming, the Game & Watch. The original black-and-white version combined with the later release of the Gameboy Color ammassed 118.69 million units sold. In the US, the first one million units shipped sold out within weeks.
Windows 1.0, which was almost called the not-so-fetching name of Interface Manager, was released in 1985. The original version of the OS wasn’t exactly Windows’ best due to a lot of glitches, and it wasn’t really until Windows 3.1 in 1992 that Microsoft saw considerable uptake in the software. Despite that slow start, Windows dominated the PC market by the mid 90s. And as of May 2011, Windows still held 88% of the OS market.
Mobile Brick Phones
Ah yes…the brick phone. Motorola developed the first fully mobile phone–the Dynac8000x–but it came at a pricey $3,995. Would you pay that much for a phone now? You could talk for just 30 minutes at a time and it took 10 hours to recharge. Motorola’s main competition at that point was Nokia, who created the likes of the Mobira Cityman 1320 and Nokia 101 (the first “candybar” shape phone). Brick phones weren’t exactly something you’d see much of walking around town, but they did famously appear in movies such as Wall Street.
By the 1980’s, Lego was becoming established, launching its first pirate theme sets, the Duplo series, and Technic kits. The company also hosted its first World Cup building contest, featuring 17 different countries. The most significant thing LEGO created in the 80s, though, was clearly the LEGO Brick Separator–no more jammed bricks and sore fingers!
The upright arcade cabinet was an iconic item for the 80s–it’s quite a shame the original cabinets are no longer about. Memorable games included Pacman, Space Invaders, Battlezone and Donkey Kong. Sadly, the cabinets of the 80s died out in the 90s and 2000s due to advancing technologies in the gaming industry, but there’s always the iCade.
Other notable gadgets and electronics of the 80s include: Microwaves, the keytar, cordless phones, Macintosh 128k, VHS Player, CD player.