Technology we've left behind

The Apple Newton MessagePad 2100 (left) is pictured with an iPhone. (Blake Patterson/Wikimedia...

The Apple Newton MessagePad 2100 (left) is pictured with an iPhone. (Blake Patterson/Wikimedia Commons/HO)

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While it is generally accepted that technology advances and gets better, there always seems to be certain types of technology that get left behind for one reason or another.

I recently wrote about how the Internet has ruined certain things, such as the fax machine, but I thought I would look a little closer at other types of technology that seem to be less popular than they once were.

Handwriting recognition, like speech recognition, has come a long way. Both of these technologies allow for humans to interact with machines in a more natural way.

Speech recognition has improved vastly in the past few decades and now doesn't even require "training" to understand most of us and overall it works pretty well. Most smartphones now have the ability to "hear us" and even understand us for the most part when we speak but what about handwriting?

Apple was definitely ahead of its time when it released the Newton Message Pad way back in 1987. One of the first personal digital assistants, the Newton had handwriting recognition built in and while it was somewhat primitive and required you to write letters and numbers in a way it could understand, it was nonetheless amazing to those that got a chance to use it.

I would say that handwriting recognition reached a peak of sorts with the Palm Pilots that were to follow but lately it appears the trend has gone the other way.

Microsoft's Surface technology offers some amazing handwriting recognition capabilities especially when paired up with something like Evernote, and Google now offers Handwrite that lets you search on your tablet or smartphone by just writing with your fingertip. With newer generations taking a noticeable step back from writing at all, it seems to be a technology that will eventually fade into the distance.

Remember the pager? If you look at the Wikipedia page, you can see some of these relics that many people had connected to their belt loop for a long time.

Of course, many might miss the thought of getting a message and calling someone back when you were able (or felt like it) whereas there is a different sense of urgency it would seem when we receive text messages on our cellphones. Regardless, the cellphone definitely killed the pager and I for one do not miss it.

How about cradling a phone in your neck while you try to keep the cord from tangling while you are making dinner or multitasking? Forget trying to find a payphone these days (or needing to rip out an important page from the yellow or white pages along the way).

These, along with the landline phone itself are quickly starting to disappear. While the landline market is still healthy at the moment, a common phrase I keep hearing from people is "do I still need my home phone? I don't think so."

Finally, I wonder about the future of the dedicated MP3 player. In North America our first real explore was the Diamond Rio MP3 player of which I personally still own that brought high quality digital music to our lives. Of course, the whole concept was made popular with the iPod from Apple, but the eventual demise of this type of product is clearly brought on by the popularity of the iPhone and other smartphones.

I'm personally not a fan of most device divergence, where one thing does everything, but most consumers don't seem to agree as the sales of the standalone music player have been steadily declining.

It is impossible to know what technologies and software will really take off. (Facebook is so yesterday, all the cool kids are using Instagram and Snapchat now, for example.)

But one thing is clear: Technology is changing at a more rapid pace than ever, so don't get too comfortable with any one thing because it could likely change quickly.

It's not such a bad thing, really. Overall, I think our lives are better and will continue to benefit from new technology. Obsolete technology is just the price of progress.

Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum and the manager of Information Technology at ACIC/Methapharm. You can reach him via e-mail at sbolton@bfree.on.ca or on Twitter @sydbolton.


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