The Microsoft Surface arrives today. It’s been touted as the perfect compromise between laptop and tablet. (From what we can tell, that’s not quite the case.)
But hybrid gadgets have a checkered past. Most seem to fail at first, and yet some find success later. So all hope might not be lost for this quirky device. And maybe, one day, we’ll see the Surface as a pioneer, like some of these 12 other examples—all greeted as mixed-up weirdos in their time.
The Mac was not the first all-in-one computer. That honor goes to the HP 9810. In 1971, it combined a computer, a keyboard, and a very rudimentary LED display capable of showing calculator-grade characters. Actually, it was a glorified calculator. Later, in 1980, the IBM 5120 was the first to combine a traditional CRT display with the guts of a PC. As for Apple, the Lisa—the company’s first all-in-one offering—arrived in 1983.
Companies like HP may be synonymous with today’s multifunction machines that print, scan, copy and fax. But the Scanntronic, a little box that could attach to any dot matrix printer, was a single tool that could accomplish all that in the 1980s. It could scan and digitize a document with the help of a Commodore 64.
Combining a boombox and a TV seems like the ultimate ’80s gadget for teenagers, and certainly had to be novel for the time, but one could only imagine how bad the picture and reception had to be on that thing.
The TV/VCR combo has it’s earliest roots in the 1970s, when a ancestral technology known as cartrivision popped up in the market place. Sony would later produce a combo unit that played Betamax tapes. But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the TV/VCR combo would become a trend, popularized by companies like Sharp. The thing a lot people failed to realize was, when the VCR failed and had to be taken to the shop for repairs, you lost the use of the television in the process.
Photo: Brian Derksen
In the 1990s, computers were those small beige boxes you kept hidden in a home office. So a former Apple engineer had a bright idea: A device that could connect to a home TV to access the web from the comfort of a couch. Unfortunately, between a clunky remote and keyboard, the low resolution of standard-definition television, and the fact that mail was the “killer app,” it was a frustrating user experience. But, at least, it was bought by Microsoft. And, for its encryption powers, classified as a weapon by the US government.
Photo: Web Reference
Developed in conjunction with Philippe Kahn, who happens to be the first person to ever send an image taken with a cellphone, Sharp’s J Phone was the first to reach any consumer market when it hit Japan in 2000. Capable of shooting images with 256 colors and a resolution well below VGA (110,000 pixels in all), the J Phone camera was hardly a powerhouse. But for the time, it was probably amazing. More importantly, it paved the way for the excellent camera modules we have in phones today.
Before Apple and Google convinced game devs there was money to be made in the smartphone market, Nokia was trying to do the same with its dumbphones. Its most aggressive attempt to takeover the portable gaming space came in 2003, the form of the NGage, a device meant as much for play as it was for communications. Unfortunately, the NGage lacked the A+ titles needed to attract buyers, and the hardware wasn’t quite good enough to dethrone the Game Boy Advance. It wouldn’t be until the iPhone arrived that gaming on the phone would be taken (almost) as seriously as gaming on a portable console.
The world had already seen Network Attached Storage in 2004, but the Iomega NAS 100D was among the the first to tack wi-fi onto a 160 gigabyte drive. It allowed people to access content from a home network, sans wires and without the need of additional networking gear. Of course, devices such as Apple’s Time Capsule would go on to capitalize on this concept.
Devices like the Sega CD and PS1 could play audio CDs, true. But the real hybridisation of the video game console came with the PS2 and its ability to play DVD movies. Nintendo and Sega both shied away from this functionality, with Nintendo claiming it wanted to focus on being a gaming machine. But Sony fully embraced the future destiny of gaming consoles as all-around home entertainment devices. Today, the Xbox 360 is the ideal iteration of this hybrid concept.
The Livescribe is among the strangest of the hybrid beasts. It’s a pen with the power to digitise your handwritten notes. But it’s also a voice recorder capable of synchronizing audio recordings to the written word. Oh, and it has the ability to perform relatively simple calculations, such as mathematical operations and language translations. Before the rise of tablets and ultrabooks, this was coveted by copious note takers. These days, maybe less so, but surely there’s still some student, lawyer—or reporter—who prefers taking notes by hand.
The Canon 5D was hardly the first device to capture photo and video. But it was the first DSLR to accomplish the feat at a level approaching professional grade. Equipped with a 21 megapixel sensor, the camera captured 1080p video at industry standards such as 24p and 30p. If you dropped the res to 720p, it could go all the way up to 60 frames per second. And because the video feature could take advantage of the powerful sensor and interchangable lenses, the camera found a role shooting several television and movie productions. Not too shabby.
There have been wi-fi enabled cameras, cameras with select apps for uploading photos, and cameras with embedded software for photo fun. But none have ever come packaged with a full mobile OS like the Nikon CoolPix S800c. Running a version of Android, the camera can use any photo editing app or photo upload service available on the platform without first having to connect to a computer. It’s one of the few ways the point-and-shoot camera can hope to stay relevant in the golden era of the cameraphone.