Some days, it seems like all things old are new again. The retro movement is bringing back products that I thought would stay buried forever. In this blog post I will review a few products from the past that have returned with a new twist.
I thought the Polaroid brand had disappeared until I saw an ad for a new Polaroid camera. This does not look like anything I remember, but amazingly it still has the instant print feature. Thanks to a technology called ZINK (Zero-Ink) these cameras print images instantly while saving them digitally. This new technology uses heat to excite color molecules embedded in special paper that are then arranged to form a print of the image you captured. Just like the cameras of old, you have to buy packs of special paper and you get the classic Polaroid border.
Classic Video Games
Old arcade games such as Pong, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders are available again through the various app stores. Perhaps it is refreshing to go back to 1972 to try your hand at Pong after being challenged by the complexity of modern video games. A dot and two paddles seem pretty simple today but it was cutting edge when Atari created the first arcade games. Instead of pulling out our smart phone, we actually had to go to the arcade in the mall and pay a quarter for the privilege of testing our skill and hope that our initials would appear in the hall of fame. Swedish airports have capitalized on this nostalgia kick by installing classic arcade games that will take any currency. While waiting for your luggage you can try your hand at Ms. Pac-Man, and all of the money the machine takes in is donated to the Swedish Red Cross.
Old School Telephones
That same smartphone that now plays video games used to be a hardwired telephone complete with handset. The old school phone is new again, but with a twist. The iRetroPhone is a dock and charger that lets you use an iPhone as a rotary dialer with a traditional handset. Touted benefits include comfort, shielding from any radiation, and complete access to your phone screen while talking. As in the days before cordless phones, you have to stay within cord-length of the IRetroPhone, but it does provide for a bit of nostalgia.
While vinyl records have been making a comeback for several years, cassette tapes are just now rebounding. All of my cassette tapes are garbled from bleed-through and years of storage, so someone must have done a better job preserving them than I have. There is a growing market for old cassette tapes and some independent labels are recording new material on tape. While the market is still small, it is growing in some circles. Sony has developed a tape that will hold 185 terabytes of storage. It has the same form factor as a cassette but uses different materials. If used for music it will store 47 million songs, but it will most likely be used as a backup medium for large data centers.
What is behind the push to recreate old form factors using new technology? Are we trying to return to what we perceive were simpler times, or is this a backlash to increasingly complicated technology that is sometimes not so user-friendly? Cassette tapes were fun, but for reliability give me solid-state memory any day. Are there old technologies you wish would make a comeback? Will we some day witness a revival of eight-track tapes? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.