Endless arrays of smart phones and accessories, streaming media sticks, video doorbells, smart lighting, and ever sharper big-screen TVs dominate this year’s Black Friday advertising circulars.
It seems the most-hyped electronics are accessories to today’s cloud-based, always-networked existence. And why not? Smart speakers, home assistants and streaming TVs are easier than ever to set up and almost magical in their ability to bring us infinite content, whenever and however we want it.
But as technology pushes us forward, it also forces us to leave much behind. Tomorrow’s advances make yesterday’s technology — awe-inspiring as it once seemed — expendable. Today’s holiday sale offerings push yesterday’s Black Friday gadgets deeper into those boxes stacked in the back of our garages.
So today, amid two full months of Black Friday fanfare, let’s bid farewell to products that modern technology turned from “must have” to “don’t need” and shake our heads at how much money we were willing to spend for them.
1985: Teknika VHS Video cassette recorder with remote control, $349 at Burdines
Sure, television changed the world when it became widely adopted in the 1950s. But apart from the evolution from black and white to color, the technology stayed the same. You knew what time your favorite shows came on, and you made sure you were there to watch them. The rise of the VCR meant we could consume TV on our time. We could speed through commercials and even rent popular movies before they came to pay movie channels. This 1985 Burdines ad offered this obscure brand for $250 off the regular price of $600. And if you were handy with audio cables, you could route the sound through your hi-fi rack system.
1985: Tandy computers, $88 to $999 at Radio Shack
Many future computer geeks cut their teeth on Radio Shack’s Tandy line. This ad offers a state-of-the-art Tandy 1000 built on IBM’s groundbreaking PC architecture. The Tandy Color Computer 2, sold between 1983 and 1986, used buyers’ home televisions as their displays and were praised for the amount of educational software they could run. One of the largest improvements over the previous model, the Tandy Color Computer 1, was that it could display lowercase letters.
2004: Konka 20-inch color television with front A/V inputs, $68.99 after $11 instant savings and $20 mail-in rebate, at Best Buy
We were three or four years away from high-definition flat screen TVs taking over the market when this was offered. This was likely hauled to the curb, like so many other heavy, boxy but perfectly good standard-definition tube sets, long before it died of old age. But getting a 20-inch color TV for well under $100 (after rebate) was and still is a deal.
2004: Portable DVD player by Polaroid, $139.99 after $50 mail-in rebate at Best Buy
Remember how cutting edge these seemed in 2004, after DVDs replaced VHS tapes? They could function as a monitor for camcorders, play digital music or photos off discs, or in many cases, SD cards. They could entertain the kiddos in the back seat. They also served as traveling entertainment hubs, with cables that could be connected to TVs in hotel rooms and cruise ship cabins. Unfortunately, the screen resolution was primitive and easily bested by laptop computers with DVD drives and larger screens. By the time high-definition TV, Blu Ray discs, large-screen smart phones and tablets came along, there was little need for these. Blu Ray versions remain available but they won’t be found in the front pages of the Black Friday circulars.
2005: VTech Answering Machine and Cordless Phone Bundle, $64.99 after savings and mail-in rebate at Sears
This cordless phone combo required some effort to obtain at Sears’ advertised price. First, the deal was only available on Black Friday until 11 a.m. Sears offered a $45 discount, but you had to mail in a rebate form to get that last $20 off. Mail-in rebates were common in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Stores liked them because they could advertise a lower price and downplay in smaller typeface the fact you had to send a copy of the receipt and proof of purchase — usually by cutting something off of the box — and wait six to eight weeks for your money. Retailers knew that only a small percentage of purchasers would bother to do this. After the Federal Trade Commission investigated complaints about retailers failing to make good on promised rebates, the scheme fell out of favor and most companies stopped offering them.
2005: 1 GB SD Card by Toshiba, $61.47 at Sams Club
That’s right. This cost $61.47 in 2005. You might remember that most of the earliest SD cards we bought with our new digital cameras came in smaller sizes, like 128 MB and 256 MB. This 1 GB card was a luxury item back then. Today you can buy cards with 32 GB and 64 GB for less than $20. But is anyone looking to store photos on cards these days?
2006: Kodak 5 Megapixel Digital Camera and Printer Dock Bundle, $169.99 at OfficeMax
Kodak, one-time king of consumer photography, was caught napping when digital cameras took hold in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it was slow to make the transition. Interestingly, the Rochester, New York-based company developed the first handheld digital camera in 1975 but discontinued it out of fear it would hurt its film business. This bundle helped the company rise to the top of the U.S. digital camera market by the mid-2000s. It was targeted to consumers who loved taking digital photos but uncomfortable with the process of saving them on their computers. They could just mount the camera onto the printer dock, push a button and print photos. But dedicated cameras fell out of favor as consumers began relying on improved picture-taking abilities built into their smartphones, while the ease of sharing on social media sites supplanted demand for printing photos onto paper.
2006: Funai DVD/VCR Dual Recorder, $103.43 at Walmart
After recordable DVDs hit the market, manufacturers hit upon the idea that consumers would jump at the chance to transfer their old VHS tapes to DVDs. The problem was that the moms and grandmoms most likely to want to convert old VHS home movie tapes were least likely to have the patience to get something like this to correctly work. They were glitchy, fussy, sold with confusing instructions, and when they did work, produced a snowy picture from low-quality VHS sources that was difficult to watch. More recent versions added an “upconversion” feature that cleaned up the signal for viewing on high-definition TVs. But digital video recorders and on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime reduced its appeal.
2007: Vector Stormtracker Elite TV/Lantern/AM/FM/Weather Alert Radio, $10 at Big Lots
If you bought one of these at Big Lots for $10 — $19 off the original price — in 2007, you probably never got a chance to use it. Florida was entering a hurricane-free decade with no named storms making landfall anywhere in the state until Irma in 2017. More significantly, it would only receive analog television signals until 2009, when all TV stations in the U.S. were required to make the switch to digital transmission. Sure, you could hook this up to an analog-to-digital converter box, but that had to be plugged into power, rendering it useless for emergency TV viewing use in power outages. At least the radio still pulled in signals.
2007: iPod Touch, $299 at CompUSA
Introduced the same year as the revolutionary iPhone, iPod Touch did everything that the iPhone did except make calls. You could store music and video, play games, connect to WiFi to surf the web, download emails and more. But if you had an iPhone, you had little need for a lookalike version that wasn’t also a phone. It became superfluous after the iPad was released in 2010. Like many of the products on this list, you can still buy iPod Touch from Apple — a new version with 256 GB of storage was released in 2019. CNet.com says they’re used primarily by kids as gaming systems, by hospitals to track medical records, and by retail employees as credit card swipe devices.
2008: Bose SoundDock Portable System for iPod and iPhone, $349.99 after $40 savings
iPods and iPhones were such game changers that they quickly inspired companies to produce their own accessories. Bose, known for its high-end speakers and portable players that can fill large rooms with rich, clear sound, produced one of the most expensive and desirable iPhone/iPod accessories in 2008 — this portable SoundDock with a built in rechargeable lithium ion battery that could turn any iPod or iPhone into a boombox. Problem was, by 2012 Apple switched its charging and sync interface from a wide 30-pin connector to today’s ultra-thin “lightning” port — which made this pricey system all but useless for modern iPhones. Sure you could buy an adapter for $35 to fit between the unit and the device. But that reduces the stability of the iPhone or iPad when docked and introduces a component that’s bound to fail with frequent use. Bose still makes speakers that work with Apple devices but they connect via wireless Bluetooth, future proofing them for a wide range of devices.
2008: Garmin Nuvi 4.3-inch GPS, $349 after $150 discount at Best Buy
Garmin and Tom Tom were the dominant GPS makers a decade ago, and their satellite-directed technology allowed millions of drivers to willfully forget how to get places. When they evolved into giving voice-guided directions, like this model in 2008, we enjoyed swapping out accents and laughed when the voices mispronounced place names (Anyone going to Feet Lauderdale?) Today it’s easier to hold down the home buttons on our smart phones and ask for directions to our destination.
2008: BlackBerry Curve, Free with two-year signup with Verizon, save $579.99, at Best Buy
BlackBerry was the Alta Vista of the smartphone world. For awhile, this stylish mini-computer made by Research in Motion signified that its user was important, connected and probably better off than anyone using flip phones or slide phones. Aside from the physical keyboard, one of its primary features was its secure operating system that safeguarded information relayed between employees and their home offices. Even after Apple introduced its iPhone in 2007, BlackBerry continued to grow, with 21 million users in the United States and 36 million around the world by 2010. However by 2012, its U.S. user base plummeted to 9 million as consumers fell in love with the touchscreen capabilities of Apple and Android phones. In 2016, BlackBerry’s founder sold the name to TCL, which marketed phones that were “BlackBerry” in name only until early 2020, when a company called OnwardMobility took over rights to the name. OnwardMobility plans to market a new 5G BlackBerry phone that will include a physical keyboard in 2021.
2008: Canon Vixia HF10 Full 1080p High-Def Camcorder, $799.97 with HDMI cable and Canon battery, Best Buy
Only the wealthy could afford the first consumer camcorders back in the 1970s and 80s. Those were shoulder-mounted monstrosities that recorded onto Betamax cassettes and made whoever was given the chore of operating them look like they just crawled out of a local TV news truck. Gradually, manufacturers adopted smaller and smaller tape formats, which enabled them to offer smaller, less conspicuous camcorders. Sold in 2008, these little marvels, which recorded to high-capacity SD cards, represented the apex of the consumer camcorder industry. Not only were they compact, quiet as a cat and solid as a rock, they recorded full 1080p high definition video and crystal clear digital stereo sound. Best of all, there were no more tapes to rewind. All you had to do was pop the SD card out, stick it in an adapter and double click to watch it on your TV or computer. You could also connect via supplied cables. But if you have one of these camcorders today, it’s probably sitting unused in an expensive camera bag. That’s because your smart phone captures high-definition video at that same 1080p (or higher) resolution — perfectly fine for those precious moments you want to capture quickly without the trouble of firing this up. When was the last time you saw someone using a camcorder to shoot video?
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