MEGATech Showcase: A Brief History of Technology Firsts

It was once the case that the only way to capture a special moment was to hire an artist to paint it on a canvas. Today, it is far more commonplace to whip out a camera phone and hit the virtual shutter button on the touchscreen display, posting that picture on social media to be shared with friends all around the world. The file gets backed up in the cloud too, of course.

Technology has understandably come a very long way in recent decades, but when did the world first get introduced to the mobile phone? What about the first digital camera? Believe it or not, the first MP3 player wasn't an iPod at all. Understanding the earliest versions of these now commonplace gadgets allows for a far greater appreciation of their modern day successors.

First Digital Camera: Fuji DS-1P (1988)

MEGATech Showcase: A Brief History of Technology Firsts

Not counting early analog electronic cameras like the Sony Mavica and Canon RC-701, the first "true" digital camera was the Fuji DS-1P. Branded as a "Fujix" rather than a "FujiFilm" or "Fujica" device, the DS-1P featured a 400 kilopixel CCD, which is only marginally better than the 0.3 megapixels found on a VGA (640 x 480 pixel) webcam. It was never marketed in the United States and it is unclear whether it ever saw a commercial release in Japan.

First Personal Computer: Simon (1950)

The earliest computers were positively massive in size, taking up entire rooms in order to perform relatively simple calculations. And as much as we'd like to think that the Apple II (1977) or the IBM PC (1981) were first out of the gate, they weren't the first personal computers either. Instead, it's the Simon, developed and released for educational purposes way back in 1950. At the time, it sold for $600, which works out to about $5,700 in today's dollars. Programs ran on paper tape, data entry was through punch cards and the five keys on the front panel, and the output was through five lamps.

First Handheld GPS Receiver: Magellan NAV 1000 (1989)

MEGATech Showcase: A Brief History of Technology Firsts

As with so many modern conveniences, the modern GPS was born out of government research. In this case, it was the American military. The first handheld GPS receiver to make the jump into the commercial market was the Magellan NAV 1000 of 1989. However, it didn't look anything like a modern-day GPS. While it had a display, it didn't show maps or turn-by-turn directions. If anything, the NAV 1000 looked more like a calculator or POS payment terminal.

First Mobile Phone: Motorola DynaTAC 8000x (1983)

The first phone that my family had was a clunker of a Motorola flip phone. That was some time in the early 90s. Going even further back, we find the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x. You might recognize its brick-like shape and massive black antenna from what later became the famed "Zack Morris" of Saved by the Bell. It cost about $4,000 (over $9,000 in today's dollars). It's important to note that this was the first handheld, portable cell phone, as car phones had been around since the 1940s.

First Smartphone: BellSouth Simon Personal Communicator (1994)

MEGATech Showcase: A Brief History of Technology Firsts

Simon is back, but in a different kind of way and from a different group of people. I don't know about you, but I use my phone very little as a phone these days. The "smart" part of the equation--with web access, personal organization and the rest of it--is far more important. And while the first popular smartphone might have been a Palm Treo or maybe a Nokia Communicator, the BellSouth Simon Personal Communicator was the first of its kind. It was also sold and marketed by IBM, getting assembled by Mitsubishi. It had a touchscreen and combined phone functions with PDA features.

First Portable MP3 Player: Saehan MPMan (1998)

I think my first portable MP3 player was a Creative Zen of some sort. This was well before the first iPod came out and, even when that happened, I couldn't get it because the iPod was Apple-only. The MPMan by Saehan Information Systems came out in Asia in 1998 before being rebranded as the EigerMan F10 and F20 with 32MB or 64MB of storage. It is technically predated by the IXI (first prototype in 1979), but Kane Kramer invention never entered commercial production. After that, we saw products like the Diamond Rio and Cown iAUDIO before the first-gen iPod with its 5GB hard drive showed up in October 2001. These days, standalone MP3 players aren't nearly as popular, aside from those shaped as teddy bears for babies.

First Smartwatch: Seiko RC-1000 Wrist Terminal (1984)

MEGATech Showcase: A Brief History of Technology Firsts


We've been waiting for the "year of the smartwatch" for a while. The Pebble is fine and all, but with the imminent reveal of the iWatch and the launch of Android Wear, we might finally get there. But just like the digital camera and the PC, the smartwatch has taken a few years to hit critical mass. The first product that could be called a smartwatch was the RC-1000 Wrist Terminal from Seiko. While the Seiko Data-2000 of 1983 came with a keyboard for data entry, the RC-1000 was the first to interface with a computer. It featured world clock, memo, and weekly alarm functions via its 2KB of RAM and 12x2 dot matrix display.

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