Listening to dialogue and enjoying high-fidelity sound effects in PC games all started with homegrown Creative Technology’s Sound Blaster brand of PC sound card. The first version – Sound Blaster 1.0 – was launched in 1989 as a compatible version of the then leading Adlib sound card. But the Sound Blaster card had two extra tricks up its sleeve – the presence of a game port for gamers to connect their joystick and support for PCM audio which let game developers add in speech and special sound effects into their game. Later, Sound Blaster would take over as the de facto standard for PC gaming audio globally
This was first MP3 player that let users pack their your entire music library into a portable device. This was possible because the Jukebox had a 6GB hard drive – the first MP3 player to do that – instead of relying on flash memory which was more expensive and much smaller in capacity. Having a 6GB hard drive meant that users no longer needed to keep changing the songs on their MP3 player because of limited storage and could finally enjoy the convenience of ripping their entire 100-hour library of CDs into the Jukebox, which also looked just like a CD-player.
One of the first USB flash drives in the world was homegrown company Trek’s Thumbdrive which came with just 8MB of storage space and required the user to install software drivers from a floppy disk for it to work with the Windows 98 operating system. But it was revolutionary in its time because it could store over five times more data compared to the 1.44MB floppy disk. While this was still much smaller in capacity to the 100MB Iomega Zip disks at that time, the Thumbdrive’s strength was that it did not require a separate drive to read the media.
Born at a time when laptops, MP3 players and mobile phones had underpowered speakers, the tiny X-mini capsule speaker added plenty of oomph to users who wanted to share their music and audio on their mobile devices with friends and family. The first X-mini capsule speaker was launched in 2007 and came with rechargeable batteries and powerful drivers in a compact body that shook up the world of sound.
It was the size of a stack of three 3.5-inch floppy disks but it had the storage capacity of about 70 of them. The Iomega Zip disks took the world by storm in the mid 90s as it offered the convenience of 100MB capacity disks at a reasonable price. It became a mainstay for corporations, educational institutions and even consumers who had plenty of files to store and would rather hold a single disk instead of a bag of 70 floppies. But the rise of the rewritable CD and its significantly cheaper per-megabyte cost would eventually displace the Zip disks as the default portable storage media.
The StarTAC was the world’s first clam-shell phone where the top part with the earpiece folded over the bottom half with the display and keypad. The StarTAC was arguably the smallest cellphone in its time and was a whiff of fresh air. It offered superior portability with its small size and its iconic design meant that it was often featured in the movies and set a benchmark for other phone makers to emulate in the years that followed.
The 8810 made a splash with its debut in 1998 because it was the first mobile phone that did away with the external antenna. Having an internal antenna meant that the phone could be carried “upside down” in the pocket. Complete with chrome plating and a new slider design, the 8810 was the first of many Nokia 8800-series phones which targetted high-end users with fatter wallets.
It may not have been the first mobile phone which had PDA features (think IBM Simon Personal Communicator and the Nokia 9000 Communicator) but the R380 was the first that was marketed as a smartphone and more importantly was small and light enough to look like a phone instead of a mini-computer. The R380 was also the first smartphone to take advantage of the new Symbian operating system which would later be adopted by most leading smartphone brands in the world.
The iPhone set the stage for the new world order by introducing a smartphone with a giant touch-screen and an app store with a ton of third-party apps that consumers could easily access and use. Its minimalist design and superior user interface won over the hearts and wallets of consumers around the world and revolutionised smartphone design. Creating an open app marketplace galvanised software developers to start creating apps for the mobile device, where before there was little incentive to do so. Brands that were slow to adapt came crashing down, including previous mobile giant Nokia which eventually sold its phone business to rival Microsoft.
The first Google Phone was made by HTC but designed and sold by Google directly through its online store. It was not the first Android phone but it showed Google’s commitment to its cause to offer an alternative mobile operating system to the reigning Apple iOS. It came with high-end specs at that time including an Amoled display and a 5-megapixel camera while its metal unibody was aesthetically pleasing. The phones were shipped directly to consumers and came with an option to add engraving at the back of the phone. A few months later, Samsung and Sony announced it would ditch its support for the Symbian OS and eventually made Android the leading OS for its smartphones.
Suited up with the best hardware components of its time, Microsoft’s first game console – the Xbox – offered superior graphics, better Internet connectivity for multiplayer games, a larger-sized gamepad and the award-winning Halo game to the world. It also set a new standard for multiplayer gaming with its Xbox Live network service. While it failed to unseat the Sony PlayStation 2 as the leader, the original Xbox made Microsoft a force to be reckoned with in the world of video games.
The PlayStation 2 (PS2) is the most successful console every launched, selling over 150 million units in its lifetime – three times more than the combined total sold by its closest rivals, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube. The PS2 offered backward compatibility with its predecessor, the original PlayStation and enjoyed huge support from third-party game developers, with over 3,800 game titles released for the console in its lifetime. It could also be used as a DVD player to watch DVD movies and was priced competitively against the price of standalone DVD players at launch.
IBM was late to the personal computer game and chose to adopt an open architecture, cobbling together third party hardware and software to get into the game quickly. The original IBM 5150 PC did not even have a hard drive and made its debut with a CGA monitor which could only display four colours. While its specifications were not ahead of its time, the mainframe computing giant’s decision to support an open system catalysed the rise of an entire industry of companies making peripherals, software and expansion cards to support the new IBM PC standard. Companies such as Compaq, Dell, Gateway and HP were able to create their own IBM-compatible machines while Microsoft and Intel, which supplied the operating system and microprocessors respectively became giants of the industry.
The original Apple Macintosh introduced the graphical user interface and with it, the ability to control the computer with a mouse. This was a huge step-up in user experience compared to using text commands with a keyboard, which was how other personal computers worked at the time. The Macintosh was also ahead of its time by housing the innards of the computer and the CRT display into the same chassis, creating the all-in-one computer which is today popular among both Mac and Windows users.
The fifth iteration of the popular personal digital assistant (PDA) was Palm’s best-looking one. It was sleek and svelte, unlike previous models of Palm which were more utilitarian. Its body was made of anodised aluminium and it came with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery – a product that was well ahead of its time. Despite the challenge of new PDAs powered by Microsoft’s Pocket PC software, Palm stayed true to its roots, offering simple organiser functions such as calendar, contacts, memos and to do lists, long battery life and instant-on efficiency. Palm fans loved pointing their Palm device at another Palm device and hitting the share button to instantly exchange their contacts information via short-range infra-red.
Arguably Microsoft’s most successful operating system, Windows XP lasted over 12 years and sold over a billion copies in its lifetime. When it was launched in 2001, Windows XP was received with aplomb because it was the first Windows OS that combined the stability of the Windows NT OS made for businesses with the gaming performance of the Windows 98/Me OS which was built for consumers. There was so much love for Windows XP that Microsoft found it a challenge to pry consumers away from their beloved Windows XP, resulting in the lack of interest for Windows Vista, the operating system that succeeded Windows XP.
A necessity for fans of the MechWarrior and Wing Commander series of games of the 90s, the Microsoft Sidewinder series of joysticks were once the prized possessions of every gamer in the world. Dodging enemy lasers and returning fire with your own weaponry played much better with a joystick than on the keyboard. But as first-person shooters became more popular in the late 90s, particularly after the launch of Counter-Strike, space and combat simulators started to wane and the gaming mouse became the new weapon of choice for most gamers around the world.
Once the mainstay for every working professional in Singapore, pagers offered the convenience of being reachable at all times. To send a page, the sender simply dials the number associated with the recipient’s pager, wait to connect, then key in the sender’s phone number which he or she wants to be contacted at. The pager owner then gets a beep, checks the messages on his pager and figures out who has been paging for him. In the 90s, the pagers were especially popular as mobile phones were still too expensive for most people. Even Britney Spears had a song for it, Hit Me Baby One More Time – a plea to her boyfriend to page her. But as mobile phones became cheaper and text messaging more common the pager eventually died off and the last paging service in Singapore – SunPage - ended in 2012
Although it was not the first MP3 player in the world, Apple iPod would eventually dominate the market with its sleek design, trademark scroll wheel and most importantly the ability to purchase and download songs directly from the Apple iTunes music store. Initially, the iPod had limited success as it was proprietary to Apple’s computers but when the second version was launched, its compatibility with the Windows PC made the MP3 player a huge success. The iPod revitalised Apple’s business and set the stage for the launch of the iPhone which eventually replaced the iPod as Apple’s leading portable music player.
Compact Flash used to be the leading format for flash memory storage cards used in digital cameras but it has since been superseded by the smaller and more portable SD card. In its heydays, laptops came with Compact Flash ports. While Compact Flash has dwindled in popularity among mainstream camera users, it remains the media of choice for many professional photographers who demands for the extra speed boost they get with the Compact Flash.