Greatest Gadget firsts

From watching the first 3D film to the first time we got our hadns on a revolutionary new camera phone, we look back at tech's most important debuts  

In the tech world, everything that gets launched is - by definition - new. You release a new phone, that’s a new phone simply because of the irrefutable fact that it didn’t exist before. It’s all in the remit of straightforward physics. Or is that pragmatics?

Some new things in the tech universe are more special than others. Some things stand out as true, innovative and important firsts - whereas others just add the letter ‘S’ onto an existing product.

For no reason other than we like the number, we’ve picked 20 such firsts throughout history to parade in front of your impressionable, eager eyes with a sense of almost parental pride. Enjoy.


3D Film

3D has older roots than people tend to think. In the 1890s, Inventors William Friese-Greene, Frederick Eugene Ives and several others messed around with various 3D Patents, but couldn't manage to make any work. The world's first 3D film - The Power of Love - was actually shown in 1922, using those infamous red and green 'Analglyph' glasses. The Anaglyph tech works by printing two separate images onto one, and having appropriately coloured filters (those tacky glasses) fill in the blanks. The 50s are still considered the 'golden age' of 3D cinema - movies such as House of Wax wowed audiences with stereophonic sound, 3D visuals, and the many talents of Vincent Price.


Automotive Navigation

Sat Nav as we know it today relies on Global Positioning System signals from orbiting satellites. That's not to say, however, that some companies weren't trying convoluted ways to get round this shortcoming beforehand. A handful of companies each claim to have invented automotive navigation in the early 80s, including Honda and Alpine. The Etak Navigator was probably the first actual such system, though. It was a combination of an Intel 8088-based computer, compass and wheel sensors that synced with magnetic tapes pre-loaded with street maps. It took four whole tapes to map Los Angeles. Mitsubishi and Pioneer each claim to have been the first with GPS-based devices, both in 1990.


Boom box

The first Boom box was made by Marantz Superscope in 1976. This machine changed the face of outdoor music, the 80s, and urban culture forever in one foul swoop. It was heavy and monolithic, housing a tape deck and AM/FM tuner. The sound quality and battery life was unusually good for the time due to the device being big enough to pack in a decent wattage and speaker set. It and the Boom boxes to follow were also rife with outputs for hooking up to bigger set ups. Throughout the 1980s, Boom boxes became tantamount with both break dancing and hip hop cultures.


Camera phone

Sticking a camera on a phone is an idea that - bizarrely - dates back to the 60s. For it to work though, it would need less power consumption from smaller components than were possible at the time. The CMOS sensor developed in the mid-90s was the first successful step in such camera miniaturisation. Above is the world's first commercially available camera phone. The J-SH04 was released in 2000 in Japan, and rocked a 110,000-pixel camera and an impressive (at the time) 256-color STN display. Brilliant if you like your photos postage stamp-sized.


Colour consumer camera

A more correct 'first' would be colour photography rather than an actual camera, as - when the right film became available - cameras of old could be adapted to produce beautiful multi-chromatic pics. The first colour photograph was taken in 1861, and the first time a (albeit crude) colour photography process was widely marketed was way back in 1907. However, the technology didn't get into the hands of the masses until the invention of Kodachrome film in the early 1930s. Kodak's masterpiece, Kodachrome was the first colour reversal film to go into production, and it swiftly dominated the market in its 35mm variety. During its run it was made for a multitude of different camera and lens types, before ultimately being killed off this year (2009) by the relentless march of digital photography.


Colour TV

Colour TV was a huge leap forward for the television and its place in our homes. Unachievable colour TV patents date all the way back to 1880, but nobody managed it until 1928, when John Logie Baird demoed a crude system involving alternating primary colours. In 1944, he hung up his mechanical hat and showcased a fully electronic colour machine that ran off a 600-line display. American giants NBC and CBS began colour (or color, if you like) broadcasts before the UK, as the state-run BBC saw no commercial gain in spending vast amounts of cash to change the then UK standard 625-line system to the US's 600-line colour set up. BBC2 was the first channel in Europe to broadcast regular, full colour programming - in 1962.


Digital camera

The principles of digital photography have been talked about since 1961. The first digital camera ever was produced in labs at Kodak in 1975. It weighed half a stone, sported a miserly 0.01-Megapixels, and took 23 seconds to take a photo and record it onto magnetic tape. 1988 set the standards for JPEG photos, allowing for compressed images that took up less space in digital devices' memory. In 1990, the first commercially available digital camera, the Dycam Model 1 (or Logitech Fotoman, above left) was released. It stored digital photos internally, and connected to computers for photo uploads. The Casio QV-10 (above right) hit in 1995, and was the first digital camera to had an LCD screen on the back, which is now the standard.


eBook reader

eBooks - and the idea of reading books in a digital format - has been around since 1971 when Michael S Hart launched the Gutenberg Project. Eventually, as computer technology improved throughout the 1990's, eBooks became prevalent and the need for eBook readers - for reading digital books on the move - presented itself. The first such device was the Rocket eBook, launched in 1998 (pictured above). It had 4MB of storage capacity (or 16MB on the Pro version), which was enough for about 10 books. The rocket had a touchscreen LCD display and a battery life of up to 33 hours.



Email in its most basic form both predates the internet and helped in its formation. In 1965, a system was set up to allow multiple users of a single mainframe computer to share data and send messages. This method evolved slowly over time, although details on email's exact development are few and far between. In 1971, as people became able to communicate between multiple compatible computers in separate buildings, Ray Tomlinson began the principle of using the '@' symbol to separate the user's name from that of their computer terminal.


Film with surround sound

In 1940, using a very basic, heavily engineered system comprising of 3 audio channels and 54 loudspeakers, Disney's Fantasia became the first film to be shown with surround sound. Walt had wanted the audience to think the bee was flying all around them in the Flight of the Bumblebee scene, and this clunky set up did just that. Some years later, in the 70s, a company called Dolby (you may have heard of them) developed an optical-recording surround sound tech, which was then picked up and used by a small-time director named George Lucas. Star Wars was the first film to be shown with a Dolby Stereo multi-channel soundtrack in 1977, and the effect on the audience - with swooping space battles galore - changed the face of cinema forever.




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