8 technologies to thank the 1980s for

16th Sep 2009 | 10:01

8 technologies to thank the 1980s for

Not just a decade of bad hair, dodgy clothes and neon

Eight cool technologies from the eighties

Anyone who emerged from the disturbing fashion of the 80s has that sense of nostalgia usually reserved for war veterans.

Technology was emerging from its shell and changing the way we lived while luddites cried softly into their pillows.

It was a time when indispensable creations like the personal computer, the Walkman and the console hit critical mass and became the definition of popular. Here are eight technologies that defined the eighties.

1. The Personal Computer

While there were several variations on the idea of the personal computer pre-1980s, including the Apple II, it was IBM that coined the term when it released the IBM 5150 on 12 August 1981. This is not to undermine the gargantuan effect that computers like the Commodore PET and the Apple II had upon the history of personal computing, but it was IBM's long-established reputation that worked in its favour.

Slapping the title of Personal Computer onto the 5150, IBM took the PC out of niche and into mainstream.

The IBM 5150 had a 16-bit 8088 processor running at 4.77MHz, 16KB memory that was expandable to 256k, floppy disk drives, two RS-232 serial interfaces, and an optional colour monitor. The ROM had BASIC built-in and ran DOS 1.0, the operating system that brought us Microsoft. By the time the 80s had drawn to a close we'd seen the Macintosh, hard disks, Windows and, the next in our list, CDs.

IMB 5150

POPULAR:The IBM 5150 brought computing power to the masses

2. The CD

The humble CD was a strongly contested invention, with both Philips and Sony working feverishly to be the first to produce them prior to the 80s.

The race for dominance was temporarily set aside when they came together to develop the Compact Disc Digital Audio (CD-DA) standard known as the Red Book format in 1979.

Commercial CDs were launched in 1982 and initially met with industry-wide scepticism - only 1,000 titles were available by the end of 1983. When the cost of CD players dropped appreciably they hit the big time.

The first album was Billy Joel's 52nd Street and the first song, released on the first CD, was The Visitors by ABBA. Interestingly, it was Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms CD that was the first to sell over one million copies making it the world's most successful CD album.

First cd player

FIRST CD PLAYER:The Philips CD100 was released in August 1982 [Image credit: Les Chatfield]

3. The Walkman

Launched in 1979 in Japan, the Walkman was an unprecedented success and by 1986 the name had entered the Oxford English Dictionary.

People used it to listen to music while on the move and teenagers everywhere rejoiced at its ability to drown out the sound of their parent's voices.

While comparing the clunky and heavy TPS-L2 with the iPod you may well walk away chuckling to yourself, but to the children of the 80s it was the epitome of cool.

According to Sony's history site, ten years after the launch of the first model over 50 million units had been manufactured.

Sony walkman

PRE-POD:The Walkman was the music player to be seen with in the 80s [Image credit: Esa Sorjonen]

4. The Video Cassette Recorder

Imagine not being able to pause, rewind or record TV, or to choose what you wanted to watch? Ah yes, in those giddy days TV was in charge and you only got to see whatever it decided to offer you.

Until the VCR, that is. While the VCR was available and usable in the 1970s it was only in the 1980s, when cheap microprocessors and low-cost manufacturing impacted their cost, that VCRs became cheap enough for consumers to easily afford.

Now you could record TV and, wait for it, fast forward through the adverts. Bliss.

Philips n1500

RE-RECORD:The Philips N1500 VCR, precursor to affordable VCRs

Mobile phone, ZX Spectrum, camcorder, consoles

5. The mobile phone

In the 1980s communication was, ahem, different. You wanted to phone someone? You went home or you walked to the nearest phone booth. Business and consumers were desperate for something that could make communication easier.

The concept of the mobile phone had been bandied about for several years, but limitations placed on the allocation of frequencies by the FCC hampered research until AT&T introduced the idea of the cellular system (read more).

Once the hurdle of frequency allocation had been resolved and the FCC had opened the way for further research, mobile phones were on their way.

Motorola launched the DynaTAC 8000x in 1983 with the dimensions of 300x44x89mm and weighing in at a lovely and light 785g. It proudly offered you about one hour of talk time, used an LED display and had an extremely attractive aerial - and it was the sweetest damn thing to own in the 1980s.


CALL ME:The sleek and sexy DynaTAC 8000x

6. The ZX Spectrum

Launched in April of 1982, the ZX Spectrum was a chic computer that you could have with either 16Kb RAM or 48kb RAM. Clive Sinclair, the brains behind the machine, created it in response to losing out to Acorn in a deal with the BBC.

The Acorn computers were clunky and expensive so Sinclair made a product that was both inexpensive and small: the ZX Spectrum.

The multiple function keyboard was more than a little fiddly and frustrating and the processing speed wasn't exactly brilliant but, boy, was it popular.

It offered users the chance to immerse themselves in the excitement of creating their own games and programmes using a superset of ZX-81 BASIC. Less than a year after its release software companies were rushing forward with games like Arcadia (Imagine), Ship of Doom (Artic) and Football Manager (Addictive).

ZX spectrum

AFFORDABLE COMPUTING: The rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum [Image credit: Bill Bertram]

7. The camcorder

It was in 1983 that 8mm movie cameras finally met their doom. This was the year when Sony and JVC launched the first ever camera-recorders, camcorders to you and me.

Sony stayed with the soon to be defunct Betamovie (Betamax) standard while JVC went with VHS-C.

It was a modern miracle. Gone were the hours of editing, the sweaty lugging around of tons of equipment, the sodden battery life and silent home movies, and in came instant home movies. That you could watch on your VCR. At home. With sound!


TAPE IT:The coin shows just how TINY these amazing storage tapes were!

8. Games consoles

The Atari 2600 was launched in 1977 with an 8-bit processor, 160x190 pixel resolution, 128 RAM and 128 colours.

For the next few years, along with others of its ilk, it limped along quietly until Space Invaders appeared in 1980. The popularity of this classic game shot consoles into the public domain at the speed of, ahem, light. Mattel's Intellivision and Pac Man hit the arcades in the same year, initiating the struggle for console dominance between Atari and Mattel.

A slew of products poured into the market from all directions resulting in the video game crash of 1983/84 which sent many to bankruptcy.

It was this very market collapse that had investors wary of putting money into Nintendo's new console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Thank heavens they did because its launch in 1985 broke all records and made video game history.

Atari 2600

HOME GAMING:The Atari2600


Liked this? Then check out 5 technologies to thank the 1950s for

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