Early Adopter Beware: 7 Huge First Gen Products

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As tempting as it may be to be the first person in your social circle to purchase and use a new product, there’s reason to abstain from ownership until the kinks of a first generation model have been worked out. Consider how the inventors of the following technologies might feel if thrust into the modern day and shown how their bulky ideas were eventually improved into sleeker, fitter versions capable of fitting into your backpack, pocket, or chest cavity without much fuss.

1. Pacemaker

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The first artificial pacemaker was powered by an AC wall socket, and carried the risk of fatally shocking its recipient given the wrong surge. The heft of those early models wasn't quickly reduced, which meant that 70-year-old priest Gerardo Florez—the first man to be fitted for the nascent technology—had to lug around the nearly 100-pound contraption on a hospital cart that was used for transporting oxygen. Even more inconveniently, it could only be recharged using a car battery. It worked, though: Florez stayed alive for 18 years, during which the pacemaker was refined into a less cumbersome device capable of being implanted directly into the patient. But when you need a new heart, you need a new heart.

2. Smartphone

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It wasn’t the first handheld cellular device to be called a “smartphone,” but there’s no denying that’s what the IBM Simon was: a phone and PDA wrapped into one, capable of sending emails and managing the undoubtedly hectic schedules of anyone corporate enough to snag one when they hit the market in 1994. Twice as big as an iPhone and exponentially less hip, the Simon cost $1,099 for users who didn’t want to sign up for a contract, too. What’s worse, you couldn’t even play Angry Birds on its rudimentary touch screen.

3. Microwave

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Today, you’re lucky if you can get all your household appliances to fit neatly on the kitchen counter. Families in 1947 had to rearrange their entire kitchens to accommodate the Radarange, the first commercially available microwave oven, made by Raytheon. Costing about $5000, the Radarange was nearly six feet tall, weighed over 750 pounds, and required a plumbing installation for its water-cooled magnetron tube. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t sell very well, and microwave technology only caught on as subsequent models became lighter, cheaper, and more counter-ready. The spread of instant ramen may have helped, too.

4. Laptop

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Technically speaking, 1975’s IBM 5100 was the world’s first portable computer and therefore the modern laptop’s eldest ancestor. But you couldn’t use it to take notes during English lectures, or even carry it around without developing a hernia: Weighing in at 55 pounds, the cheapest model retailed for $9000 and was used mainly by computer geeks looking to mess around with BASIC and APL programming languages, which most computers of the time didn’t offer in the same package. John Titor, the early millennium message board user who purported to be a time traveler, claimed he needed to acquire a 5100 so that diabolical computer programs of the future could be debugged.

5. Electronic calculator

Vintage Calculators

Mathematics isn’t the most naturally fun-filled activity, which is why the makers of the ANITA Mark VII, the world’s first all-electronic desktop calculator, gave it a peppy acronym to inspire students: A New Inspiration To Arithmetic. Sold in continental Europe in 1961, the Mark VII used old-school cold-cathode “Nixie” tubes to display its digits and required manual adjustment of the decimal point for more specific calculations. Its bulky frame and 30-pound weight meant statisticians weren’t lugging it around, either; a far cry from future, compact calculators capable of crunching equations, running The Legend of Zelda, and fitting neatly into one’s pocket.

6. Computer mouse

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Artisanal merchants looking for the next modern amenity to turn retro might draw inspiration from Douglas Engelbart’s creation of the first computer mouse in 1963, which was carved from wood and used wheels instead of the later standardized ball to track its movements. Engelbart’s model was block-shaped, used a single red button to do its clicking and placed its “tail” at the back of the mouse rather than the top. But because his patent ran out right as the mouse was gaining accepted use with all computers, Engelbart’s invention never made him any money.

7. Xbox controller

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Conventional wisdom says a new product only has one opportunity to make a proper impression on consumers. Thankfully, Microsoft got a second chance after the original Xbox controller, packaged with the console upon its release in 2001, was widely mocked for its cumbersome build and unintuitive button layout. (Some users claimed they couldn’t even fit it in their hands.) Named the “Blunder of the Year” by Game Informer, it quickly was replaced in retail packages by the comparatively smaller Controller S, thus preventing a generation’s worth of calluses.

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March 27, 2013 - 11:00am
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