After Hours

10 obsolete technologies that are still useful

Before you retire that camcorder and cancel your landline service, see why Brien Posey thinks some vintage tech is worth hanging onto.

Earlier this year, I read a blog post that bothered me a little bit. It was basically a list of technologies that no self-respecting geek should ever be caught dead with because those technologies are so last week. I won't name the author or link to the post because I have a lot of respect for the person who wrote it and I don't want to trash the article. Even so, I thought that it might be fun to write a rebuttal of sorts. My goal in doing so is to talk about products and technologies that could be considered obsolete in some ways, but for which there are still legitimate uses.

1: Wristwatches

The argument against wristwatches is that everybody has a cellphone, and every cellphone has a clock, so there is no need for a wristwatch. While I agree with this idea in some ways, there is also the convenience factor to consider. It can be a pain to have to take a cellphone out of its holster every time that you want to see what time it is. It's so much easier to just glance at your wrist.

2: Dedicated GPS

Another technology that some have called obsolete is the dedicated GPS device. The idea is that most smartphones have built-in GPS functionality (although some are better than others), so you really don't need a dedicated GPS.

Personally, I like having a dedicated GPS for two reasons. First, an in-dash GPS or even a portable GPS is easier to use than a smartphone when you are driving. Have you ever tried to balance a smartphone on the dash? Besides, what happens if you get a call when your turn is coming up?

The other reason why I like using a dedicated GPS is that the manufacturers tend to publish updates to the maps. As much as I like my smartphone, my cell provider has never once provided me with updated maps.

3: Digital cameras

A few months ago, I saw an article predicting the demise of the digital camera, citing the idea that virtually every cellphone has a camera built in and that there is no need to purchase a digital camera when you already have one with you all the time.

The five-megapixel digital camera that's built into my Windows phone will work in a pinch, but for pictures that matter, I really prefer my Nikon. The picture quality is far better — and let's not forget about the all-important optical zoom. The fact is, a good quality digital camera can do things a cellphone camera simply can't.

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Jarp

4: Camcorders

For the most part, I agree with the idea that camcorders are obsolete. Most smartphones can double as camcorders, and most of the newer digital cameras can also shoot HD video. But I still use a dedicated camcorder in situations in which I don't want to put my smartphone or my digital camera at risk.

I have an HD camcorder that is specifically designed for extreme sports. I take this camera scuba diving and occasionally mount it on my Cigarette boat to capture some high-speed action. I have even mounted the camera on the belly of an RC helicopter and flown across the lake with it. Any of these situations could potentially destroy a normal camera, so I would rather use a dedicated special-purpose camcorder to capture the action than to put my smartphone or my "good camera" at risk.

5: Local storage

I have recently been hearing people say that you should store all your files in the cloud rather than on premise. That way, they are accessible from anywhere and the cloud provider keeps the files backed up.

These are very compelling reasons for using cloud storage, and I do replicate my data to the cloud. Even so, I like having a copy of my data on local storage. I live in the sticks, and my Internet connection drops practically every time the wind blows. Without an Internet connection, cloud storage is inaccessible. Therefore, I like to have a local copy of my data just so that I can get to it when I need it.

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

6: Laptop computers

Ever since the Consumer Electronics Show in January, countless articles have stated that laptop computers are a thing of the past because they (and possibly desktops) are being replaced by tablets. Tablets are great, and there is no denying that they can do some amazing things. The problem (at least for me) is that there is at least one thing that tablets are really bad for — word processing. As someone who makes a living writing books, articles, and whitepapers, I simply can't imagine having to give up a hardware keyboard for an onscreen keyboard. I have tried composing short pieces using an onscreen keyboard and my productivity went way down. There is just something about having the tactile feel of pressing physical keys.

7: Portable media players

Portable media players could also be considered obsolete. After all, My Windows Phone 7 device has a built-in Zune, so what do I need my Zune HD for?

Actually, there are a few advantages to having a dedicated media player. One advantage is capacity. My Zune HD can hold 64 GB of media files, but my phone has only a 16 GB capacity. Another advantage to the Zune HD is that the media dock allows it to be connected to a TV (which is great when you are staying in a hotel). Windows Phone 7 devices do not have this capability (although some of the other smartphones do).

Perhaps the most compelling reason for using a dedicated media player is battery consumption. Last week, for example, I had to travel to Redmond. Since I live on the east coast, it takes the better part of the day to get to Redmond. I watched three movies while flying and waiting in airports. When I finally got where I was going, my Zune was just about dead. Had I watched those movies on my phone, the dead battery would have prevented me from calling my wife or checking my email upon my arrival.

8: Blu-ray discs

For many people, Blu-ray discs could justifiably be considered obsolete. Why mess with physical media when you can just stream movies from Netflix?

In my case, though, I like having movies on Blu-ray. As I mentioned earlier, my Internet connection is less than reliable. There is nothing more frustrating than being halfway through a movie and not being able to finish it because the Internet connection either dropped or slowed to a crawl.

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/ermingut

9: Non-smartphones

Smartphones are great, so why in the world would anyone want a basic cellphone without any of the smartphone capabilities? Well, even though I personally wouldn't have a use for such a phone (and I'm guessing that you wouldn't, either), I am glad that such phones are still available.

I have elderly family members who would never be able to figure out how to use a smartphone, but who have no trouble using a regular cellphone. Knowing that those members of my family have a phone they know how to use in the event of an emergency helps me sleep at night.

10: Landlines

For most people in the U.S., landlines probably are obsolete. After all, most people have a cellphone, and now that plans with unlimited minutes are available, what's the point of having a landline?

In some cases, however, landlines are still necessary. Where I live, I can't even get a cell signal most of the time. Even in more heavily populated areas, there are some places, such as basement apartments, where it's difficult to get a cell signal.

More on obsolete tech

Yes or no?

Do you agree that these items are still useful in some way or is it time to retire them in favor of newer technologies? Are there other items you would you add to this list?

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

Editor's Picks