Some products and innovations are seemingly just way ahead of their time. For most of them, the timing is not good, the market is not ready, and they just end up as a concept with a vision. Then, as time passes, another, luckier product that comes at the right time becomes a hit.
Portable technology was always a challenging task for engineers and product designers. Everyone wondered how to make devices smaller, faster, and more portable so that you could experience them on the go. Music and TV not just at your home, but in the park or at the train station.
We don’t even think about these things today as they are “just the way the world works,” but there are a lot of layers of technology, ideas, missed opportunities, and mistakes that current mass-adopted portable products are sitting on top of.
The History of Innovation
From Sony’s Walkman portable cassette player to today’s iPhone touchscreen design that the industry adopted as a standard, we are experiencing our life through devices - our music, our movies, our creative endeavours, our interpersonal connections. Everything is done through only one portable device - a smartphone - a pocket computer with technical capabilities unimaginable 60 years ago when the IT industry made its first steps.
However, the concept of a portable media device with a screen is as old as the beginnings of the IT industry. More than 50 years ago, one of Motorola's engineers created a portable pocket TV, with a vision that was certainly ahead of the time, but 50 years later proved to be on point.
Motorola got it right, and way before anybody else - but what happened?
In the year 1966, Motorola's engineer De Loss Tanner had been working on an idea for a small and portable pocket TV. Unfortunately, the project never took off due to his passing in the middle of development. He died before he had a chance to show his presentation to the company and get that green light he needed to pursue further production and development.
His portable pocket TV idea predicted the structure and behavior of today's society, but it was never destined to change the world back in 1966. More than 50 years had gone by in order for this vision to materialize through many different product solutions we are holding in our hands today.
We can only imagine what would happen if this product got produced and was adopted like today’s smartphone devices. Would it steer the history of consumer electronics in a different direction… we will never know. But, it looks that Motorola’s engineer vision was pretty clear about what people want from their technology.
Imagining the future
“Can I use my watch to unlock my car?” is a totally normal question you may have in 2022 when shopping for a new car. It’s not the privilege that only James Bond is equipped with when the magic of cinema and the main theme kicks in. Technology is so advanced that we are all equipped with devices that not that long ago were only working in the cinema, used by the main hero to save the world.
What Can We Learn From This
Sometimes the vision and the product are just not enough. One of the major determinants of innovation is none other than timing. Other than timing, we need to consider the pure luck factor as well, as that’s the only way we can have all the things aligned for a product to change the course of history.
Tiny Tim maybe didn’t get produced and adopted, but the vision behind it definitely came through many years after.
A 1966 article about a pocket TV once stated that “One day kids'll be wandering down the street with their eyes glued on the TV set so tiny it fits in your pocketbook or pocket or is easily held in one hand” - A pretty accurate description of 2022, don t you think?
Read the full 60s article here