Where did that tech come from?

Tim Stackpool steps back in time to enlighten you on the ancient beginnings of everyday EA tech.

Did you know that during the last two years, technology has advanced around seven years? Here, Tim Stackpool steps back in time to enlighten you on the ancient beginnings of everyday EA tech

Microsoft Word

In the early 1970s, word processing slowly progressed from glorified typewriters augmented with electronic features. They were becoming fully computer-based – although only with single-purpose hardware – and the first word processing systems allowed display and editing of documents on a video screen. By the 80s, the system by Wang Laboratories(which was a true office machine, affordable, easily mastered and operated by ‘secretarial staff’ rather than by computer specialists) had become very popular. Earlier computerised versions were often expensive and hard to use.

The first word processing program for personal computers was Electric Pencil, which went on sale in 1976. In 1978 WordStar appeared and, because of its many new features, it soon dominated the market. WordPerfect then replaced it, just before the launch of Microsoft Windows in around 1985. After this the Microsoft Multi-Tool Wordnot only became the ubiquitous word processor of choice but also evolved into the desktop publishing mainstay you recognise today.

The smartphone

While the modern smartphone is in fact a mobile computer, small enough to carry in your hand, the original mobile ‘cell’ phone was a bulky ‘brick’. It had no screen, very limited battery life and was concerned only with transmitting voice.

Motorola’s DynaTAC phone was designed by Martin Cooper and launched way back in 1973. Later that year, he introduced it at a press conference in New York City. Beforehand, to make sure it worked, he placed the first ever public cell phone call to engineer Joel Engel, head of AT&T’s rival project – and gloated that he was calling from a portable cellular phone. That tech is the fusion of two other systems, already well developed at the time. Regular telephone infrastructure dates back to Alexander Graham Bell, a Scottish-born inventor credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone in 1876. The wireless aspect might well be credited to Italian inventor and engineer Guglielmo Marconi who developed the first successful long-distance wireless telegraph and, in 1901, broadcast the first transatlantic radio signal.

Credit is also due to the developers of the BlackBerry. Canadian company Research In Motion originally produced two-way pagers in 1996 but became known for its handy phone with a built-in keyboard, popular due to an early emphasis on access to email. BlackBerry was once one of the world’s most prominent smartphone brands, specialising in secure communications and mobile productivity. At its peak in 2013, it had 85 million subscribers worldwide.

Zoom meetings

A mere fledging in video conferencing back in 2019, Zoom has come into its own due to the pandemic. Video conferencing was actually possible back in the 1970s using expensive satellites and existed as an early form of digital communication (ISDN) in the 1980s.

But it was the 2005 emergence of Skype – a voice-only service at the time – to rival standard telephones that eventually led to video conferencing in 2008. First developed in Estonia, Skype was soon sold to Ebay, hoping to promote it as a service for buyers and sellers to communicate. That goal unrealised, Ebay offloaded Skype to Microsoft in 2011. Today, its foundations are found within Microsoft Teams although it does still exist – for now – as a standalone product. It’s rivalled, of course, by Zoom, Facetime, Google Meet, WhatsApp, Viber, WebEx and others.

Funnily enough, when Zoom was first established in 2011, the company had trouble finding investors because many people thought the videotelephony market was already saturated. Today, counting both free and paying users, Zoom has 300 million daily meeting participants.

Tech expert Tim Stackpool is the technology writer for Executive PA Media. He can be heard on talk radio in Australia and is a tech presenter who speaks at conferences and trade shows about technology’s impact on work and lifestyle.