October 21st is ‘let’s make technology portable day.’
On that date in 1963, Michigan Bell Telephone Company put the the first telephone with the rotary dial-and-speakers integrated into the hand piece in someone’s home. Add a long cord to the Trimline phone, and talking in your house became, well, a little bit portable.
Then 28 years later, in 1991, Apple introduced the “first truly portable Macintosh” at COMDEX in Las Vegas. The PowerBook team goal: “weigh less than 8 lb. and have all the same features that a comparably priced desktop system would.” Computing became a little bit portable.
Portability exists on a continuum, and it’s contextual.
It would be almost two years before the Trimline phone (made by Bell Telephone’s Western Electric division) became available to all Michigan Bell customers. To rent, not to buy.
August 2, 1965, Trimline Telephone was introduced. Michigan Bell Telephone customers could get one for an optional $1 monthly charge.
Retweet if you ever used a rotary Trimline + share a picture if you still have one!
— Bell Labs (@BellLabs) August 2, 2018
According to TodayInSci, “in 1977, Fortune magazine selected [the Trimline phone] as one of the country’s 25 best-designed products.” Although you can’t buy a rotary dial TrimLine phone today, you can buy one with a button keypad. If you still have a landline, that is.
“Best design” exists on a continuum, but it’s also corporate DNA.
In 2020, Fortune’s “greatest designs of modern times” led with the Apple iPhone (2007).
But by relentlessly pushing the envelope of hardware and software design, adding a professional-grade camera, and creating an ecosystem of apps and services, Apple has sold more than 2 billion iPhones—and in the process has become the most valuable company in the world.
Back in 1991, Apple’s innovative laptop was the first “to have a trackball positioned in front of the keyboard.” Most PCs still ran on DOS, not Windows, so there was little need for point-and-click. In 2006, PC World called the trackball “the best mobile pointing device of its era” when naming it the 10th best PC of all time.
The portable market of 1991 was very different from today’s. Toshiba, which produced the first mass market PC laptop in 1985 (the T1100) and the first $1,000 laptop in 1987 (the T1000), and Compaq, which began as a portable PC maker in 1983 (the luggable 28 lb. Compaq Portable), were the front-runners. Their notebooks typically weighed over 8 pounds and lacked many of the features found in even the least expensive desktop systems, like hard drives and mice [emphasis added].
Chiat/Day, the company that created the 1984 spot for the original Macintosh, created an ad featuring basketball superstar, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, uncomfortably sitting in a cramped airliner seat. He pulls out a PowerBook and begins typing effortlessly, the screen fades to black and the caption appears: “At least his hands are comfortable.”
In the first year on the market, PowerBooks generated over $1 billion in sales and dethroned Compaq and Toshiba in the portable market. Even during Apple’s darkest days during 1994, the PowerBook segment was successful.
Apple retired the PowerBook line in 2006 when it introduced the MacBook.
Today we have Dick Tracy phones on our wrists. Full-fledged computers on tablets that weigh a pound or less.
Innovation exists on a continuum, and it is both contextual and an element of corporate DNA.