7 Gadgets Retrofitted for the Future

Minyanville  |

Imagine if the phrase “Everything old is new again” applied to technology -- that consumers suddenly grew bored with intuitive design and began to hunger for, say, the touch of a bulky button or the sound of a dial-up modem. Well, as it turns out, gadget manufacturers have found a niche market in tech nostalgia.

Maybe it’s just me but the screeches, pops, and hisses of the Internet connecting of yore isn’t the stuff of wistful memories. They’re the tech equivalent of nails scraping on a chalkboard. I don’t fondly recall the carpal-tunnel-inducing exercise of clicking the “Connect” button over and over while competing with other users for server space on what was then called America Online (AOL). Of course, once you actually made it onto the World Wide Web, you barely had time to type in your Lycos search before the overloaded AOL call center booted you right off. That “Always Offline” nickname stuck for good reason.

But for those who find the silence of broadband and Wi-Fi deafening, those old '90s sounds are still just a click away. Free-Loops.com offers a free Wav file download of the dial-up sound effect and Lazylaces brought an old US Robotics modem back to life -- complete with blinking lights.

Hands-free, schmands free. Wireless, schmireless. Sleek, schm -- well, you get the idea.

If you need an excuse for keeping that vintage telephone table or are just looking for a decent bicep workout, an Etsy store called Freeland Studios has you covered. The iRetrofone is a 1950s-style telephone base, hand-sculpted in heavy-duty, half-inch thick urethane resin that acts not only as a docking and synching station for the iPhone (AAPL), but an actual conduit for communication.

But this throwback product is actually a down-date from the previously released Novophone. A corded handset accessory that plugs into the common cell phone, the Novophone may not fit in your pocket, but it’s at least portable enough for a messenger bag.

Really? No eight-track player? This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink music system packs a century’s worth of music technology into one unit. The talking machine-esque Victrola design with classic horn is beyond retro. It’s barely 20th century.

But the Pyle Audio machine, sold on Amazon (AMZN), is more than just an anachronistic novelty item. The USB port allows for the conversion of analog formats to digital files. You know, just like Edison would’ve done.

The only company to make this list that manufactured the original product it’s meant to replicate is Crosley. The vintage features of this Duet AM/FM clock radio, including the rounded shape, analog tuning dial, and clock face, are all inspired by the Crosley radio designs from the 1940s. The portable music player plug-in and patented AroundSound are postwar updates.

Powel Crosley, who founded the company in 1920 after being astounded by the $130 going rate for radio receivers, would be pleased to know his prices have stayed low. The $35 price tag he attached to his own meticulously-crafted mass-marketed radios back then would cost $377 in today’s dollars. Crosley’s current asking price for the Duet is $150.

Retro arcade gamers, rejoice. While there are any number of old school emulators out there allowing users to relive their Atari, NES, and Commodore 64 days, with today’s touch pads, few give the true button mashing experience.

Enter iCade 8-Bitty, the wireless game controller that gives Android (GOOG), iPhone, and iPad owners a chance to experience the sore, calloused thumbs of their youth. Unlike the smudge-streaked screens of modern-era phones, the iCade 8-Bitty implements the old school directional pad (D-Pad) and four-button array that will Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. Start up your nostalgia.

For a writer, there’s something incredibly romantic about composing a work of art on a typewriter. Just ask Woody Allen, who, for the last half century, hasn’t written a word on anything but the same trusty Olympia portable.

So authors and screenwriters must be gushing over the invention of antique typewriter collector Jack Zylkin, called the USB Typewriter. This “groundbreaking advancement in the field of obsolescence” is the perfect marriage of old school aesthetics and modern functionality. The typewriter plugs into the USB port on desktop and laptop Macs and PCs (and tablets) and serves as the device’s keyboard. This allows users to experience the satisfying clickety-clack staccato of typewriter keys without the need for Wite-Out or correction tape.

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Now, whether or not aspiring writers want to schlep the machines into Starbucks to pretend to write their first screenplay is an entirely different matter.

In November 2010, when Minyanville touched on the trend of out-dating digital camera photos in the Throwback Products We Love article, Instagram was still in its crib. Now, the app tribute to the Kodak Instamatic and Polaroid cameras that puts our pics through retro filters before allowing us to share them online, has been snapped up by Facebook (FB). At the hefty sum of $1 billion, Instagram and its dozen or so employees is the single biggest acquisition of any app.

Meanwhile, Kodak is, ironically, the picture of failure.

By Diane Bullock

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