Party Like It’s 1999: 10 Old Tech Ideas That Are New Again

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one of the Web’s fastest-growing companies ever. (One non-knockoff is Tippr, which now owns Mercata’s patents.)

2. Tablet computers (Microsoft Tablet PC vs. Apple iPad)

Much has been written on this topic already. Microsoft introduced a tablet version of Windows in 2001, but it never sold very well. As my colleague Wade wrote in January, the iPad benefits from advances in interface technologies like touchscreens, virtual keyboards, and accelerometers. It also benefits from a critical mass of consumers who are addicted to mobile apps and Internet-delivered media in a way that didn’t exist in 2001. What’s more, Apple has lots of experience with its previous portable devices such as the Newton and the iPhone, so it has the user interface down pat. But can the iPad hold off dozens of emerging competitors?

3. Digital video recorders (ReplayTV and TiVo vs. Comcast DVR)

The first major DVR maker, ReplayTV, struggled from 1997 to 2001, when it was purchased by SonicBlue, which promptly went bankrupt; ReplayTV’s remnants eventually became part of DirecTV. TiVo, ReplayTV’s later imitator, gained popular acclaim, but didn’t have a profitable year until 2008. Now DVRs are almost as ubiquitous as cable TV, thanks to giants like Comcast, which has been known to charge consumers (like me) for a DVR even when they didn’t request one. Chalk this one up to mainstream distribution.

4. Smartphones (Palm VII vs. iPhone)

OK, this is an obvious one. But what is it that changed between personal digital assistants like the Palm VII—which was released in 1999 with wireless data communication and Web capabilities, and even rudimentary location-based services (based on zip codes)—and the iPhone? Besides the increased processing power in phones, the key factors were much faster broadband Internet, mainstream use of the Web, and the existence of a large community of third-party app developers. So it was a combination of the technology of the day and market timing.

5. Internet banking (Security First Network Bank vs. Bank of America)

Another no-brainer, but people forget how recently they didn’t trust their financial information going over the Web. In the mid-90s, Security First Network Bank was among the first online-only banks. Consumers were slow to warm to the idea, because of perceived security and accessibility issues. … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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  • One of my favorite VC quotes is “Early is a synonym for Wrong.” Don’t forget Amazon Fresh in the shopping reborn category!

  • David Pitkin

    I have to admit that I think Glassbook not Rocketbook would be a better 10 years ago E-Book. I did work there but that technology is still kicking around at Adobe.

  • I’d add local communities, journalism to this list: In 1999, Microsoft’s Sidewalk sold to CitySearch and this year you’ve got Everyblock,, and Patch reinventing that experience.

  • Susan

    I’d also consider Social media – remember Six Degrees??

  • Dan Greenberg

    OK Please let me state the obvious:

    Time-sharing vs. the cloud

    And if we want it to go back just one decade instead of 3, then “IBM On Demand vs. the cloud.” Remember those cool IBM print ads (yes, I said PRINT ads) pitching computing as the Nth utility after water, electricity, etc.?