10 Technologies That Need to Make a Comeback

The BlackBerry Scroll Wheel

BlackBerry smart phones used to have scroll wheels on the side, which allowed users to quickly navigate through their inboxes. You could even push the wheel in to open an e-mail or click a menu item. In recent years, RIM has replaced the wheels with trackballs and then with tiny touchpads that allow users to move in more directions, but the problem with these new pointing methods is that they can be wonky.

Scroll wheels worked really well because you could use them with your thumb while gripping the phone on its side. I wish RIM and other handset makers would bring back the wheels for quick scrolling.

How to get scroll wheels today: Your only option is to buy an old BlackBerry on eBay, which is not very appealing.

Classic Joysticks

Staring at an Xbox or PS3 controller today is an exercise in information overload. That thing has so many little buttons and pads that I can’t even figure out how to karate kick someone in Mortal Kombat without mashing them all at once just to see what works. Remember the days when a large, single stick and single button where all you needed? Let’s bring those back. People even wrote disco songs about the beauty of this peripheral.

An entire generation has grown up without the joy of blowing away space invaders with just a single button. Heck, Pac Man didn’t even use the button!

Where to get a joystick today: A number of sites, including ThinkGeek, sell USB versions of the classic Atari stick or arcade sticks with the little red ball on top. You can download Atari or Arcade emulators such as Stella or MAME to play the old games on your notebook. iOS users should check out the new Atari’s Greatest Hits app, though it does not support joysticks.

Portable AM Radios

Sure, you can get news, weather, and sports scores on your smart phone, but there’s nothing that fully replicates the experience of listening to local news or talk on your phone in real-time. Streaming stations can stutter as you drop in and out of good 3G / 4G coverage and, if you want to get sports events live on your phone, you’ll have to pay hefty subscription fees–if you can get them at all.

Oh, and what happens if there’s an emergency and mobile broadband goes down? How do you get your news then? I wish someone would build AM radio into a phone or tablet, but I suppose that’s too much to ask.

Where to get portable AM radio today: Yes, you can still buy one. I particularly like the Sony SRF-M37W because it’s about as small as an iPod. If you’re willing to spend the money and want to listen to baseball games on  your phone, the MLB At Bat 11 app costs $14.99 for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

Software You Don’t Need to Install

Today, installing new software on your PC is a time-consuming task. The last time I put Adobe CS5 on a system, it took over 10 minutes and Office 2010 was up there too. Worse still are games like World of Warcraft, which download an hour’s worth of updates before they’ll let you play.

To add insult to injury, it can take several minutes and a system reboot to remove an application you no longer need. I mean how long does it take just to delete these files? Ridiculous.

Back in the DOS days, you could run software directly off of an external disk or simply copy it to a folder on  your hard drive. Why can’t we get back to that?

How to get software that doesn’t require an install: There are a number of portable applications that will run off of a USB key available for free on PortableApps.com. Kingston also offers its urDrive portable software on select USB flash drives.

Calculator Watches

There’s a huge problem with wristwear today: not enough buttons! Back in the 80s, getting a calculator watch was all the rage amongst geeks. Even if I didn’t need to do any math on mine, I’d still do equations just so I could hit the buttons.

Today, most watches are boring. However, touchscreen watches like the Sony Ericsson LiveView, which shows e-mail from your phone, have some promise–if not enough buttons.

Where to get calculator watches today: Though they are no longer in vogue, the good news is that Casio still sells them under its DataBank brand.

20-inch Notebooks

It was only four years ago that you could get your choice of the 20.1-inch, 15.5-pound HP Pavilion HDX or the 18.3-pound Dell XPS M2010. How times have changed! In 2010, the largest notebook we tested was the 18.4-inch, 10.6 pound Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q890. Some would argue that nobody needs a 20-inch notebook that weighs nearly 20 pounds, but something has been lost in the decision to kill this form factor.

Notebooks of this size and weight can provide a true desktop experience, while being portable enough to carry to a gaming party, back and forth from college, or to a different room of the house. The Dell M2010 even had a keyboard that fully detached and eight speakers.

Where to get a 20-inch notebook today: As far as I know, no notebook manufacturer still makes a 20-inch notebook, but several make all-in-one desktops that are nearly as compact as a notebook. If you still want a giant notebook, the Toshiba Qosmio X500 series and ASUS NX90 series are large 18-inchers.

10 Technologies That Should Come Back

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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Submit Comments

  1. JPorto Says:

    It’s a shame good HMI technology is usually the first victim of cost saving effort. I wouldn’t mind at all to see 16:10 screens and scroll wheels make a comeback…

  2. Joshua Vail Says:

    Another big issue with 1366×768 is that you can’t find any wallpapers in that size. Not a big issue except that it’s really annoying.

  3. vidgamr1984 Says:

    The joysticks in the article already have made a comeback… I have 2 of these incredible Atari USB joysticks from the Legacy guys, these guys know how to bring back the best of classic video game stuff…. nothing beats playing my MAME and other games on my PC then with these, beats having to be stuck using keyboard keys!


  4. A Man Says:

    16:10 comeback, what?
    No, give me old 4:3 for my laptop and use the wide screen format on TVs.
    Any thing else is robbery of screen space.

  5. lee Says:

    lenovo thinkpad 200’s are 16:10, 1280/800 = 1.6. c’mon laptopmag look a little beyond the computer sitting right in front of you for your research.

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