Nothing Is Forever: Tech Products I’ll Never Buy Again

By  |  Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

[NOTE: Here's a story from our most recent Technologizer's T-Week newsletter--go here to sign up to receive it each Friday. You'll get original stuff that won't show up on the site until later, if at all.]

I can tell you when I bought my first computer. (1982–it was an Atari 400 with a tape drive, which I bought at a Service Merchandise in New Hampshire.) I can tell you when I got my first VCR (1985–a cheesy Sharp model with a wired remote; I think I bought it at the late, lamented Boston electronics retailer Lechmere). Same thing for cell phones (a Nokia I still miss), MP3 players, and sorts of other gadgets.

Countless technology products have meant a lot to me. Few have meant a lot for more than a few years, though–they tend to either break or be rendered obsolete by something even more exciting. And even entire classes of products which I thought I couldn’t live without eventually become dispensable.

Herewith, a few categories of gear I’ve owned, and my best guess as to whether I’m done with them yet.


Laptops. I suppose the day may come when I use some seventh-generation iPad or Android tablet as my only general-purpose computing device. In the short term, though, I expect to continue on buying MacBooks and Windows notebooks as my primary machines.

Desktop PCs. I bought my last one right before Windows Vista came out. Unless I unexpectedly take a job that requires me to sit in one place all day long, I don’t expect to buy a desktop computer ever again–it would be sort of like buying a bicycle without any wheels.

Computer monitors. I have a perfectly pleasant 23″ Samsung widescreen display, but it sits unused; I’ve just gotten used to computing anywhere and everywhere rather than at a desk. (I do assume that I’ll eventually buy multipurpose “displays” that are both TV sets and computer monitors in one handy-dandy device.)

Mice. On the rare occasion when I’m seated at a desktop, I like using a trackball. But it’s been years since I’ve bought one, and even longer since I’ve bought a mouse. These days, when I close my eyes and think “pointing device,” what I see is a touchpad.

Printers. I have an HP all-in-one (the first and only all-in-one I’ve ever owned). I’m in no rush to replace it, but I assume I will at some point. Less clear: Will I still want to print out stuff on dead trees in, say, twenty years?

Networking routers. I have a two-year-old Wireless-N one sitting next to my cable modem. It’s likely to keep on being perfectly useful for several years to come, but I expect that some technical development will eventually lead me to upgrade.

HDTVs. I’ve owned a flatscreen for three years, and while I hope to keep on watching it for years to come–I consider it more like a car than a PC–I’m sure it’s not my last TV set.

Cell phones. I expect to purchase many of them–too many, probably–over the next few decades–I’m having trouble coming up with any scenario which would render them obsolete.

MP3 players. I owned and loved a bunch of them over the years, from the original Rio PMP300 to the Creative Nomad Jukebox to too many iPods to count. But with the possible exception of devices I might purchase to review, I’m pretty confident I’ll never buy another MP3 player that isn’t also a smartphone.

Digital cameras. It’s possible my new Canon PowerShot S95 is the last point-and-shoot I’ll ever buy, but I don’t think it’s likely, unless some unexpected technological breakthrough leads to spectacular smartphone cameras.

Video cameras. I bought a Flip a couple of years ago–after having owned various other video cameras dating back to the days of 8mm tapes–but wouldn’t do it again. For me, video capture is a feature built into phones and still cameras, not a product category.

DVD players. I last bought a standalone one a couple of years ago–a midget-sized unit that fit into my bulging entertainment center. I only see myself buying another if this one conks out and I still have DVDs I want to watch. But I bet I’ll acquire more devices with DVD drives or burners built in–they’re kind of like floppy drives.

VCRs. I picked up one just recently! It’s a combo unit that lets me burn stuff from VHS onto DVD. In other words, it’s designed to help me leave the world of tape behind. If I find the time to dupe my tapes, this might be my last VCR, after a quarter-century of owning them.

Audio cassette decks. Can’t tell you when I last bought one; don’t have one in the house; can’t imagine why I’d buy another, except maybe to digitize a unique tape or two. (I interviewed the Car Talk guys years ago, and the tape is around here somewhere…)

LP turntables. I bought one of those ION USB turntables last year, but haven’t had time to play with it much. I will, though: In fact, I still buy the occasional collectible LP. But I’d only buy another turntable if this one croaked–and maybe not even then.

FM radios. I picked up a nice Boston Acoustics clock radio around three years ago–but rarely use it these days. If it turns out it’s the last FM radio I ever buy–not counting ones that come with automobiles wrapped around them–I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

Analog wristwatches. The one I wear every day is older than I am–and it still looks good and keeps excellent time. But I’m sure I haven’t bought my last one; I’ll probably still wear a good old fashioned watch long after I’ve lost interest in neatly every type of gizmo that’s a big deal at the moment.

What major technology products do you think have reached the end of the line–at least for you?

 
45 Comments


Read more: 

45 Comments For This Post

  1. ahow628 Says:

    I would have put optical drives as a category. I can't remember the last time I used the DVD drive on my computer. My next laptop will definitely not have one.

    I still have a desktop PC and will for the foreseeable future since I use it as an HTPC. I don't see myself moving to a pure streaming, limited purpose device like the Roku or Boxee Box. Also, by desktop here I mean nettop more likely. I would get something like the Zotac ZBOX.

  2. Keith Shaw Says:

    Kind of a wishy-washy list – most of the categories are things that you "might" buy from in the future – only the desktop, VCR and FM radios would fit the headline of "I'll never buy again." Leaving yourself some wiggle room, Harry!

    I think the stand-alone video camera still has some better life – things like the Flip, Kodak Zi8 and even SD-enabled camcorders from Canon and others are still much better for shooting video than the stuff you currently see on smartphones. Issue with the iPhone is that there's no removable storage, and shooting video requires lots of space.

    On the watch category, I'm surprised you're still wearing one. I stopped wearing/buying watches about 5 years ago when I realized that the phone can display the time.

  3. Otto Nordpol Says:

    Harry,

    You made a very interesting point in passing–that of product perception. Take cell phones. Is the iPhone a phone, or a handheld computer with phone network connectivity? If this is still a phone, what about an iPad with 3G connectivity? This leads to some interesting conjectures.

    *One of the things that makes the iPad a bellwether product is that it is the first consumer phone network-accessible device that doesn't call itself a phone.

    *The term "phone" is becoming a product positioning term to help consumers identify applications for a device, rather than an inherent property of the object.

    *More cynically, I'm beginning to think the "phone" term is something that carriers will insist on to maintain retail customer dependence on their networks. You can't have a phone without a phone company, right?

    One could argue that even when iPad or netbook user talks to their friends over wifi/VOIP they are still accessing public telecom bandwidth in the form of Internet backbone. But this reduces the carrier's role to that of anonymous bandwidth wholesaler. There are much lower margins selling bandwidth wholesale than retail direct to end-consumers.

    There also appear to be two kinds of products one does not buy again. Obsolete ones and ones that cannot be improved. Former category examples: Floppy drives; answering machines; pagers. Latter category: Automatic watches, Leica M4s, Quad ESLs, and some of the fountain pens I know you fancy. There are some twilight devices that are both obsolete and have reached a no-improvement-possible stage. Certain Ferraris, Linn LP 12 turntables; and probably the aforementioned Leicas.

  4. Collins Says:

    "These days, when I close my eyes and think “pointing device,” what I see is a touchpad."

    I beg to differ. Right now, what I have in mind when someone says "pointing device" is Kinect. I can see myself scrolling through web pages and documents by waving my finger at a webcam-like device sitting above my laptop display. Cool, ain't it?

  5. Al B. Says:

    Just for a goof, plug in a mouse and use it for a couple of hours. If your experience is at all like mine, you'll find it to be WAY more precise and productive than any touchpad or other pointing device alternative.

  6. Al B. Says:

    Try editing a document with Kinect as your pointer and on-screen keyboard. Good luck with that…

  7. JaredNewman Says:

    I recently bought a desktop PC for the first time in nine years, for use as a home theater PC. In marketing terms it's a nettop, so I'm not sure whether that counts.

  8. whatever Says:

    man, you are such a consume whore! :)

    now going back to the question you have posed and to your original list, my guess is that printers will not be obsolete even after 20 years (lets just imagine that cellulose could be generated in labs/factories (capturing the CO2 in the process – yay!) instead of cutting down rain forests, if you are susceptible to "save the planet" ego deception) – the only three alternatives might be: a) e-ink: kind of lame, because though info on it might be searchable, its still limited to a single sheet, plus there are some especially strong emotional issues related to books. b) holographic interfaces (or more private ones projecting info on to users retina). c) neural interfaces (which would also make obsolete a bunsh technologies, like cell phones, netbooks, media players, etc)

    so my point is, your kind of a shallow imagination guy for a futurologist ;)

  9. SteveQ Says:

    It looks like I'm in a small minority judging by the above comments – I hate laptops.
    Fiddly, multi-function keyboards, tiny screens and burnt erm… laps.
    Now, an iPad-type device with phone connectivity (and multi-tasking) might sway me for general purpose use. But for sustained, eight-hour-day pay-slave toil a full-size desktop with a big screen and comfortably large keyboard has to be the daddy.
    Preferably, built into the desk and with touch-screen technology for when I want to use that – why not combine techs. if they compliment each other?

  10. Stjepan Says:

    You lost me on touchpad > mouse because it's perfectly clear that you are not using any of your devices you buy. For us that are actually using tech for fun/work, most of what you wrote is…well…not true.
    Computer screens can never be large enough, laptops can never be fast enough or have good enough graphic cards, actual real computer work can never be done without good mouse (wont even talk about gaming) etc. etc. etc.
    In short…bad list

  11. Harry McCracken Says:

    That's right. I actually making my living running a Web site I create on a typewriter. DON'T TELL ANYONE!

    I don't know what to tell you, but I've stopped using desktops and don't use a mouse with my laptops, and I'm…happy and productive. I agree that large screens are nice, but for my particular work–which benefits from me being able to work anywhere–being mobile is much, much more important.

    One thing that helped me swear off mice: most are designed for right-handed people. I'm a lefty. Touchpads are perfectly ambidextrous.

    –Harry

  12. Brent Says:

    There will ALWAYS be a need for printers, even in 20 years. The reason is a hard copy of a document is more secure, and less prone to tampering or alterations. That's why many companies, governments and educational institutions still require hard copies for any official document (and sometimes they won't even accept photocopies). Things like locking a document in PDF format with Adobe only goes so far.

    Simply put: having a hard copy is still considered to be OFFICIAL.

  13. Jake Says:

    The first thing I noticed reading this list is the lack of actual use you get out of certain things. Ipads are a novelty for people who prefer to trade productivity for looking cool. Sitting on a plane, watching the guy next to me fight with trying to type an article on one made me realize I will never bother to buy one. I own a Cruz for reading ebooks on the go and can't see anything without a real keyboard replacing my laptop for when I need to code away from my desktop. Its laughable to think that one day a company somewhere will seal its financial fate when their coders step into their cubicles only to find their desktops gone and replaced with tablets of some kind. Or anyone that uses any type of media that requires precision being handed a laptop with a trackpad.
    Also being a gamer, nothing beats a mouse. A great deal of the world will always be ok with simplified, not quite as good, tech but for many professionals, most of the new tech is no where near good enough to easily finish tasks.

  14. Erik Says:

    When you say that you will probably never buy a desktop computer I assume you don't play games or run other applications that require some heavy hardware.

  15. Harry McCracken Says:

    It's true that I'm not a serious gamer…

    –Harry

  16. mr b Says:

    unless on-screen keyboards allow people to type at +180 strokes a minute, I don't see the keyboard (or the mouse) disappear anytime soon

    I also don't get why so many people think that the days of the desktop are numbered. I'm not claiming they will always exist, but I really don't see them becoming irrelavent the next couple of decades. A desktop will always provide more power. I, for example, am used to using 2-3 monitors. I don't see myself writing code every day on a laptop with a touchscreen and no mouse. Just like I don't see my secretary doing my financial administration, invoicing, correspondence etc without a mouse or keyboard.

    In short, I think all these new technologies are way overrated. Yes, there is a place for touch in the world and that place probably won't include a keyboard and/or mouse. But those things are by no means an alternative for the desktop, keyboard and mouse. Not even by a long shot.

  17. Stilgar Says:

    Ditto this, the only time I use my optical drive is when I'm installing a OS. Otherwise, everything else is a download away.

  18. Terry Says:

    Dead on sir.

  19. madmoses Says:

    I bought an ASUS gaming laptop.
    I won't be going back to desktop computing ever again.

  20. Mike Says:

    I'm curious which technology you use to get woken up on time in the morning? FM clock radio, watch, IPOD, what?

  21. Rick Says:

    I'm sure the Kindle 3g predates the iPad, but I get your point.

  22. Craig Says:

    For work, I want a large (multi monitor) workspace. At home it is a laptop — but I sure miss the real estate when I need to remote to work from home.

    I'm listening to LPs and CDs on my home stereo too. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but the technology still works well and sounds great.

    I also use my phone just for a phone. I really don't need to see the internet or my email all that often!

    FM radio alarm clock in the morning for me :)

    I think I use the technology that sticks around – and skip a lot of the transient ones.

  23. Mike Says:

    Desktops aren't going away for secretaries or programmers any time soon, but for normal, everyday use around the home, they already have.

    Everyone I know still has a desktop at home, that they bought a few years ago… But it's sitting in a corner collecting dust while they use their new laptops and iDevices for everyday use.

    Average consumers are still using the desktop for gaming, but not much else.

  24. dpocius Says:

    Re: desktop: I'm doing fine with an industrial-strength laptop on my desk. I've added a wireless mouse, numeric keypad, and a 23" 2nd monitor. The combo is fine for everything from the usual Outlook/Office stuff to programming (Visual Studio) to 3D CAD/modeling. And, I can unhook my laptop and tote it off to a meeting, plugging it into a projector to deliver a presentation.

  25. DBT Says:

    People who do real work need desktops. Plain and simple.

    Do you think the people who developed Kinect, Galaxy S and Google Instant did so on an iPad? If so, then I'll stop right now because I don't think there is anything I can do to explain it to you.

  26. DBT Says:

    doh, that was meant for "Collins"…. If only I had used a desktop to reply, I wouldn't have failed. ;)

  27. Mike Says:

    But he can spell.

  28. Harry McCracken Says:

    Of course they didn't create 'em on an iPad–but are you saying the chances are zero that they did some of their work on laptops? Also, a definition of "real work" would be helpful…

    –Harry

  29. Johan Cyprich Says:

    Its highly unlikely that a smart phone will replace digital cameras or camcorders, unless the user has very low standards in quality. Both devices require good lenses, and a camcorder requires a good microphone which you can't squeeze into a smart phone. Also, compare a photo from a DSLR and one from an iPhone.

    Anyone serious about photography or videos will use dedicated hardware for it. The rest will use their smart phones. I wouldn't trust the quality of smart phones based on the samples they show. Professionals are hired to take photos/videos and they do it in an ideal environment where the best image is made.

  30. Jason P Sage Says:

    100% in agreement – frankly – no matter how excited I try to be getting a laptop – I always find the experience… portable… in general for computing… for me… Stinks. I dislike touch pad, Laptop keyboards – yeah I broke down and got a Android – ( I'm a developer after all – planning on a few android java-ish romps later) anyways… Texting? I don't have the passion for it like every new found stunt person driving without their eyes, hands, etc….

    LOL… Yeah – I think it's what ya like – and you make a fast smart gadget – I'll build a 20x better desktop – and if you beat me? I'll go by a blade server… LOL :)

  31. Jason P Sage Says:

    Well – it might die from a windows update or something if you leave online and "self checking" but otherwise – you might have a pretty sweet rig. As for using a desktop for such a silly task: ABSOLUTELY! Quality is probably awesome…especially being dedicated :)

    I'm an admitted NetFlix Junkie meself – (or too cheap to buy a dedicated entertainment PC platform ;) )

  32. Jason P Sage Says:

    Nice! Agreed! I too am a fan of something you eluded: HELL WITH DESKTOP – Put a CHIP in your DESK! Seriously!

    There are some really cool DeskChair "integrations" (audio, vibration/feedback..even hydraulics set up to electric pumps and relays powered by home built (or bought?) electronics … now skip the Die Hard gamer and Various Flight Simulators' fans who take this to the nth degree…

    Now the desk.. How about a flatscreen on the desktop – that isn't not PRIMARY – is touch… and does the kinds of neat things touch does…. just drag stuff to the literal desktop and use touch then…. the other monitors might also be part of the furniture…doesn't matter… to me… but what does matter to me is where the PC or PC's are… I want drives, cd's in reach. I want my keyboard, mouse and monitor(s) straight in front of me or maybe a wrap around sort of set up…

    Mainly – I don't need to see the PC… but I need to get to cards, ports… yeah – I want a computer desk capable of housing four servers internally with internal wireing such that a USB cable might be available for any of the four systems in special USB port strips – clearly marked which PC each row of USB ports might go – where ever this sort of "panel" lived for USB. Well.. that would be my ideal dream ship… gain deskspace, easy maintenance…

    I don't want my desk with multiple PC's, user interface switchboxes, monitors servers… I have machines STRAPPED to METAL BARS of metal shelving STACKED just to leverage vertical space…

    I want so see screens, maybe a true desktop display with touch, a normal desk that isn't surrounded and/or covered with PC cases and wires…. Yeah… I want big, tidy, easy, comfortable… not tiny, cramped, slow, easy to misplace (Though I'm keeping my android – you can't have it! :)

    –Jason P Sage

  33. Jason P Sage Says:

    http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=utf-

    Couldn't resist – being a Lefty for Writing.. but righty for everything else – I am sensitive to Left hand/ right Hand issues and there are more than people realize.

    I do think the typewriter bit for the web page is classic! Especially when I reminisce about how I at the age of ten would buy a composition book, fill it with programs written in basic with a pen… and then when I got near a computer… like a TImex Sinclair (2k of RAM!!!!) or an Apple I (Apple one!) or something – I'd start typing… debug – then run happily! :)

  34. Jason P Sage Says:

    LOL – Knew that when you said you used a typewriter for website copy! LOL :) Rock On!

    Me? Gamer! DESKTOP MONSTER!

    ….not that I've had time to play lately…whine… WAIT… I could leave this article and play now….um…. Have a good day all! see ya ;)

  35. JaredNewman Says:

    It's a Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150. Comes with a nice little handheld trackball/keypad and handles streaming video just fine with the Ion 2 graphics (any problems I have tend to come from bandwidth, which I could use more of).

    I'm also a gaming junkie so it's nice to lean back on the couch with emulators and indie PC games like Minecraft and VVVVVV. All for roughly the same price as Google TV.

  36. Yaice Says:

    A recent article in the Washington Post warned that, because of the rapidly increasing number of smart mobile devices in use, there is the very real possibility of bandwidth gridlock in the cellular spectrum. I think that it would be a mistake to gravitate toward having EVERYTHING (movies, music, video, photos, social networking, web browsing, tv shows, etc., etc.) run on your mobile device. There's a definite benefit to having multiple devices with multiple access points.

    Here's an old rule of thumb I learned years ago: The fewer functions a device performs, the better it performs those functions (and vice-versa).

    AS for an HD TV, I will state that, as a bona fide cinephile, I prefer to see movies on a big screen, and can't imagine watching something like "Lawrence of Arabia" on a hand-held device.

  37. Robbie Says:

    Won't be buying a car again – what a waste of resources that is.

    I do all my driving in GT5 on the PS3!

    When I need to go anywhere in the real world I jump on a bicycle – hope to buy some more.

  38. John Says:

    Fax machines are definitely out. On rare occasions I have to send a fax to an insurance company or something. For that purpose I go to Kinko's.

    Palm Pilots and all dedicated PDAs are out.

    I used to get as gifts little credit card size gadgets used to store phone numbers. Those are out.

    Public pay phones are almost dead. In Tokyo you see large blank spaces where there used to be dozens of them.

    Electronic calculators are almost dead. High school kids are required to use certain kinds of graphing calculators. That will last a few years till everyone has an iPad. A dedicated calculator might be useful for a small number of people who don't want to tie up their phone or computer with a calculator app.

  39. Gavin Adam Says:

    I hear where you are coming from! – I've got a company iPad (for R&D purposes) and can honestly say the only thing I've found the iPad useful for is entertaining the children – now for that it is fantastic, my 2.5year old son was hooked…..

    For me the future would be to be able to 'merge' the mediums of Smartphone, Tablet and desktop/Laptop. – when I'm truly mobile I want a device the size of my iPhone, when I'm in a meeting, on a train/plane I 'd like it to be the size of my iPad, when at my desk I want to dock it and have 3 screens, keyboard and all the other tools. In short what I want to be able to do is 'dock' my iPhone into my iPad and my iPad into my desktop, each time doubling the processing power and available resources.

  40. Yaice Says:

    Here's the article I mentioned:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti

  41. Reelix Says:

    I take it you never buy software then?

  42. ahow628 Says:

    To my knowledge, the last software I purchased that required a disc to install was Windows 7 and even that can be installed from a USB thumbdrive (http://www.maximumpc.com/article/howtos/how_to_install_windows_7_beta_a_usb_key).

    TurboTax, MS Office, device drivers, etc are all available in downloadable version, so I'm not sure why you would need a optical drive to install software.

    Add in that web apps are becoming more and more prevalent (Gmail, Aviary, Tweetdeck, TaxAct) and there are even fewer apps you even need to download.

  43. Renchub Says:

    Gaming systems that only play games. Not that those are easy to find anymore, but if it dosen't have connectivity, it won't be worth buying.

  44. waterproof_mp3 Says:

    It is hard to say that I will never buy a particular electronic product because they constantly evolve and become more efficient every time they get an upgrade. For example, I have at least 10 wired computer mouse before wireless mouse became very popular and affordable. I thought that I will never buy another computer mouse since I have plenty of them. But after using a wireless computer mouse I decided to get one because it was much easier to use.

  45. Bobby Says:

    There are specialized calculators (construction, for example) that are indispensable to the people that own and use them. They aren't going anywhere.

Comment on This Story