The 25th Anniversary of Technology That Shaped The Future
1992 was an important year for science and technology. Alongside historic events such as the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 aimed at fighting climate change, and Pope John Paul II offering an “apology” to Galileo 359 years after the Catholic Church had condemned the Italian Astronomer for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun, 1992 also introduced interesting new pieces of technology, including some that would go onto shape the modern world as we know it today.
One of the greatest technological transformations of the past few decades has been the telephone – from a simple house or work appliance, to an all in one mobile computer and communication system. And in 1992 we started to glimpse a new future for phones. Short Message Service (SMS) is perhaps the most famous piece of technology that is synonymous with pre-smartphone mobile phones, and in December 1992 the very first SMS was sent, reading “Merry Christmas”. The introducing of this messaging system was a landmark moment for mobile phones and helped build momentum towards the phones we know today. Without the introduction of text messaging in 1992, the future may have played out very differently.
The introduction of SMS was the most immediately successful piece of phone technology of 1992, but it was by no means the only important step forward. In November of that year, IBM showed off the very first smartphone, the IBM Simon Personal Communicator, at an event in Las Vegas. The phone would later be released in 1994 and combined a touch screen interface with a Personal Digital Assistance, allowing the user to access a calendar, address book, and notepad as well as send and receive emails. IBM would go on to only sell 50,000 of the phones, a small amount compared to the millions of mobile devices that companies likes Motorola and Nokia were selling round the same time. However, while the IBM Simon may not have been the iPhone for the 1990s, it was still an important first step into the world of the smartphone.
While today the “videophone” is a standard part of everyday life, in the 20th century it was not, despite the best efforts of AT&T. In 1992 the company release the AT&T VideoPhone 2500, their latest attempt at selling the public on the idea of making video calls through their landline phone. After failing in the 1960s, 70s and 80s to make an impact with their “picturephones”, AT&T hoped their 1992 model would finally prove successful. It didn’t. Instead it sold only 30,000 units and today is not remembered kindly, if remembered at all. Still, AT&T were ultimately proved right that the world would eventually embrace video phone calls, they just could never get customers to buy into what they were selling.
1992 was also a very big year for personal computing technology. Email has been a key part of electronic communication for over 20 years, and in that time trillions of emails have been sent to every corner of the Earth. Multipurpose Internal Mail Extensions (MIME) is a standard of use for emails, allowing emails to do more than just send plain text, including sending images, audio and video. As you might have guessed, this standard of email was first defined in 1992, by Nathaniel Borenstein, and is another piece of technology celebrating its 25th anniversary. A lot of cat pictures and videos have been sent thanks to MIME.
On April 6th 1992, Microsoft released Windows 3.1 their first update of the operating system released in 1990. As PC World noted “Windows 3.1 became the first version of Windows to be widely distributed with new PCs, cementing the dominance of Microsoft's OS on the IBM PC platform and signalling the dawn of the Golden Age of Windows.” Amongst other things, Windows 3.1 saw a greater shift towards Multimedia computing with the introduction of Video for Windows, a video playback, editing and encoding program that was released in response to Apple’s QuickTime software.
Windows 3.1 offered improvements in a variety of different area, including things we take as standard today, such as being able to resume a stalled printing job. It also saw the adoption of TrueType fonts, providing a significant visual upgrade from what had come before, as well as other key innovations such as the embedding of images and the introduction of uniform Open and Save dialogue boxes for all products using the system.
Looking back at the technological innovations of 1992 twenty-five years on, it’s easy to recognise the impact that many of these technologies have had on the world around us. From advancing communication methods with SMS and MIME email, to increasing the power and usability of personal computers, and giving us a glimpse into the future of smartphones (3 years before the term was coined), much of what we take for granted today was born in 1992. Twenty-five years from now, which technologies from 2017 will have the same impact and legacy as the humble SMS? We’ll just have to wait and see.