Updated on December 10, 2021
(An updated version of this post is available here.)
I’ve discussed recently digital streaming eclipsing CD sales, as well as how cell phones will soon eclipse landline phones in homes. But what about other devices in the past several decades? When did they become deemed obsolete technology?
Below is a list of seven pieces of obsolete technology, and at what point they became deemed yesterday’s tech-news. My point of determination is when a replacement technology first outsold (or had larger ownership) than the previous technology.
Unless otherwise noted, the list is US-centric. That doesn’t mean the technology ceased to exist in usage or usefulness. Black and white TVs lasted as secondary sets well into the 80s and early 90s after they’d lost majority share to color sets. And for some reason, vinyl records have recently seen a comeback.
1. Dial-up Internet access versus broadband
Broadband first eclipsed dial-up in US home usage in March 2005, per Pew Research Center. Dial-up’s since gone into near-oblivion in usage in the US. As of 2013, only 2% of households use dial-up.
2. VCRs versus DVD players
For decades, the VCR was a mainstay in millions of homes. However, the American commercial introduction of the DVD for sale in 1997 saw a rapid decline in VCRs’ popularity. By 2003, DVD rentals had eclipsed those of VHS videotapes, and by 2006, American movie studios had ceased releasing films to VHS.
Today, VCRs mostly remain as unused dust-collectors, if still installed in living rooms at all, having been long replaced by DVD and Blu-Ray players. And even those two optical disc formats are being replaced by digital and streaming video such as Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon Video.
3. Rotary-dial phones versus push-button phones
While push-button (aka “Touch-Tone”) phones were introduced to the US market in 1963, it took until sometime in the 1980s for those to eclipse rotary-dial phones in ownership. Presumably the deregulation of the US phone market via AT&T’s famed breakup in 1984 had an impact.
Today, pretty much all phones in use are Touch-Tone, of course.
4. Pay phones versus cell phones
From what I could find, while cell phones were introduced in 1973, it took until about 2000 for over half of Americans to own a cell phone. Today, 90% of Americans own a cell phone, while 64% of Americans own a smartphone.
Meanwhile, pay phones have declined in public availability. These days, it’s tougher to find one in many places.
5. Black-and-white TVs versus color TVs
Color TV sales in the US first eclipsed black-and-white TV sales in 1972. Since then, color TV’s fully become the norm, while black-and-white TVs became secondary sets, before vanishing completely by the 1990s.
6. CRT TVs versus LCD TVs
Worldwide, LCD TV shipments (and presumably sales) first surpassed CRT TVs in 2008. The shift to digital broadcasting in the US probably helped spur the switch-over to LCD sets here, despite their (at the time) higher cost. I bought my first LCD TV in 2009, after my old CRT set broke.
Today, LCD sets are the norm, with any CRT TVs still in use nowadays mainly as secondary TVs.
7. Film cameras versus digital cameras
From what I could find, digital camera sales first eclipsed film cameras in 2003, with film cameras very quickly dying out soon after; see: the fate of Kodak. Of course, digital cameras themselves have seen sales decline greatly in favor of smartphone cameras, though they’re still the norm for professional or hobbyist photographers.
Photo by by Nate Steiner (Flickr / CC0)