CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW CHEAP TECHNOLOGY HAS BECOME?
The relentless fall in the cost of your gadgets ...
Posted by Andrew Spencer on 20/07/2012
I came across some information the other day that got me thinking about the cost of technology and in particular consumer technology such as TVs, mobile phones, calculators and especially computers ...
the mouse came into general use in the 80s
The bottom line is the cost of buying these things has been falling relentlessly for decades, both for consumers and organisations. For example back in 1979 a 19" colour TV would cost you twice as much in real terms as a 50" flatscreen now. And a mobile phone in 1983 seventeen times as much as an iPhone (in straight prices, unadjusted for inflation, a mobile back then, only 30 years ago, was nearly ten times as much).
Let's focus on computers. If we go way back to the sixties we can see that the cost of computing was astronomical by comparison to today. Computers were expensive to produce with many constituent parts hand built, assembled etc. In 1965 there was a grand total of 20,000 computers in the world.
Here are three examples of 1960s pricing (drawn from The National Museum of Computing):
An Elliott 803, which was a small mainframe of the early sixties, retailed at around £29,000 in 1960 or £530,000 in today's money! Nearly 250 of these machines were built - one of the first computers 'mass produced' for sale.
The DEC PDP 8 was the first commercially successful personal computer, appearing in 1965. It cost $18,000 then; applying the then $/£ exchange rate of 2.8 and UK inflation that is an incredible £102,000 today. For a PC!
In 1963 the first fully transistorised electronic calculator appeared, the Friden 130. It retailed at $2195 or an eye watering £13,200 today. An amazing sum for a calculator that had only the most basic functions and a tiny screen.
In 1971 the micro processor went on sale and things began to change rapidly. Home computers and games consoles started to appear. The first 'hobby' personal computer, the Altair 8800, made its appearance in 1975, selling for $595 (£1950 today). Expensive by today's standards of course but way cheaper than the PDP 8. In 1977 the Apple II ($1298) and the Commodore PET ($795) appeared. Home and business personal computing was on the move.
The personal computer moved firmly into the business world with the production of the first spreadsheet program Visicalc, designed for the Apple II. It went on sale in 1979 and within 4 years had sold 700,000 copies at $250 each (£450).
By 1980 there were 1 million personal computers worldwide, a massive increase on the numbers of computers 20 years earlier. In 1981 IBM launched its PC. This is the PC that spawned many, many clones, all running the new operating system MS-DOS. During the 1980s MS-DOS was installed in over 30 million personal computers. The IBM PC 5150 retailed for £4500 in 1981 (£15,200 today!). It was expensive equipping desks in those days.
In 1984 the Apple Mac made its appearance and started to change the way we interact with computers forever. Of course the Graphic User Interface and mouse had appeared previously but not on a large scale. In 1984 the Apple Mac retailed at £1600. Note how much cheaper it was than the 1981 IBM PC, the supposedly over priced Mac!
It was the 1980s that saw the explosion in home computing, with many manufacturers entering the market and a host of machines coming to market. And costs started to tumble. Here are a few examples with their then price and the equivalent now:
BBC Micro: 1981, £299, £1010
Sinclair ZX81: 1981, £70, £236
New Brain: 1982, £199, £600
Dragon 32: 1982, £199, £600
Amstrad CPC464: 1984, £700, £1862
It is hardly surprising that the ZX81 was so popular in home computing! The BBC Micro made its mark in education as well as at home. There were of course many more machines available including Commodores, Ataris and so on. And they were at a price that in today's money is not that far off today's prices, particularly the Sinclair.
The rest is history. Computer prices have become more and more competitive and you get so much more for your money today. The power and sophistication of today's computers is massively greater than the 60s, 70s or 80s. And the range of devices is so much greater.
It could be argued that with the advent of smart phones computers are reaching a point where they are almost free, many being supplied as upgrades within mobile phone contracts. Calculators are now free, with the calculators on our phones way more sophisticated than the Friden 130 from the 1960s.
So what does the future hold?
Until next time ...
During Andrew's extensive business career he has worked in a wide cross section of companies, specialising in the creation of contact centres and business systems, software development, telecommunications and project management. Andrew's key skills are:
Business planning and strategy
Matching technology to business needs
Software development and implementation
Designing and implementing business systems
His work has included sourcing and implementing a new integrated telecoms system for National Energy Services, designing and project managing a new IT and telephony structure for the Greyhound Racing Association, and directing technology development for Wembley plc.