The PC of the Future...from 1996

YouTube // The Computer Chronicles
YouTube // The Computer Chronicles / YouTube // The Computer Chronicles

In this episode of Computer Chronicles from 20 years ago, host Stewart Cheifet explores a bunch of possible technologies that might represent the PC of the future: A "smart" telephone dubbed "Transphone"; the Starfire telepresence system from Sun; Apple's doomed Pippin game console; the BeBox (a really sweet multiprocessor PC with a modern operating system); thin clients from Oracle; and the "Pilot" before it was called "Palm Pilot."

While none of these things alone turned into the "PC of the future," in a sense they all did. I'd argue that what Cheifet and team were trying to envision in 1996 was actually two things: What kinds of computers will we use to get work done (the answer here is still "mostly PCs" and the significant difference is really just that we have excellent internet connections), and what kinds of computers will we use to play and communicate? On that second point, it's all there: Game consoles, handheld computers that are clear smartphone progenitors, actual telephones that tried to be "smart" but just didn't have enough to work with.

When you see this stuff with the benefit of hindsight, it feels so clear that most of these attempts to expand computers' capabilities were leading toward the smartphone. It was only 11 years between this TV show and the first iPhone in 2007. That's nuts.

Turn your TV back 20 years, and enjoy this slice of retrofuturism: