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June 12, 2017
Invented by a team of IBM engineers in the 1970s, the first memory disk was nicknamed “floppy” due to its flexible material. It measured a whopping 8 inches wide and stored 80 kilobytes of data—perhaps 1/30th the data of the typical medium-rez pic you take with today’s smartphones. For those who are too young to know anything before gigabytes, a kilobyte is … oh, never mind*.
Originally designed as a means to load instructions and install software updates, more than 5 billion disks were sold every year in the mid-‘90s—an astonishing number, considering your average recent grad probably has never seen one.
Fun fact: Amazingly, you can still buy working floppy disks.
Less fun fact: A GAO report revealed the U.S. still uses eight-inch floppy disks and an IBM computer from the 1970s to coordinate nuclear operations. In a missile-sized understatement, the report is drily titled Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems.
*If you must know, a kilobyte is a thousandth of a megabyte, which is a thousandth of a gigabyte.
Photo credit: By George Chernilevsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The first smartphone, the Simon Personal Communicator, went on the market in 1994—and back off six months later. The one-pound device featured an early touchscreen, and offered a calendar, address book, calculator, and phone and email capabilities. And it could send faxes! A device designed to keep business people productive on the go, the SPC cost a shocking $1,100.
The smartphone that first captured the public’s attention—and wallets—was the Palm Pilot in 1996, which was then overtaken by the still-hanging-on BlackBerry in 2002. Of course, the real game-changer was Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007.
Fun fact: Americans check their smartphones 9 billion times a day.
Photo credit: By Bcos47 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Which development had a bigger impact on technology, the floppy disk or the smartphone? It's an impossible choice but you must decide! VOTE now.
Next week's bracket gets tricky, when we pit Ada Lovelace against the electric car. Make sure to follow us on Twitter to make your pick known.
Love reading about tech heroes? Check out our recent Technology Takedowns:
Floppy disk and smartphone illustration by Clarisa Coleman