If you asked me in the 90s what 2017 would look like, I would probably have pointed to movies like Back to the Future or even Blade Runner as possibilities. The future was going to be slick and colorful. There would be people wearing plastic clothes and lots of shiny surfaces.
The reality has turned out to be a little different to those visions of the future. If a time traveler from the 50s, 60s or 70s were to land here today, there would be a lot of familiar things around. At least on the surface.
There seems to be a resurgence in styles and aesthetics that were popular during the middle decades of the 20th century. This is probably best demonstrated by the “” movement with their beards and checkered shirts.
Of course, modern day hipsters didn’t actually live through the times that birthed the styles they emulate. So it can’t be actual nostalgia for those days. Instead it seems in a world that’s been obsessed with commercialism and clinical futurism since the 80s there’s something appealing about what the “good old days” represents.
Actually living in those times came with their own problems and we tend to only highlight the good stuff in each era, but the net effect of this pseudo-nostalgia is a market for things that are “vintage”.
One of the best examples of this is the . A combination of hipster nostalgia and a (dubious) belief that vinyl produces better audio than high quality digital audio means you can now buy turntables and vinyl of new music in most music shops.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Although 2017 turntables are built with some newer technology, they are still the same type of technology used when the format first became popular decades ago. What I’m referring to are modern devices that have been given that retro veneer.
While true hipsters would probably shun such things as being inauthentic, any fashion trend that becomes popular will have people who are simply copying what they see. So clearly there will be a market for these.
Among technophiles themselves there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for these sorts of , at least not in my personal experience. So the products coming to market are clearly not aimed at people who care about things like specifications. So what, exactly, is the deal?
While you may have never seen the word “skeuomorphism” before, you’ve definitely experienced it. Basically it refers to design elements that are not needed for new tech to work, but make them operate a little like the tech that they have replaced.
A great example is an app like iBooks on iOS devices. You can turn a virtual “page” even though it would work just as well to scroll through the text. The look of apps an iOS also used to have faux leather or felt, to give it a material feel.
That form of skeuomorphism has fallen out of fashion in favor of the current flat design trends, but this design approach still provides makers with a way to simulate retro devices.
Smart Old Watches
As a case in point, we’re starting to see a new generation of smart watches that either incorporates a mechanical retro element, such as a real analogue watch face, or they replicate it digitally.
Here it makes a lot of sense. In general people don’t want a smartwatch to be a tony smartphone on their wrist, they want a smarter watch.
This is actually an area where Apple has done well too, their Apple watch has had some pretty great that are both functional and retro. That is, if you want it to be. Watches like the Moto 360 go the whole hog and give us classic looks with a fully digital screen.
There have also always been retro accessories that were more a joke than anything else, but these days you can buy covers for smartphones that make them look like they're made from materials like leather or wood. There’s also a trend to release special editions of gaming consoles that are styled to evoke their predecessors and these often quickly.
You can even get rotary phone docks for iPhones or bamboo Bluetooth keyboards. Any aesthetics is possible if you look hard enough.
The big news in recent times has to be the re-release of an updated version of the. In a smartphone world, the former cellphone giant hasn’t exactly been too relevant, but there was quite a bit of nostalgia-driven excitement for this not-quite smartphone. In the end the phone itself was quite underwhelming, but plenty of people were interested, indicating that there definitely exists a market for this kind of thing.
With companies like Nokia struggling to sell their new phones this may be one way to keep units shifting. Whether this is the start of a retro phone release trend is something I think it’s too soon to call.
Back to the Future
For my part, I like remembering the good old days as much as the next person, but I’ll stick with newer gadgets for actual daily use. Retro-styling is a neat novelty, but there’s usually a reason an old design was left behind.