Portability, 1980’s style?

I saw this yesterday on Engadget.  It’s a portable 3D printer that fits in a briefcase.

Ben Heck's portable 3D printer via Jason Hidalgo at Endgaget
Ben Heck’s portable 3D printer via Jason Hidalgo at Endgaget

Now, I realise that this is an amazing feat of technology, the culmination of decades of research unfathomable only a short time ago. I mean, the fact that we will all soon be able to afford our own 3D printers (see my previous post) is mind blowing and I am in no way trying to belittle this tremendous achievement – but the fact is, this photo really made me giggle.

Back to the future?

You see, it reminded me of those “mobile” phones, back in the 80’s, that were so big they had to be carried round in briefcases. I imagined myself in a park chasing after the kids with my mobile phone in one hand…. and the briefcase in the other… not!  Can you picture city streets full of people chatting on their briefcase mobile phones today? How on earth would they hold their coffee?  Ok, so maybe I’m alone on this one..

gdgt: at&t museum briefcase phone
gdgt: at&t museum briefcase phone (Photo credit: Lynn Friedman)

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “portable” in the context of a “device” I am expecting a pocket or handbag sized device – not a briefcase sized one – irrespective of definitions and whether the printer is actually portable or not.

Are gadgets getting smaller or bigger?

Anyway, it got me thinking about how my perception of “mobile” and/or “portable” has changed over the years.  Do you remember the days when phones were getting smaller and smaller and we all thought we’d end up with the phone parts embedded in our little fingers and thumbs so we’d look like we had imaginary phones? Then the iPhone came along and mobile phones got bigger again. Then the iPad came along and portable devices got bigger again. Right now tablets seem to have stabilized size wise and as they replace laptops as the device of choice for work, the days of lugging briefcase sized gadgets around (for the average person) might be over.

Portability 2012 style

Personally I have never carried around any printer (portable or not, big or small) on a regular basis as I don’t consider then truly portable for day to day use. I consider them portable in the way that a portable television is portable, or a portacot is portable. I can certainly move them to another location without having to call for backup, but I’d think twice before doing it due to the effort and potential complication involved (ever had one of those portacot frames stubbornly refuse to click into place? You’re not alone..).

How do I define whether a device is truly portable?

My home laptop is truly portable (15 inch screen, full keyboard) in that I can easily move it around the house one handed (essential with two toddlers underfoot). Portability was one of my key criteria when looking for a new laptop (see my previous post here).

On that basis I reckon a modern-ish 15″ laptop is my upper limit of a truly portable device these days, from a size and weight perspective. I’m not saying the bigger devices aren’t portable, just that I would be unlikely to carry them around with me on a regular basis, or at all. Just because it says portable on the label, doesn’t mean I’m going to agree!

Your thoughts?

What do you think when you hear the words “portable device”?  Are you expecting something you can carry around in your pocket or handbag?  Do you think your expectations when you hear the word “portable” have changed over the years?



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Author: Sue @ Oysterfruit

Owner at Oysterfruit.com.au.

15 thoughts on “Portability, 1980’s style?”

  1. I agree that my mind automatically assumes it will be something that can fit inside my handbag, but reality would dictate that it’s all relative. I mean, the real version of that printer is probably the size of a desk. It’s like my first mobile phone in 1996. The aerial was so long it stuck out the end of my handbag – but that was considered cool back then! LOLOL

  2. Im still back at the idea of a portable printer! Really, who feels the need to carry a printer around with them? Especially when you can email everything these days!
    I think things have gotten a little bigger (probably for all the old people complaining!), but definitely lighter. Lighter is my key with portability.
    My Mac book is quite big and not the lightest thing, but it’s still easy to carry around; not that I really take it anywhere!

    1. Exactly! If everyone has one (or access to one at work) they why would you ever need to carry it around? I also completely agree with the lightness thing, my laptop feels a bit plastic-y but it’s so light I really don’t care.

  3. I remember my dad bringing home a portable computer from work when I was still in primary school. It had a monochrome screen, no battery and packed into a small suitcase!!

  4. I assume that portable means something that can fit in my handbag I guess. My Hubby would assume it would fit in his pocket. My Dad would assume it was something that doesn’t need a power point! haha!

  5. If it doesn’t fit into carry on luggage…it ain’t portable!
    And yes, funny how we went all compact, then went bigger again. When the iPad came out, I used to call it an iPhone on steroids 🙂

    1. I like that one! Carry on baggage really should be the worldwide standard for portability – just depends on whether you take the budget airlines definition or the more generous ones..

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