Years of innovation: Life in 1997

Years of innovation: Life in 1997

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We've come a long way since 1997, when Design Inc was launched. During that time, we have seen more innovations affecting the way we live than at any time before.

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Just as we couldn’t have imagined back in the early days just how far Design Inc would go, it’s mind-boggling how life has changed over the years. Dan may have been dreaming of Design Inc’s stellar rise – he was, after all, working from his bedroom in the beginning – and in 1997 many of the innovations that we accept as ‘normal’ today were the stuff of sci-fi movies. Here are just some of our favourites.

50 years ago, vinyl was king. Hipsters were buying LPs and listening to Slade, Mott the Hoople and The Osmonds.
25 years on, in 1997, we had moved away from tape cassettes and were listening to the Spice Girls on CDs.
But, in 2001, Apple dramatically changed the way we listen to (and store our music). They had invented the iPod – a digital device to store 1000 songs. Your best albums could be stored, transported and immediately accessed wherever you went. Since then, the iPod’s capacity grew and could store all your music and more.
The rise of the iPhone and then other emerging smartphones slowly made the iPod seem archaic as they took on the role of the music player.
Streaming solutions, led by Spotify has enabled music libraries to become fully on-demand, enabling any song to be accessed at any time within seconds.

Not only was Design Inc launched in 1997, but also Channel 5, taking our choice of TV channels to, yes you’ve guessed it, five! And, just one year later, Sky Digital launched, which signalled a gradual move to digital TV.
Analogue terrestrial broadcast services were phased out between 2007 and 2012 and, by 2007 we were getting used to being able to catch-up with previously aired shows courtesy of BBC iPlayer.
Freeview followed and, in 2012, Netflix landed in the UK and TV viewing really began to change. No longer do we have to sit in front of a box (and later, a beautifully thin flat-screen TV) in our front rooms, we can watch shows on smartphones and tablets – as long as we’re paying our subs. And perish the thought of waiting a week for the next episode of a favourite series, we’ve now totally embraced binge watching.
Television viewing has become a much more personal experience – a typical family could be scattered through their home, office, shed, pub, watching three or four different shows at the same time across different devices. Many might say this was a blessing during lockdown!
Like music, the TV has become on-demand with any programme or film being readily accessed and viewed when desired.

With a focus on driving down fossil fuel consumption, the demand for ever more environmentally friendly transport solutions has increased in recent years.
Whilst the genesis of electric cars can be traced back to the 1970s, it wasn’t until 2003, when Tesla Motors was set up, that the concept of electric cars really became a viable option. Over the years with massive investment, the cost of lithium-ion batteries has reduced significantly whilst their range has increased.
By 2030, petrol and diesel-fuelled cars will fully cease to be manufactured and these days, all the major automotive brands now offer electric models to the consumer. The challenge, of course, is to ensure the infrastructure is in place to support this change. Inevitably, newly built homes will come with an electric charging point as standard.

Remember planning a journey using a roadmap or A-Z? The invent of GPS and SatNav has seen the demise of family arguments and frenzied page-turning whilst trying to navigate unfamiliar roads.
In the early days, stories abound of drivers blindly driving into rivers and other unfortunate incidents, so intent were they on following directions. Thankfully, those days have largely been left behind. Since 2007, we’ve become used to onboard SatNav in cars and GPS technology embedded in smartphones being able to pinpoint our exact location. So, whether we’re driving, walking, running or cycling it’s virtually impossible to get lost any more!

And, for those seeking alternatives to driving somewhere, gone are the days of hailing a passing cab or waiting at your local taxi rank. Uber is everybody’s friend, ensuring a cost effective ride within very short notice.

But, moves are afoot for the car driver to become the passenger. Autonomous vehicles are on the rise, slowly taking the hassle and risk out of driving and providing all passengers with more time to relax or catch up on business whilst the car itself does all the work.
But how, when and where truly driverless cars will be the norm is up for debate, though experts agree it’s coming “down the road” perhaps sooner than you think

Shopping life in 1997 was done in an actual shop. Typically if you wanted to buy something, you had to go out and get it. That was a trip into town where Curry’s, Woolworths and Dixons were eager to take your money. The internet was on the rise, of course but, online shopping was still in its infancy. Moreover, high street shopping gave you fresh air, and enabled one to interact with the community as part of the daily or weekly routine.
In 1997, Amazon was an online marketplace for books. But, in 1998 it expanded to include music and videos and then snowballed to make just about anything you may want to buy available online.
Harnessing the power of the internet, Amazon was the pioneer of online shopping and has driven a wholesale change in both trade and consumer behaviour, as shoppers shunned the high street in favour of browsing from the comfort of home. e-commerce has since become part of everyday life, where price and convenience trumps the touchy-feely experience every time.

Food shopping is no different. Whereas an empty fridge or cupboard used to mean a dash to the supermarket, a walk to the local corner shop or nipping out to a favourite takeaway.
But times change with online grocery shopping taking off in the early 2000s, led by Ocado, then partnered with Waitrose, and then followed by all the big supermarkets. In more recent years, we have seen the rise of online food delivery solutions such as Just Eat and Deliveroo. And, more recently, Uber Eats.
Can’t be bothered to cook or go out? Don’t open the fridge, open an app instead.

Memory suggests that banking before 1997 was very much a case of going to your local bank to pay in cheques or to the cashpoint / ATM to take out much needed cash. Those were the days of waiting for funds to clear and checking paper statements at the end of the month.
But, in 1997 we saw the introduction of online banking, courtesy of Royal Bank of Scotland, and in 2011 the first fully functional banking app was launched (RBS again). Naturally, other banks followed suit and today it’s the norm – for anyone with a smartphone – to make payments, check account balances, even scan in cheques via a banking app.

Looking back, it was in 2003 that Transport for London launched the Oyster Card, a contactless smart payment card for travellers using London’s travel network. This was followed in 2007 by Barclaycard’s first contactless card, which utilised chip and PIN functionality. By 2010, as more providers adopted contactless cards and within five years some 58 million contactless cards being used in the UK.
Initially, there was a payment limit of £10, which was gradually increased. By 2020, largely due to the pandemic, the limit increased to £45 and then £100 in 2021. The use of contactless cards have inevitably been replaced by the smartphone. Just one tap of your phone and the transaction is done.
Cash is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. That’s great for speed and efficiency. Not so great however for those on the street asking for a little spare change.

And, whilst the use of physical money is in decline, digital currency has taken favour, led by Bitcoin and powered by blockchain software platform. in very recent years, the value of this digital asset has increased dramatically and so has its popularity. So much so that the typical investor is no longer part of the elite.

Back in 1997 only 9% of homes in the UK had access to the internet. In just over 20 years that rocketed to over 90%, and this is led by the success of WiFi. By 2007 WiFi-enabled phones were all the rage and connectivity became the name of the game. From having WiFi in the home and office, we now expect to be able to use smartphones and tablets wherever we are – in a hotel, on a train, walking along a road.

Twenty-five years ago a cloud was simply something white and fluffy in the sky. That all changed in the early 2000s when cloud storage services were introduced.
Rather than containing everything on your computer on one or more hard drives, the cloud now enables instant access to all your information on any device connected to the Internet.
Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive are just a few of the cloud storage services that have become widely adopted – no more misplaced files, no more crying over precious photos when a phone or laptop is stolen. Less lucky are those who still put their faith in hard drive storage (read more)

We’ve come a long way since 1997, when Design Inc was launched. During that time, we have seen more innovations in the way we live than at any time before. I wonder what our daily lives will be like in 25 years time?

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