Macs and iPhones and Vision Pros are awesome, but there’s another type of tech product t that I really enjoy, and that’s the always offline gadget.
The photo at the top of this post is the Anbernic RG35XX and it’s a tiny computer that can run video game emulators. It’s not super powerful, but it can run any home console emulator up to PS1, or handheld consoles up to the GBA. It has a power button, volume buttons, a mini-HDMI port to output to a TV, and a USB-C port to charge. There’s no internal storage, so the whole thing runs on a microSD card stuck in the side.
There’s no WiFi or Bluetooth, so it’s just out here on its own. It never has updates to install, so it’s never going to get better, but it’s also not going to change in ways I don’t like. It’s also going to work just was well in 20 years as it does today.
I get the same delight when turning on my Game Boy Advance or original iPod. From their perspective, they don’t care what year it is or what the WiFi password is today, they just work as well today as they did a decade (or two or three) ago. Even turning on an early internet-enabled device like a Nintendo DS or iPod Touch can be annoying as they turn on, check for internet, check for updates, complain about being off for so long, and are generally less useful since the internet has moved on and they can’t really do anything anymore.
As an example, my Game Boy Advance I bought in 2001 still works as well today as the day I bought it. I can put in the same cartridges and games play just like they did 22 years ago. Meanwhile, I tried using my similarly-aged iMac recently, and found it was basically a paper weight in 2023. Sure, it could still do the offline stuff it used to, but the fact it relied on the internet for so much made it nearly impossible to do most of the things I used to use this device for back in the day.
Anyway, of course the internet and internet-connected devices are wildly useful, but I do think it’s worth briefly celebrating the fact internet-free devices can stand the test of time more gracefully.