x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Old is the new new in the land of gadgets

In the fickle world of technology, blasts from the past are all the rage, with some designs enjoying a lucrative second lease of life.

Sheriff Rizwan, the chief executive of ALshop.com, says old gadgets could be more valuable than their counterparts today. Lee Hoagland / The National
Sheriff Rizwan, the chief executive of ALshop.com, says old gadgets could be more valuable than their counterparts today. Lee Hoagland / The National

As the chief executive of the online electronics retailer ALshop.com, Sheriff Rizwan rarely makes house calls to personally thank his customers.

But for one long-time shopper in Dubai, he gladly made an exception.

While walking through his customer's villa, Mr Rizwan was shown a collection of gadgets including various generations of iPads, iPhones and iPods, as well as older classics from Apple such as desktop computers adorned with a colourful logo used only between 1976 and 1998.

It came as little surprise, then, when the same customer asked Mr Rizwan to find another item to add to his personal high-tech museum: an Atari videogame console dating back to the 1980s.

"Very, very niche collectors associate themselves with those kinds of designs and products that have some sentimental meaning," says Mr Rizwan. "When you compare an Atari to a PS3, you are comparing a Toyota to a Rolls-Royce."

Turns out those classic Toyotas of techland can be just as profitable as a shiny new Roller.

About two years ago, a man from the United States sold a copy of Air Raid for an Atari 2600 gaming console via eBay for US$31,600 (Dh116,065) - the second-highest price at that time for a videogame.

Although analysts admit it is difficult to accurately track the sales of old gadgets through auctions or speciality sites, there are plenty of shoppers these days who are buying new accessories and devices intentionally designed with retro themes.

This has helped to fuel growth of the electronics industry to US$4.3 billion (Dh15.79bn) globally by 2015, according to a sector forecast by Business Monitor International.

"Retro as a theme has existed and has been popular from time to time with a number of different products, from hats, jeans to cars and motorcycles," says Omar Kassim, the founder of the online electronics retailer JadoPado. "I think it's a great theme for gadgets, if the accessories are of the right quality, style and are targeted to the right audience.

"The retro-theme is also an interesting one for individuals from older generations who are just getting into newer technology products and may want to re-experience the good ol' days."

So, just how old school are some of these products?

Last month, Philips announced it would be releasing a radio inspired by its Philetta design from the 1950s, complete with its boxy body constructed of premium-wood casing and two aluminium knobs to control the volume and music playback.

But to make sure the updated model is "versatile" enough for today's customers, Philips has also added a digital radio feature plus docking station that can pull music from either an iPhone or iPod.

Quirkier gizmos seem to be all the rage in this sub-sector.

One public relations professional in Dubai picked the Moshi Moshi vintage phone handset as his favourite. The big selling point on this Dh179 accessory, which has been sold through Virgin Megastores in Dubai, is that its long, curly cord connects into a modern-day smartphone.

Other contraptions, which have yet to be sold en masse or priced for consumers, include a typewriter that can hold Apple's precious iPad as users tap or bang directly on to the screen while producing words in painfully slow motion.

Even the Furby, which debuted 14 years ago but went on to sell more than 40 million models, has been brought back with a new twist. The latest version, out this autumn for $60, includes the same bug-eyed, big-eared look and also features more touch sensors. It can interact via an app for the iPad.

Part of the reason for the interest in resurrecting certain gadgets from the digital graveyard is that many consumers upgrade devices much more quickly these days, unlike in the past.

"Decades ago we didn't have options to play with anything other than an Atari or Nintendo but fast-forward 15 years down the line - if we're having kids today they really get bored after a few months," says Mr Rizwan.

Nintendo's earlier gaming consoles did stay in the market years longer than more recent offerings from the same company. And data released in the summer from the analytics firm Flurry showed tablets and smartphones are being adopted 10 times faster than PCs were back in the 1980s.

Another reason companies are making what was once old new again comes down to shoppers wanting to customise their gadgets with certain extras that feature a vintage look.

"The bigger trend is people accessorising their devices," says Ben Arnold, the director of industry analysis at the research firm NPD Group.

Sales of mobile accessories increased 32 per cent during the first half of this year in the US compared to the same period last year, while the average price point for these products has climbed 25 per cent during that time, according to the NPD Group.

Cases for phones proved to be the most popular accessories category, with a 69 per cent increase in one year, followed by headphones with microphones at 67 per cent growth.

Next month at Gitex, the huge technology exhibition in Dubai, I-mego, a company from Hong Kong, is set to display retro-themed headphones.

Its Throne and Throne Cambo series, which retail for about $129 each, invoke the same look as vintage microphones into which jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald used to croon.

Fast-forward musical eras to the age of the cassette tape and that same design now appears on multiple covers for smartphones, with some versions running to as much as $100 each via Amazon.com.

"How many hundreds of black iPhone cases are there in the market?" says Mr Arnold.

"I've seen GameBoy covers, cassette tape covers - I think it helps differentiate and people stand out," he adds.

"But I think there's probably the case of how everything that's old is new again."