When I was asked to contribute a post for the grand opening of the Huffington Post UK's new technology section, I was flattered. I was also slightly worried. We Americans, as you may have noticed, sometimes have trouble looking past our own borders and seeing all the interesting stuff going on everywhere else in the world. That's as true for technology as it is for politics, culture, sport, and other important subjects.
Still, I do consider myself an honorary Englishman, having lived a year of my life in London. (Unfortunately, that year was 1972, and I was 8 at the time--limiting the experience's usefulness when it comes to blogging about personal technology.) And as I thought about technology and the UK, a number of things that matter to me came to mind, spanning more than three decades.
Would you indulge me as I shared some of them?
If you broke into my house in the middle of the night, rudely interrupted my slumber, and asked me what my favorite gadget of all time was, I'm pretty sure I'd tell you it was the Psion Series 5, the British-built palmtop computer I cherished in the late 1990s, before necessity forced me to switch my loyalties to the PalmPilot. The S5 fit in my pocket, yet it had a keyboard I could touch-type on and some of the most well-designed mobile apps ever. If there was a new Series 5 with a color screen and built-in wireless Internet capability, I'd buy it sight unseen. (Today's Symbian operating system descends from the Psion's software, but something got lost in the translation, sadly.)
My Psion packed a powerful RISC processor designed by a Cambridge-based company called ARM Holdings. And even though Psion palmtops eventually faded away, ARM has only flourished in recent years. The technology it creates and licenses to major chipmakers is found in the iPhone, the iPad, Android phones and tablets, and nearly every other pocketable gizmo in existence. Its sheer pervasiveness makes ARM a major success story-and a formidable rival for Intel, one of the most legendary companies here in Silicon Valley.
3. The Guardian.
I'm not sure if the Guardian's Web site is the very best newspaper site on the planet. (We have at least one here in the U.S. that vies for that title.) But as followed a certain media scandal on the Guardian's site minute-by-minute in recent weeks, I was reminded of how excellent it is. It's built for the Web in a way that's exceptionally rare for a media brand with dead-tree origins.
4. Sir Clive Sinclair.
Britain's homegrown gadget genius designed the first home computer to sell for under a hundred pounds, which made a splash in the U.S. in the early 1980s when watchmaker Timex imported in and sold it for under $100. Even earlier, he invented the amazing tiny TV--with international tuning capability--which my father owned. Along with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, I think of him as one of the great personal-technology engineering minds of the 1970s and 1980s--a man who could do nearly anything with almost nothing.
5. PC World.
I spent almost fourteen happy years working at PC World, the longest-running newsstand magazine about PCs in the U.S. It's no relation whatsoever to the British computer retailer of the same name, even though the two businesses sported nearly identical logos for many years. Consequently, I got used to fielding e-mails from individuals in the UK who were positive that they were reaching the merchant, not a magazine--and who usually had complaints about issues, such as price of ink cartridges in Lancashire, that I couldn't do much about. (The magazine does have a UK edition, but it's known as PC Advisor.)
There you go. I still feel guilty that I don't know more about UK technology. But I'm willing to learn--and I plan to check out the Huffington Post UK's tech section to get better informed in the days to come, if you'll have me.
Follow Harry McCracken on Twitter: www.twitter.com/harrymccracken