The Smartphone Has Effectively Replaced All The Technology Offered In This 1991 Radio Shack Ad

Should a time traveler visiting from 1991 show up here in 2014 at Radio Shack clutching this ad showcasing calculators, devices to play music and other electronic gizmos and gadgets, we’re sure they’d be pretty pleased to find they could get all that technology for the price of one smartphone.

Sure, it was simpler time in 1991, muses Steve Cichon on But technology was a lot more complicated: Back then you’d have to shell out $3,054.82 for the 15 items on this ad from the Feb. 16, 1991 edition of The Buffalo News.

But today’s phones aren’t just phones. They’re alarm clocks, radios, calculators, gaming devices, word processors, cameras and oh yes, they can still make phone calls. As Cichon points out, out of the 15 items for sale, here’s the sum total of what his iPhone has rendered obsolete:

All weather personal stereo, $11.88. I now use my iPhone with an Otter Box.
AM/FM clock radio, $13.88. iPhone.
In-Ear Stereo Phones, $7.88. Came with iPhone.
Microthin calculator, $4.88. Swipe up on iPhone.
Tandy 1000 TL/3, $1599. I actually owned a Tandy 1000, and I used it for games and word processing. I now do most of both of those things on my phone.
VHS Camcorder, $799. iPhone.
Mobile Cellular Telephone, $199. Obvs.
Mobile CB, $49.95. Ad says “You’ll never drive ‘alone’ again!” iPhone.
20-Memory Speed-Dial phone, $29.95.
Deluxe Portable CD Player, $159.95. 80 minutes of music, or 80 hours of music? iPhone.
10-Channel Desktop Scanner, $99.55. I still have a scanner, but I have a scanner app, too. iPhone.
Easiest-to-Use Phone Answerer, $49.95. iPhone voicemail.
Handheld Cassette Tape Recorder, $29.95. I use the Voice Memo app almost daily.
BONUS REPLACEMENT: It’s not an item for sale, but at the bottom of the ad, you’re instructed to ‘check your phone book for the Radio Shack Store nearest you.’ Do you even know how to use a phone book?

That time traveler still might want to buy a radar detector or a three-way speaker with a 15″ Woofer, the only two items on the ad that phones don’t have out of the box. Or just use a crowdsourced traffic app like Waze and plug your phone into some nice speakers.

But that’s not to mention all the other things you can do with your phone that Radio Shack couldn’t sell you — my phone can find me a date, a discount, a dinner and connect me to my family halfway around the world in an instant.

Yes, times were simpler back then. But they were also cluttered with devices that probably ended up collecting dust in your closet anyway.

Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone [Trending Buffalo]

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  1. JoeBlow says:

    I opened this article to confirm that a Tandy computer was going to be on the flyer. Also, I know I’m splitting hairs, but just because an iphone is capable of streaming stations and two-way communication doesn’t necessarily replace things like AM/FM radios and CB radios.

  2. radioone says:

    I am surprised that they did not show any amateur radio gear…

  3. GlacierChaser says:

    My Galaxy 3 is pretty big, but there is no way it has a 15″ woofer.

  4. Tightwad says:

    As much as the writer want’s to think that the smart phone can replace all these items, it just isn’t true.

    JoeBlow makes the best point. A smart phone will not talk on the CB, receive all channels on scanner app, or tune in AM/FM directly. Get out of range of a cell tower and your fancy smart phone is a high powered calculator more like an itouch since he appears to be an apple fan.

    Yeah I have one also and have become quite dependent on it ONLY due to it being necessary for work communications.

  5. DaddyBee says:

    Article naysayers are nitpicking. Sure, the iphone/smartphone is not a AM/FM or CB radio, but in reality it really does replace most of the items in this ad, all in one device.

    Did it make all of those items obsolete? Not necessarily though, because device makers can specialize and offer products that offer more than generic versions on the iphone. I am attached to having a clock radio, and while mine is very simple, you can indulge your desire in getting almost any kind of one for use.

    So it does combine a $3,000 range of products into one that fits into your pocket – no argument. However, I can still see those things selling for years to come in some version or another.