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Wacky telephone inventions that never quite made it

Smartphones are here to stay, but imagine if some of these wacky telephone inventions had caught on? You would definitely need to check a number from a laryngophone call.

The telephone has become so ingrained into modern life that it would be nearly impossible to imagine our lives without them. But before smartphones, many inventors across the globe were desperately trying to come up with the device that would revolutionise the humble telephone from a normal household mod con into a highly desired and aspirational gadget. Steve Jobs managed it with the iPhone, but let’s look at some of the other wackier telephone inventions that never quite made it into our hearts and handbags.

Telephone

Image By: Frederic Bisson

The Telephone Answering Robot

Many designers during the 1960s were inspired by the Space Age and futuristic design, including inventor Claus Scholz when he created the Telephone Answering Robot in 1964. It featured arms, legs, a head, eyes, and rather frighteningly resembled Frankenstein’s monster. But the fatal flaw of Claus’ diabolical-looking invention was the fact that his phone answering robot couldn’t actually answer a phone – because it didn’t have a voice. It was also missing other rather essential features such as the ability to record messages and play them back. It couldn’t even dial or check a phone number. Essentially all the robot could do was pick up and put down a phone. Oh well Claus, back to the drawing board!

The Swatch Talk Phone

This smart device was designed in 1998 and featured a telephone receiver cleverly concealed in a watch. Swatch, the watchmakers who launched the gadget, designed it to have a ten hour phone battery life and a watch battery life of just one month. Other telephone devices have been placed inside a watch by other manufacturers over the years including, Samsung with the SPH-S100 Watch Phone, released in 2001. But it was the NTT DoCoMo Inc Watch Phone that took the Inspector Gadget theme that one step too far by requiring the wearer to talk into their little finger and listen through their thumb, in the classic internationally recognised mime signal for ‘phone’. Also, if you wanted to hang up a call, then all you would have to do is snap your fingers! Can you imagine the kind of upgrades this watch phone would’ve gone through – ‘jazz hands’ to tag yourself in a picture, maybe? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The Laryngophone

Made in 1929, the Laryngophone was designed to be placed in busy public areas to reduce the interference from background noise. It features sensors that were placed over the caller’s throat or cheek and was designed to transmit vibrations from the larynx, without the need for sound to come from the vocal cords. It’s probably just as well this invention never took off, how scary would it be to get an unexpected call from a laryngophone? Perhaps very, but during the Second World War, the Germans made full use of the laryngophone concept and supplied fighter pilots and tank crews with the devices, which surely came in very handy whilst trying to communicate in noisy engine rooms and the like.

Penphone

In 2004, Siemens manufactured a PenPhone that, as may be obvious from the name, worked as both a mobile phone and a pen. It featured an LCD screen and text messaging service, as well as a recording device for taking dictation. Plus, its slimline design meant that it could be easily placed in the breast pocket of a shirt. The PenPhone was also made to translate hand written text into electronic signals and would have been a really cool gadget to have, but unfortunately it never got past the prototype stage. Inventors are still trying to see if they can make the PenPhone concept work, so watch this space. Or play Candy Crush on your iPhone, it’s up to you.