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From Pong to Furby, games and gadgets of holidays past

December 3, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Following on the Game Boy's success, Sony in 1994 came out with its PlayStation video game console. The console originally began as a collaboration with Nintendo, which later dropped out.

Sony released its PlayStation in Japan in 1994 and in North America a year later. At a price of $299, the PlayStation sold more than 100 million units and led to three successful follow-ons: the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable.

Furby Frenzy by consumers drove resale prices to $300.
Photo: Mark Richards
Click to view slide show of popular gadgets from years past.

Another big seller in the 1990s was Furby, the electronic toy that looked like a cuddly gremlin and reacted to motion. The toy, released by Tiger Electronics, ignited a 1998 holiday season buying frenzy, with prices reaching $300.

Each Furby initially spoke only "Furbish" and gradually learned English. It communicated with other nearby Furbies using an infrared port between its eyes.

"The Furby was big, but I don't think it was in the same league as Pong," Spicer said. "Of course if you look at Gameboys, Playstations and Xboxes, they sold tens of millions of units sold, too. And, the iPod is a blockbuster product as well."

Along with Furby, animatronics were big near the end of the 20th century. Sony came out with AIBO the robotic dog, appropriately named "Sony," in 1999. The robotic pet was designed to learn by interacting with its environment, its owners and other AIBOs. The toy responded to more than 10 voice commands and also talked back to you in a tonal language. But robotic companionship wasn't cheap. Sony cost $2,000.

After the turn of the century, the pace of innovation quickened. In October 2001, Apple Computer came out with its iPod music player, which popularized digitized music just as Sony's 1979 Walkman had popularized portable music players. That same year, Microsoft released the wildly popular Xbox Video Game System -- the first console in the U.S. to come with an internal hard disk drive. The $299 device initially shipped with the game Halo, and quickly overtook Nintendo for second place in the home console market, behind Sony's PlayStation.

Next: See more gadgets of holidays past in our slide show.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His e-mail address is

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