But in that
same year, a Californian aircraft radio company called Novatech
decided to create a cheap, battery-powered, open-reel telephone
answering machine. A group of inventors, working in a garage,
spent four years working on the project, using parts from hundreds
of tiny Japanese portable tape recorders.
was a 30-second continuous tape that would play the outgoing message,
stop and then start recording. In 1971, they released their machine
- the PhoneMate 400. This weighed less than 5 kilos, cost just
$200 and could hold 20 messages. You had to wear earphones to
hear your messages, it was still a major step forward.
giant phone company AT&T (in the USA) tried to ban people
from attaching answering machines to the phone lines. The case
went to court and the judge said AT&T couldnít stop people
from doing it.
became more sophisticated, and new features were added. But many
people still werenít sure how to handle listening to, then talking
to a machine - they found it disturbingly dehumanising. And what
sort of recorded greeting should you leave? Some companies specialised
in making messages using copies of famous voices, such as Porky
By 1984, the
microcassette arrived, followed a year later by the first synthesised
voices. By 1990, most answering machines were digital, weighed
under a kilo and had no moving parts. In 1993, answering machines
for cordless phones were released.
of the 1990s, one home in four had an answering machine; now it
is two out of three and climbing.