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An E-Waste Retrospective: Episode 3

Next up in our weekly nod to the forgotten gems of e-waste…

...T-MOBILE SIDEKICK (aka Danger Hiptop), released in 2002.

“Everyone needs a Sidekick.”

In the mid 00s, the T-Mobile Sidekick undeniably became a pop culture icon.

Created by Danger Inc as the Hiptop, it first released in 2002 with a monochrome display and was sold by T-Mobile as the Sidekick. Immediately, it struck a nerve with younger users as an alternative to the business-like design of mobile phones at the time.

Who could forget the swivel screen that opened to a full keyboard? Physical buttons, nicely spaced apart, and equipped with AOL Instant Messenger. A text messaging dream. The Sidekick could largely be credited with popularizing the texting trend more quickly, only to become the preferred communication method of a generation.

With the 2004 release of Sidekick II, the device optimized the directional pad (or D-Pad) and scroll button positions, adding the incredibly underrated line by line scrolling feature.

Most importantly, it was easy to use. For the first time, mobile communication felt like a hand-held video game.

At this point, Sidekick II permeated pop culture. T-Mobile’s product launch events hosted a who’s who of early 2000’s industry dreamboats including Blink 182, Brody Jenner, Lindsay Lohan, Andy Milonakis, Heidi Montag, The Strokes, Michelle Rodriguez, Nikki Reed and rapper Fabolous. Sidekick II was seen in-use on a number of popular MTV and BET reality shows, while TV commercials where everywhere featuring Snoop, Burt Reynolds, and Paris Hilton (who’s Sidekick was later hacked exposing all her celebrity contacts and personal photos).

Notably, the Sidekick II featured a color screen with a transflective liquid crystal display that didn’t need a backlight. You could even read your messages in sunlight. It was a mini computer that fit you on your hip. Or, carried around in-hand to show off your own bedazzled customizations. If inclined, perhaps you opted for one of T-Mobile’s limited editions (Juicy Couture in pink or Mister Cartoon in black) and avoided doing the custom work yourself.

Later Sidekick iterations added little in terms of functionality beyond new applications, but custom limited editions continued with memorable contributions such as Dwayne Wade’s white and gold design with basketball leather, and Tony Hawk’s which included a video recording feature.

Then in 2007, following the introduction of Apple’s iPhone and a series of superior Android devices featuring a touchscreen interface, the end of the physical keyboard era had begun.

A subsequent database error in 2009 following Microsoft’s acquisition of Danger wiped out all active users’ contacts and info, effectively ending the Sidekick’s relevance. T-Mobile attempted a Sidekick resurrection in 2011, but by then, it was already solidified as a cultural relic of the mid-aughts.

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