In my talk Stop Designing Products, I cite the 1888 release of the Kodak Camera as possibly the start of what we now call consumer electronics. I say this knowing that the camera was wholly mechanical — no electricity, so no electronics. But it had the characteristics we associate with such devices — complexity that could be exposed or hidden; support of leisure (as opposed to work) activities; priced for home/individual use (though quite expensive to begin with); portable.
Typically, consumer electronics are believed to have begun with the radio. And while that might be technically correct, I think there’s value to be drawn from mechanical predecessors.
The only other devices I can think of that might be similarly considered predecessors are the typewriter and the calculator. But the calculator was not really a home device (as far as I can tell), and the first truly popular typewriter wasn’t really all that portable.
What are your thoughts? Apologies that comments aren’t available on my site — I never brought them back after being bombed with interminable comment spam. If you’ve got thoughts on this, please email me at peterme AT peterme DOT com.