While cutting-edge tech can be exciting, sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a pioneer. In spite of the massive success of many tech products, not all gadgets are well-received. Tech can fail to inspire the public and can go the way of the Edsel as the butt of jokes or can be simply forgotten. As tech advances we can quickly forget about the tech that hasn’t survived the test of time.
By looking at tech fails and comparing them to tech successes we can see the difference between tech that fades into oblivion and tech that endures. Some tech was ahead of its time, some tech was overpriced and underperforming and some tech just plain didn’t work.
These 14 + 1 gadgets promised life-changing technology but instead became instantly obsolete.
1. LaserDisc — This technology was intended to replace VHS video tapes to bring better quality videos into your home. LaserDisc debuted in 1978 with “Jaws” being the first movie available in the format. LaserDisc lasted 22 years, finally retiring officially in 2000 after the release of the last movie “Bringing Out the Dead.”
The technology used in LaserDisc was later included in CD’s, DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs. Now your LaserDisc player is probably gathering dust in your attic.
2. Zip Drive — Zip Drive discs held more data than floppy discs but never achieved widespread acceptance by the public. Yes, floppy discs did get replaced, but not by the Zip Drive. While Zip Drive discs could hold much more data, USB flash drives soon made discs obsolete.
3. HD DVD — Much like the video tape wars between Betamax and VHS, HD DVD competed with Blu-Ray for the crown of the accepted home video format. The competition lasted just a few short years before HD DVD lost the battle and was retired.
4. Sony Rolly — This fun gadget lit up and rolled around to the beat of the music it played, but its attempts at delighting the public weren’t enough to make the Rolly a tech success. This device came complete with a 2 GB hard drive to store your tunes, as well as a Bluetooth receiver to connect to your other devices.
5. Swatch Internet Time — If Greenwich Mean Time holds little appeal for you, then consider Swatch Internet Time as an alternative. The Swiss company Swatch decided in 1998 to reconsider the concept of time. Instead of dividing the day into hours and minutes, Swatch Internet Time divides the day into 1000 beats, beginning at midnight Central Europe Time (CET).
The unit is called .beats and each one lasts 1 minute and 26.4 seconds. There are no time zones or Daylight Savings Time. Instead time is measured by how many beats past midnight have occurred. So noon CET would be 500 .beats anywhere in the world.
While the concept of Swatch Internet Time might not have taken off, you can still follow Swatch Internet Time@Internet_Time on Twitter to get beat-by-beat tweets of Swatch Internet Time.
6. Gizmondo — This hand-held console had the makings of a successful gadget. Before the days of the smartphone, the Gizmondo came complete with GPS, camera, gaming, Bluetooth, text messaging, speakers and a removable battery. Dooming the device were the price, £229, and the fact that it was launched in 2005 with only one game. GameTrailers website named the Gizmondo “the worst console of all time.”
7. Palm Foleo — This mini-notebook computer relied on its connection to a smartphone via Bluetooth for its computational power. In 2007 Palm figured smartphone users would be excited by a device that mirrored their smartphones but with a larger screen (10.2″) and keyboard. The Foleo never made it to market and was canceled by Palm merely three months into development.
8. Webvan – This Internet grocery delivery service was ahead of its time and became a prime example of the web bubble in the early part of this century. When Webvan launched in 1999 it promised delivery of your groceries within 30 minutes of your order being placed. Despite raising $800 million in capital and having a peak market value of $1.2 billion, Webvan declared bankruptcy in 2001.
9. Flooz and Beenz Internet Currency — in the late 1990’s, before the days of Bitcoin, other Internet currencies were launched to offer a worldwide online payment system. Flooz was a currency you could earn through online activities and purchase to use at participating online shops. After the FBI investigated the use of Flooz for money laundering, the currency became worthless in 2001.
Beenz was currency people could earn through online activities such as shopping but the company ran afoul of many countries’ currency laws. Although the company received over $100 million in funding, it did not go public and gave up on the idea of Internet currency in 2001.
10. DIVX (Digital Video Express) — Pre-Netflix, DIVX allowed people to rent movies for two days and then dispose of the discs, avoiding a trip to the post office to return them. Begun in 1998, DIVX was a competitor to Blockbuster, advertising “no returns, no late fees.” A user could rent the movie for $4 for 48 hours and pay an additional fee for later viewing. DIVX discs could be viewed using DIVX players which initially were twice as expensive as traditional DVD players.
DIVX players and discs were sold for one year until 1999 and DIVX stopped functioning after 2001. Customers who bought DIVX players before their discontinuation was announced were offered a $100 refund.
11. Microsoft Tablet PC — In 2001, before the iPad or the Surface tablet were sold, Microsoft introduced the Tablet PC, a device with a screen, pen and swivel keyboard that ran Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Functioning as a mini-computer instead of as a mobile device, the tablet tried to deliver a computer experience in a portable package.
The Tablet PC never achieved the success of the iPad or even the Surface tablet. Priced at over $2000, this tablet wasn’t a must-have tech toy for many.
12. Smart Appliances — Do you really want your refrigerator connected to the Internet? How about a washing machine? Many home appliances are being offered at a steep premium for their supposed intelligence but people have yet to be persuaded that the premium is worth it. See, Slate, Why Are Smart Appliances So Stupid?
13. Mobile ESPN — Sports network ESPN launched a mobile phone service in late 2005 that lasted barely a year before it failed. Certain features of the service were compelling, such as instant notification of sports scores before they were announced on live TV. But the service was initially available on just one model of mobile phone with a service that offered a mere 100 minutes of talk time per month. With fewer than 10,000 subscribers for their service, ESPN announced in September 2006 that the service would be discontinued by the end of the year.
14. Nokia N Gage — Nokia tried to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance by introducing the N Gage in 2003, a combination gaming console and mobile phone. The problem was the buttons to dial phone numbers were also used to control the video games. Not a good combination of functions for buttons. The Game Boy Advance outsold N Gage 100 to 1. Nokia released its last game for the N Gage in 2006.
15. Kreyos Meteor Smartwatch — The Kreyos Meteor Smartwatch shows just how wrong an Indiegogo project can go. The developers quickly exceeded their $100,000 goal and eventually raised $1.5 million towards the manufacturing of their multifunctional gadget. Their campaign promised that the waterproof smartwatch was capable of pairing with iPhone, Android and Windows phone, had a battery life of over seven days, gyrometer, accelerometer, activity tracker, speaker, and microphone. Kreyos said the watch could be controlled with voice and gesture commands. All this was available in a watch for a price only $100 for Indiegogo backers.
Initial shipments arrived to some backers in July of 2014, far beyond the promised deadline of November 2013 and quickly revealed the many problems with the watch. Those Indiegogo backers who did receive their Meteor watch (including me) soon discovered that the battery life was not, in fact, 7 days but only 1 day. The Meteor wasn’t waterproof, didn’t pair with the Windows phone, and didn’t have an accelerometer, gyrometer, functional speaker nor microphone. Missing features included gesture controls, an activity tracker and the ability to load more than one app on the watch.
Perhaps most disappointing? The watch didn’t even keep time.
A full description of the failings of the watch did nothing to convince the developers to improve the device. Instead. the developers wrote a letter of apology, shuttered the website and closed the business. See, Gizmodo, The $1.5 Million Indiegogo Smartwatch Horror Story.
Do you remember any of these tech fails? Did you own any of them? Do you wish any of these tech fails succeeded? What do you think is the difference between a tech failure and a tech success? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below!
* Oops image (edited) courtesy of Stewart Butterfield
** Palm Foleo image courtesy of Thomas Cochrane
*** Tablet PC image courtesy of Janto Dreijer