The problem with being on the cutting edge of technology is that some gadgets just don't catch on. Whether it be poor design, behind-the-scenes failures or other factors, not every gizmo is the next iPhone. In this feature, we'll spotlight ten of the most egregious technology fails of the past few decades.
Let’s open with a failure from Apple, just to demonstrate that they’re not immune to criticism. Cupertino has unleashed a few duds onto the marketplace, but none tanked as hard as the Pippin. Released in 1995, it was a video-game console based on the Mac OS. With a price tag of $599 and fewer than two dozen games available, it couldn’t compete with the Sony Playstation and only 42,000 of them were sold before Pippin was pulled from the market.
Everybody wants to cash in on the smartphone market, but Microsoft has had some bad luck trying to find a foothold. Case in point: the Microsoft Kin. After Microsoft bought the company responsible for the T-Mobile Sidekick, they put them to work on a new phone for teens and tweens called "Project Pink." After two years and a billion dollars, the Kin was released only to tank instantly, being pulled from the market after just 48 days.
This wasn’t really a gadget as much as technology gone really wrong. Piracy is the bane of the entertainment industry, and you know that Hollywood is always willing to pour money into anything that will stop it. One of the most misguided attempts was the introduction of DIVX discs in 1998. These were DVDs that you could watch for 48 hours before they’d essentially self-destruct. Naturally, nobody wanted to buy a player to watch these gimped discs and Circuit City took a $114 million loss on the project.
The whole point of having a smartphone is to combine a bunch of stuff in one place. Why carry a utility belt full of gadgets when one will do? This philosophy obviously didn’t make its way to the headquarters of Peek, who released the TwitterPeek in 2009. This dedicated handheld does one thing: tweet. No email, no phone, no texting. Nothing but Twitter. The worst thing is that the Peek wasn't even good at it's job, with reviewers complaining that the service was slow and the UI difficult to use.
One of the main rules of the games business is: don't try to challenge Nintendo for handhelds. Starting with the original Game Boy, the big N has crushed all competitors for decades. So when phone manufacturer Nokia tried to step up to the plate in 2003 with the N-Gage--a gaming device and phone--they got annihilated. The system had many problems--for example, you had to open the battery compartment to change the game cartridge--and it sold a paltry 5,000 units in its first two weeks (after Nokia shipped 400,000 to retailers).
In the early '00s, everybody thought that they had the next big thing in technology. One of the most egregious was Scout Electromedia’s Modo, which was basically a pager for hipsters. The heavily hyped pocket device was designed to deliver city-specific data to users--kind of like Yelp--but with no stylus or keypad, you couldn’t search or anything. The Modo just displayed the places where it wanted you to go. Needless to say, it bombed hard, with the San Francisco version on sale for only 24 hours before the company went out of business.
For a while there, it looked like the next trend in electronics was Internet-capable "appliances," browsing boxes that wouldn’t replace the computer but rather extend it. Obviously, this was dumb, but many companies tried to cash in on it. One of the most failureiffic was the 3Com Audrey, a kitchen countertop box designed to enable what the company called "Internet Snacking." The idea was that housewives would use it to look up recipes and stuff. It sold like crap and was discontinued after just seven months on the market.
Poma Wearable PC
Science fiction has given us some pretty dumb ideas about what technology is going to look like in the future. The '90s were especially bad with this, with tons of lame cyberpunk movies featuring heroes "jacking in" with absurd portable computers that were integrated into their clothes. The Xybernaut Poma Wearable PC tried to bring this idea to the real world, with deep embarrassment resulting. Its wrist-mounted keyboard, miniature monocle monitor and whopping 32MB of RAM made it seem more like a corny Halloween costume. Oh, and it cost $1,500.
Do you know anyone who’s ever scanned one of those QR codes that advertisers put at the corner of everything? Neither do we. But as ungainly and fail-filled as that technology is, it used to be even worse. In 1999, Digital Convergence released the CueCat Scanner, a hand-held barcode scanner that you were supposed to use to scan barcodes to be taken to webpages and get more information about... things. Let’s be frank: nobody wanted to buy a plastic cat to get more advertising in their life. By 2005, a liquidator was selling the units for 30 cents each.
Next: 10 Worst Apps of All Time
Remember how we said something about Nintendo never failing in the handheld-gaming market? That was wrong. Here’s the Virtual Boy. One of the oddest inventions ever to make its way to production, this system required you to wear special goggles that projected 3-D images. It caused huge eyestrain, was too cumbersome to carry around and cost $180 in 1995 dollars. The Virtual Boy was pulled from the market after only a year.