Few of the biggest gadget fails
Not all gadgets can make it to the top.
Not every gadget is destined for greatness, and for every runaway success such as the iPhone, there are dozens of failures and also-rans.
Some are just too clever for their own good, while others arrive in the market a few months, years, or even decades before their time.
On the flip side there are those that get muscled out of the way by a mightier competitor, or simply fail to live up to their own hype. Here is our list of technology’s biggest disappointments.
Apple’s first attempt at a tablet hit the streets in 1993 and was widely considered to be the future of computing.
Appealing mainly to business users, it was able to fax messages, send email and manage calendar and contacts, all of which hinged on its much hyped handwriting recognition prowess.
But as compact as it was, the device was too large to slip into a pocket, and adoption was also curtailed by its hefty price tag, less-than-perfect handwriting recognition and absence of the most compelling feature enjoyed by today’s tablets – internet connectivity.
Another first for Apple was Macintosh TV, which shipped in the same year as the Newton. The Macintosh TV was essentially a computer display that could switch to a cable-ready television set.
It was based on Apple’s Performa 520 computer and had the important distinction of being the first Macintosh to be built in black.
It boasted a 32 Mhz processor, 5 Mb RAM and 160 Mb hard drive but was hobbled by poor graphics performance and an inability to switch easily between TV and computer mode. As a result it enjoyed only a short stay in the market.
The PSP Go is a small, lightweight version of Sony’s PlayStation Portable handheld video game console that was launched on June 3 last year. It is still on the market, but has gained far less traction than the original PSP.
Never intended to replace the PSP, it has a substantially different design from the original. The key differentiator is its small form factor and a sliding screen (which opens to reveal the main controls) and the absence of a UMD drive. To compensate, the device has built-in Wi-Fi, 16 Gb of internal flash memory to store games and other media which can be extended by up to 32 GB with a memory card.
However, it was shunned by gamers for its $449.95 price tag at launch and the decision to exclude the UMD drive, which meant they had to download software from the PlayStation Store. The added problem of low battery life and initial scarcity of popular games also turned off buyers.
Promising a radically different approach to electronic messaging, Google Wave was released to the world on May 19 this year after several months in limited release. Just three months later, Google announced the suspension of stand-alone Wave development and said it would continue maintaining the website only until the end of the year.
Wave combines email and instant messaging to help users share rich content such as documents, maps, images and video. Despite being immature and buggy when it was first released to the market, it has attracted a small number of loyal followers around the world. The complexity of the Wave concept is also believed to have contributed to its downfall.
Google has handed the code to the open-source community to continue development of the product now called Wave in a Box.
Betamax – or Beta as it was more commonly referred to – was a home video cassette tape recording format developed by Sony and released in 1975. A rival videotape format called VHS was introduced two years later and ultimately led to its downfall.
Much like the case of HD-DVD and BluRay a few years ago, there was ultimately room for only one video cassette standard in the market.
Exactly how and why VHS won the war has been the subject of intense debate. Some say it had a stronger marketing concept, while others say VHS machines were initially much simpler and cheaper to build, which attracted more manufacturers.
Recording length was also an issue for consumers because Betamax tapes initially lasted only 60 minutes compared with the three-hour VHS tapes – which allowed people to record a whole movie.
The final straw came when rental movies began favouring VHS videos in store.
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was the first video game console to display true 3D graphics out of the box. Released around the world in 1995, this quaint tripod-mounted unit was intended to create an illusion of depth, but a number of problems affected the console’s design. While graphics were meant to be its key feature, it actually displayed lurid, red, monochromatic graphics. It was also reported to be awkward and uncomfortable to use.
The system failed to take off among gamers in spite of subsequent price cuts and was discontinued by Nintendo a year later.
The first version of the Picturephone was created in Bell Labs in 1959, and was demonstrated publicly at the World Fair in New York in 1964.
The hardware included a display, a modified telephone and a power source. Although users enjoyed the face-to-face experience, the picture was deemed too small and unclear. Users also found the equipment and controls overwhelming.
In spite of this, trials continued and, in 1970, a commercial Picturephone service was launched in Pittsburgh. AT&T executives predicted a million units would be in use by 1980. They were wrong.
Going head to head with Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance, it boasted the addition of mobile phone functionality. But, as a result, the buttons were far better suited to dialling than gaming.
The device also lacked the aesthetic appeal and small footprint users demanded from a mobile phone at the time.
In 2005, Nokia admitted the device had failed and moved its N-Gage games capabilities to a new range of smartphones.
Although it has won a niche market in some regions, the company has weathered a merry-go-round of new chief executives and corporate strategies, which have all been unsuccessful at generating mass market appeal.
The fact that they were expensive and initially banned for use on pavements were two big obstacles to overcome – but the killer blow was that people looked rather silly when they were riding them.
The Dreamcast is a video game console released by Sega in late 1998. Although it beat many competitors to market with an inbuilt modem and support for online play, it was discontinued in several regions over the following few years after poor adoption.
Some say its fate was sealed by the arrival of Sony’s PS2 just six months after its launch, but others believe the real problems lay with Sega’s previous console releases which had short life cycles and some key technical flaws that alienated its fan base.
In spite of this, the Dreamcast is widely considered to have been ahead of its time, and still maintains a small group of loyal fans.