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Not every gadget is destined for greatness. Despite the hype before launch, or the promise of how a shiny new device will change your life, there are some gizmos that just don’t cut it.
We’ve taken a look back at nine failed tech “innovations” that flopped fantastically in their time — in fact, one didn’t even make it to launch.
Have a look through our gallery, complete with archived video footage of each device, and let us know if you used any of these gadgets and why you think they scored a big, fat “F.”
#1 Sony Rolly
Sony teased the Rolly launch like mad with a bizarre viral web campaign, hyping what turned out to be an egg-shaped, motion-capable music player.
While pundits were expecting a serious contender to the iPod, what eventually launched in the U.S. in 2008 was the oh-so-niche robotic Rolly offering Earth Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” pre-loaded, just 2GB of memory and the need for consumers to use the bundled software to create their own choreography.
The $400 cost priced this novelty player out of the casual purchase market. The Rolly has now rolled into obsolescence.
#2 Microsoft ActiMates
In 2007 Microsoft and PBS shared the vision of “using television technology to enhance education.” If that sounds scary, wait until you hear how it worked.
Plush toys based on popular children’s TV characters — Barney and Friends and the Teletubbies — were fitted with transmitters, and then certain PBS stations sent out an encoded signal that the units could read.
Obviously the point was that the children would interact with the toy as the program played out, but the potential scary movie plotline, and high price, meant the product only managed to stay on shelves for around three years.
#3 IBM PCjr
Back in 1984, IBM looked to conquer the then-burgeoning home computer market with the PCjr — yep, PC junior.
Even though in some ways it was technically superior to rivals at the time (apart from a low-quality keyboard that didn’t go down well) the high price, clumsy expansion options and poor gaming abilities made it a commercial failure 1985.
#4 Internet Appliances
The video above is for just one of many “Internet appliances” that flooded the market in the 1990s.
Notable models include the Sony eVilla, Virgin Webplayer, 3Com Audrey and the i-Opener, some of which have gone on to become favorites among hackers and modders, but certainly not among the general public.
The theory behind such “appliances” was that they let folks get online without the expense of buying a full-fat PC.
They were often subsidized with a monthly subscription. However, they could easily be hacked, meaning those valuable subscriptions dried up and as the cost of PCs came down, these limited machines became much less of a bargain.
The Gizmondo story is one of the more colorful in tech history — so much so it would make a decent film.
A 200-mile-per-hour, million-dollar Ferrari crash, Swedish mafia, various arrests, bankruptcy and talk of resurrection were just some of the behind-the-scenes events — and that’s before we even get to the device itself.
The Gizmondo handheld game console saw a much-hyped launch in 2005 but didn’t manage to stay on shop shelves long — and that wasn’t because it was selling well.
The unit, which combined games and media playback with a camera and GPS, suffered from high pricing (an ad-supported version was a little too early for its time) and a lack of games.
Tiger Telematics went bust in 2006 before it could realize the next-gen, “widescreen” version dream. You can now pick up old units on Ebay for peanuts.
#6 Palm Foleo
The Palm Foleo is an odd one. It was announced in 2007 (to a fairly puzzled reaction) as a smartphone companion product.
The theory was the 10-inch device would sync with and piggy-back on top of your Palm phone’s connectivity, offering a larger screen to boost productivity.
Palm axed the concept — that it boldly talked up as the “beginning of a product family” — a few months later, which meant it never saw the light of day as far as consumers go.
If Palm had gone ahead with the launch, the Foleo would have been one of the first netbooks, although its limited functionality might not have guaranteed success.
#7 Nintendo Virtual Boy
A rare fail from Nintendo comes in the form of the futuristic “Virtual Boy” games system, which was sold as, “A 3D game for a 3D world.”
Now a collector’s item due to low sales, the system was only ever launched in Japan and North America and was discontinued in 1996 — just a year after release.
The reasons for the fail were the deadly duo of high cost and too few games, as well as misjudged advertising.
Well, that and the fact that many users reported headaches, sickness and dizziness as a result of strapping on the visor display and getting 3D graphics beamed into their eyeballs.
#8 Samsung Q1 UMPC
This awful commercial does the Samsung Q1 no favors at all.
Way before the term “netbook” was coined, Microsoft, Intel and Samsung were busy with “Project Origami,” cooking up ultra-mobile PCs that no one actually wanted.
Samsung’s Q1 was the first such device to market, offering a 7-inch touchscreen, Windows XP and Wi-Fi connectivity, and a weird on-screen keyboard designed for thumb typing.
Samsung has since followed the Q1 with several updates — you can buy the Q1 Ultra even now — but, as a form factor, the UMPC was a huge flop.
#9 Swatch Internet Time
In 1998 Swatch decided that the way we tell the time is old-fashioned and needed decimalization.
The main explanation was that time zones are terribly confusing, since the Internet means we’re all global. Swatch divvied a day up into 1000 “beats.”
Of course new time needs a new watch (clearly Swatch’s angle in this, rather than doing it for the greater good) and several models were produced.
Consumers either ignored the new time measurement option available to them, or got so confused they gave up on it.
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