10 Failed Gadgets That Were Before Their Time
As long as there’ve been tech companies, there’s been failed tech gadgets. Some were outright abominations that should have never made it onto shelves, but other great gadgets were victims of poor marketing, stiff competition, or just plain bad timing. Here are 10 devices that totally could have worked if their launch dates were different (or ten devices that we wanted to make excuses for because we just love them so damn much).
1. Apple Newton MessagePad
The MessagePad was Apple’s first tablet, but not all experiments go the way they’re supposed to. The world was ready for it, but the device itself hit the market before it should have. They rushed the launch of the project, and ultimately criticism of its flawed handwriting recognition software overshadowed the good, and sales suffered. Apple clearly got things right with the tablet models that followed, but a few more months in the lab with the MessagePad and the outcome could have been a lot different.
2. NES Power Glove by Mattel
A controller/accessory as expensive and complicated as the Power Glove had no business in 1989, when people were still listening to Milli Vanilli and playing games like Operation Wolf and After Burner. The gadget has become an icon thanks to its commercial failures and appearances in pop culture, but had it been invented post-2000 for a more advanced console, it would have performed incrementally better.
3. Microsoft Zune
I won’t go on a mini-rant about how much better the Zune was than the iPod, in part because it’s not April Fool's Day, but really because it has been done. We do acknowledge, however, that the MP3 player was not as lame as people made it out be. A device that allows you to download as many songs as possible and keep them for a month with a subscription-based plan sounds very 2015, given the amount of companies we currently pay on a monthly basis in exchange for music, shows, and other content. It also beat the iPod Classic in a CNET Prizefight...but that was the Zune’s only monumental victory.
4. Bell System Picturephone
It’s weird to say that the Picturephone was before its time in 1970 because the company had been working on it for over 40 years. The introduction of the device at the 1964 World’s Fair was an important moment in tech history, but their transition into the commercial market came way too soon. Bell estimated that there would be hundreds of thousands of Picturephones in their network by 1975, but the devices and the cost to make calls (approximately $118 for three minutes, adjusted for inflation) was just too much. You can’t exactly videochat with people if no one has the same phone.
5. QUBE Remote
The QUBE Cable System was launched in 1977 by Warner Cable, a division of Warner Communications. Basically, the system featured 30 channels, 10 of which were brand-new pay-per-view channels. In addition to channel selection functions, the remote featured interactive buttons that allowed viewers to respond to poll questions during shows, and the results of the polls were shown on screen later in the program.
Cable systems still exist, but the QUBE remote was clearly born in the wrong decade. Every reality show since The Real World in 1992 could've greatly benefited from a device that allowed for lazy one-button viewer participation, instead of the laborious process of text-voting and 140 character tweets.
No one really knows how things will end for the Segway, but we can all agree that it fell way short of the claim that it would revolutionize the transportation industry. When it was introduced in 2002, the futuristic personal scooter seemed like the best thing ever and we all wanted one...until we saw the price tag and how ridiculous everyone looked. At $3,000 for the base model, the Segway earned its place in purgatory with mall cops, small town tour companies, and guys dressed like Darth Vader in parades.
7. Seiko TV Watch
Not even a cameo in a James Bond film with a provocative name (Octopussy, 1983) could make this watch a success for Seiko. Introduced in Japan in 1982, the device was unusually expensive and had to be connected to a stupid Walkman-sized receiver for the television to work, which kind of negated the fact that it was a wearable device. Apple Watches are cool, but this is probably the coolest flop of all time.
8. Atari Lynx
US Gamer says that the Atari Lynx was “too powerful for its own good” when it was introduced in 1989. It was technically better than the Nintendo Gameboy in a lot of ways, but at twice the cost, half the battery life, and with fewer games than Nintendo (and later Sega with the Game Gear), its early successes were not enough to win the portable gaming war.
9. Google Glass
So much potential, just way too much hype. In theory, Google Glass was something that sci-fi movies had promised us for decades, but in practice it was something that douchebags at coffee shops wore to look cool, let people know that they had an extra $1,500, and take clandestine videos of strangers in public. We truly are better off without it, but in a few years Glass will know what it wants to be and I will be ready to give it another shot...maybe.
10. Nintendo Virtual Boy
The Virtual Boy failed because the idea was far too advanced for the technology of 1995. Nobody wanted to play games that were completely red and black, and only sort of looked like they kinda had depth. The headsets were uncomfortable and some people got sick while gaming. It was gone after less than a year, and there weren’t many other attempts at virtual gaming for the nearly two decades that followed. Sorry Virtual Boy, you tried your best.