After nearly 10 years of working at CNET, Executive Editor David Carnoy looks back at the most hyped tech products that didn't pan out as planned--or just flat-out bombed.
1. Dreamcast (1998-2001)
Don't get us wrong. We loved the Dreamcast, which was originally released in 1998 and discontinued in the U.S. in 2001 (it was still sold in Japan until 2006), and still miss it. But it didn't make it.
A lot of people thought the standalone DVD recorder was the second coming of the VCR, but it didn't turn out that way. The DVD recorder was never that user-friendly, and digital DVRs from cable and satellite companies (along with Tivo) made them less compelling. Also, the real DVD-burning action was taking place in the computer room, not the living room. That's still the case today, as the standalone DVD recorder market has dried up in the U.S.
This was the format war that never bothered to declare a winner because no one cared about the outcome. However, at the beginning, there were high hopes that these two high-fidelity audio formats would offer a new and better way to listen to music. And although both SACD and DVD-Audio discs continue to be produced, neither format has attracted a wide audience.
Named for Audrey Hepburn, the 3Com Ergo Audrey was an Internet appliance that made its debut in October 2000. According to Wikipedia, it could access the Internet, send and receive e-mail, play audio and video, and synchronize with up to two Palm OS-based devices.
Planned to be the first in a long line of Ergo devices, the product was discontinued in the middle of the dot-com bust in June 2001.
One of Apple's few major flops of the decade, the G4 Cube was a real dud, discontinued after only about a year. It was a beautiful-looking desktop computer, but it was overpriced and quirky (i.e., it didn't take standard full-length graphics cards) and didn't find a market.
The size of a quarter, the DataPlay disc was capable of holding 500MB of information. It won the "Best of Show" award at CES in 2001 but never made it to market. iRiver was scheduled to make a player, but it, too, was never released.
The tapes were smaller and the camcorders were, too. But the video from the MicroMV units wasn't as good as that from MiniDV cams--and they cost more. Then hard-drive and flash-enabled HD camcorders came along, and MicroMV quickly became obsolete. (The last new MicroMV camcorder appeared in 2006.)
The Wikipedia entry says it all: "Smart Display was announced in early 2002, released in early 2003, and canceled in December 2003, having never achieved more than negligible market penetration." For those who don't remember exactly what Smart Display (codename Mira) was, the concept was a wireless monitor that detached from its base and turned into a tablet PC (that was unfortunately tethered back to your desktop computer). It was sluggish and buggy, and was hurt by the slower 802.11b Wi-Fi connection of those years.
Tapwave's Zodiac and Zodiac 2 were billed as mobile entertainment consoles and ran on a modified version of the Palm OS. We gave the Zodiac high marks when it came out in 2003. But Tapwave struggled to attract support from game developers and eventually ran up against Sony's PSP.
HD Radio was supposed to be the next great thing in "free" radio, offering clear, digital "CD-quality sound" and more listening choices. But it's been slowed by the manufacturing costs of both the HD Radio chips and the radios themselves--as well as poor marketing. This year, the prices for HD Radios have come down considerably--note the Sony XDR-F1HD and portable Insignia NS-HD01--giving hope to backers and fans that the technology will find more success next decade.
The N-Gage launch is one of the more memorable debacles in tech history as the original device--a combo phone/portable gaming system--had a very odd design for talking. You had to hold the unit vertically on its side, making it look like you were holding a taco. It also sparked "side-talking," which is immortalized on the side-talkin' Web site.
The Classic N-Gage was replaced by the N-Gage QD, which had a better design and no side-talking. Note: The N-Gage platform still exists (as N-Gage 2.0), and games are available for certain Nokia models. Find a list of the games and compatible phones at the N-Gage showroom.
Announced at CES in 2003, Smart watches, which receive tidbits of information over the air via FM radio frequencies, officially arrived in 2004 and were backed by a big marketing campaign.
Some called them SPOT watches because they used Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology, but whatever they were called, they didn't find a broad audience, even as Microsoft and its hardware partners managed to trim the size of the watches, reduce their cost, and include the basic version of MSN Direct for free. We liked the concept, but we knew the technology faced an uphill battle. Sure enough it succumbed to defeat, though MSN Direct continues to serve existing customers.
In an ideal world, you were supposed to be able to do away with your cable box and have this little PC card-size CableCard slide into the back of your TV (or even your computer). An excellent idea, but CableCard had a couple of shortcomings at launch and was never fully embraced by the industry. CableCard 2.0 was supposed to alleviate the issues but it, too, has languished. Time will tell if the successor technology, Tru2way, fares any better.
SED (surface-conduction electron-emitter display) was supposed to be better than plasma and LCD, with inky blacks and jaw-dropping color (we saw prototypes in 2006 and were impressed). Canon and Toshiba formed a joint venture in 2004 to co-develop, and SED sets, albeit at very high prices, were supposed to hit the market in 2007. But then Canon ran into a patent dispute and eventually decided to shelve the technology as the economy sputtered in 2008. SED may not be dead, but it's definitely dormant right now.
In middle of the decade, "place-shifting" was one of the hot tech terms, and when we first saw Sony's LocationFree TV, our eyes opened pretty wide. The ability to stream what was on your cable or satellite box (or another video source) to a remote PC over the Internet, seemed like a real game-changer. And though Sony has come out with several versions and models of the LocationFree Player, it's been overshadowed by the Slingbox, which came out later (2006), and continues to wallow in virtual obscurity after initially making a big splash. (Note: The Slingbox has been relatively successful, but thus far it, too, has failed to become the mainstream, breakout product we thought it might become).
Gizmondo was a portable gaming device that had built-in GPS. It was released in the U.S. in 2005 but didn't sell well, and the company went bankrupt in 2006. Millions were spent developing and marketing Gizmondo, and one of its executives, Stefan Eriksson, who famously wrecked his red Ferrari Enzo, was sentenced to prison for three years in California (he was released in January 2008) and is now back in jail in his native Sweden.
The LifeDrive's official name was the LifeDrive Mobile Manager because it was supposed to be a mini computer that could be used for both business and fun. It had both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and at the time, a whopping 4GB of storage space (it was hard drive, however, not flash memory). The LifeDrive wasn't bad, but at a moment when consumers were shifting to smartphone devices with built-in cellular connections, producing a very expensive PDA on steroids was the wrong move.
The Rokr E1 was a big deal when it launched back in September of 2005. Rumors of a Motorola/Apple phone that incorporated iTunes had been circulating for months and when the phone was finally released, expectations were very high. Unfortunately, the whole iTunes experience was sluggish and Apple seemed to distance itself from the E1 (Motorola CEO Ed Zander accused Apple of not supporting it).
We've got to hand it to Toshiba. It gave Sony a run for its money in the next-gen DVD format wars and actually had better (and cheaper) players in the early going. For a brief moment, it could have gone either way, but then Warner went Blu-ray exclusive, and it was game over.
The Sony Mylo ("My Life Online") was basically the PSP with a keyboard. It was supposed to appeal to high school and college kids, but it was overpriced and lacked a ubiquitous wireless connection (it had Wi-Fi but no cellular option)--and didn't play PSP games. Like a lot of Sony devices, the Mylo was beautifully designed. However, its conception was fatally flawed. We most likely won't see a Mylo 3.
Originally hatched by Microsoft, Intel, Samsung, and other companies under the codename "Project Origami," the Ultra-Mobile PC made its way into the consumer's conscience in 2006. The devices were cool on the surface, but the concept was flawed from the outset because they just weren't that good and cost too much. The UMPC is the classic case of a tweener device (in terms of size) that just didn't have a real target market. Smarter smartphones like the new iPhone 3GS and cheaper but more usable Netbooks cut the legs out from under the UMPC before it could ever start walking. They're still around, but we expect them to become extinct soon.
It was supposed to be a companion to the Treo, but on the eve of its much-hyped launch, Palm pulled the plug on the Foleo. Alas, if Palm had called it a Netbook it might have been the first of its kind. Now it's just a footnote in tech history.
Ah, the Sony PSP Go. What can we say? This is one of those products that was a good idea in theory, but a bad idea in practice. Part of the reason behind the PSP Go's failure was that while Sony was moving away from UMD and toward downloadable games, the iPhone was taking off as a game platform and the games were much cheaper and didn't take long to download. Also, the Go was pricey at $250.
The end result? You don't see too many of these guys in the wild.
Orson Welles famously used to say in his commercials for Paul Masson that the winemaker would "sell no wine before its time." Apparently, Plastic Logic had a similar philosophy, as its once highly anticipated Plastic Logic Que proReader encountered delay after delay along with an absurdly high price point. Then a little product called the iPad came along and it was curtains for the Que, which never made it to market.
Yes, it may be a little to early to proclaim Google TV a bust, but it's certainly skidded down the runway on takeoff. All four major networks--plus cable conglomerate Viacom--decided in mid-November to block Google TV users from watching shows streamed from their Web sites. And without better content deals in place, there's very little reason for anybody to get Google TV.
As our News.com team noted, "Microsoft's Kin was one of the most short-lived gadgets in recent history, staying on shelves less than two months before being discontinued by the software giant." Despite a heavy marketing push, the Kin One and Kin Two sold dismally, hurt by a pricey data plan and heavy competition from more feature-rich smartphones.
In recent weeks, the phone has resurfaced on Verizon (without the onerous data plan), but neither company is putting any promotion behind it, so its prospects remain dim.
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