Top ten terrible tech products

Join us for a photographic guided tour of the worst creations in the history of the technology industry. It's time to wallow in fail

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
7 min read

A year never goes by without someone inventing something hilariously useless. Over the next ten pages, we'll take you on a guided tour of disastrous tech products, the gadgets and concepts we felt really surpassed themselves in being utterly crapulous. Many of these travesties aimed to reinvent the wheel, but were plagued by huge dollops of fail. Speaking of which...

Sinclair C5
Despite being an electric vehicle that respected the environment, the Sinclair C5 was a prodigious commercial flop. This battery- and pedal-powered three-wheeler was ahead of its time -- it was the first electric vehicle designed for mass production. Sadly it sucked beyond belief.

When released in January 1985, the C5 cost £399, back when the average house price in the UK was about £31,000. Designed by Sir Clive Sinclair, it was essentially a battery-assisted tricycle with handlebars for steering. Perhaps one of the reasons it never took off as a mode of transport was that its top speed was a crappy 15mph -- just twice the speed of one of those electric mobility scooters for old people.

Total sales figures vary from source to source, but the average is about 15,000 units sold. The main problems of the C5 include the fact that the driver was exposed to the weather, cold weather shortened its battery life -- well done launching it in January, Sir Clive -- the seat-to-pedal distance was unchangeable, there were no gears and it overheated going up hills. Uselessness of the highest order.

Barcode Battler
Released in 1991, the Barcode Battler was up against legendary hand-held gaming devices such as Sega's Game Gear and the Nintendo Game Boy. By contrast with these design classics, the Battler had extremely basic graphics and audio, and it was a bloody nightmare to play.

The console engaged players in a rudimentary fighting game. Fights were displayed not as characters, not even as little two-dimensional blokes running about, but as numbers on a screen. The basic idea was to swipe special barcode-equipped cards -- or even barcodes from everyday products -- through the console's card reader. This added your fighter to the battle. Repeating the process with an enemy card added your opponent.

What happens next? Well, check out the superb video above from Dr Ashen (honestly, it's great once you get past the brown sofa). It's incredible that this never caught on.

The Squircle
Oh, the Squircle. Not only the product with the lowest score on CNET.co.uk, but the one we felt less love for than our televisions editor feels for his PC. This MP3 player, complete with zero megabytes of internal memory and lump-of-dirt design, had the audacity to sit on shelves asking for money.

This MP3 player uses SD cards to store music. Nay-sayers, don't shout just yet. While an MP3 player running on removable media sounds moderately useful, bear in mind it sounds about as pleasant as a baby seal being clubbed to death. Why such a product even exists is utterly beyond our combined comprehension.

If you desire further confirmation that this product is more worthless than a Tracey Emin 'masterpiece', read our review.

Looking like a black version of Shrek's head is not a good start for a device. The Gizmondo handheld games console generated some excitement to begin with when it was released in early 2005; it had a capable set of specifications, text-messaging capability, a digital camera and GPS functions.

The death blow for a gaming device is rubbish games. And with such titles as Colors, Milo and the Rainbow Nasties and the seriously enticing Momma Can I Mow the Lawn?, it could be argued the Gizmondo never had a chance.

You could, however, knock £100 off the £229 price of the device by letting it show you adverts -- Smart Ads, they were called. Deciding whether it was worth £100 to avoid this annoyance was the most fun you could have with it.

A year down the line, the Gizmondo's manufacturer Tiger Telematics went bankrupt, having burned through a preposterous £160m in 18 months, helped in part by Gizmondo director Stefan Eriksson -- of crashing his Ferrari fame -- being paid in excess of £1m a year. The company spent vast wodges of cash on expensive cars, executive perks and various other pieces of creative accounting. No more games were developed, the Smart Ads stopped functioning and the system now rests as a sad monument to what can happen when hype has no basis in reality.

Created in 1996 by Aki Maita, Tamagotchi made manufacturer Bandai an absolute fortune. It was hugely successful and spawned countless clones. It was the must-have toy of its day. Why is it an example of terrible tech? Because it was intensely irritating.

You looked after a tiny pixellated cretin who, after eating a variety of oversized meals, left piles of dung in one corner of his screen, each as large as the creature it came from. Owners could then punish the little swine or feed it more food. It would also wake up at 7am demanding you clean the huge load it created while you were sleeping.

The little beggars disrupted classroom after classroom, caused fights in the playground and even spawned nanny services -- where unemployed housewives charged kids their pocket money to look after the useless bastards while their owners were at school.

Nothing this pointless should be spared the stinging lash of geek revisionism, regardless of its commercial success.

Apple Puck Mouse
Apple shipped the hockey puck-shaped mouse with the iMac G3 in 1998. What in Jobs' name was this supposed to bring the user? This obscenely unusable excuse for a human interface device was one of Apple's most abject creations. It had a single button that was difficult to find without looking and made the experience of 'mousing' totally rubbish -- you didn't know which way it was pointing.

In all fairness, it did have one redeeming innovation -- the puck was the first mouse to use the USB standard as its method of connectivity.

The puck mouse was discontinued around 2000. Good riddance 'n' that.

Atari Jaguar
Despite being something of an ironic cult icon now, the Atari Jaguar was a complete flop and convinced Atari it should depart the hardware industry. Released in 1993, the Jaguar was meant to rival Sega and Nintendo's games consoles, and it was supposedly a technically superior machine (though this fact, and the related claim that the Jaguar was 'the only 64-bit console', are strongly criticised by more tech-savvy gamers). Interestingly, IBM manufactured the console under a $500m deal with Atari.

The Jaguar was notably hard to write software for, resulting in very few titles being released on the console. Gamers complained that the system's controller, with 15 buttons, was also stupidly hard to use. It had a crap advert, too.

Amstrad E-m@iler Telephone
Think back to 2000: would you pay 12p to send an email?

When it was released, Amstrad's E-m@iler Telephone cost £79.99 from Dixons and allowed you to send email without using a PC. This was an interesting concept, but it was a pain in the asterisk to use and it looked revolting. Most people had computers and the Net was becoming ever more ubiquitous. What was the point of such a comparatively costly system?

Speaking with our sister site ZDNet UK at the time of the E-m@iler's release, an anonymous analyst said, "This is 2000. I think he [Amstrad director Sir Alan Sugar] may have missed the boat." Quite.

In about 1994 this could've been hugely successful, as the Web was tiny and computers with modems were expensive. But for 2000? Dead on arrival.

Sony rootkit CDs
Would you say an audio CD that installs hidden software on your PC, without your consent, that compromises your computer's security to the point that hackers could use it for malicious purposes, was:

a) a really great product,
b) an average product,
c) an extremely bad product, or
d) the worst product anyone has ever released in the history of the music industry?

If your answer was anything but d, you're wrong.

The sad fact is that in 2005, Sony BMG put Extended Copy Protection (XCP) and MediaMax CD-3 software -- the black death incarnation of DRM -- on a total of 102 CD titles.

Users who played these CDs on their computers unknowingly had malware known as a 'rootkit' installed on their machines. Rootkits can avoid detection by anti-virus and security programs by hiding deep within a computer's operating system. This rootkit left PCs on which it was installed at the mercy of hackers.

Sony paid dearly for its work, but maintained that "there were no security risks associated with the anti-piracy technology". Right. It did, however, exchange CDs containing the questionable security protection for versions without it. Just for fun.

For extensive further reading, Wikipedia has a detailed account of the entire story, which can be found here.

Windows Vista
Any operating system that provokes a campaign for its predecessor's reintroduction deserves to be classed as terrible technology. Any operating system that quietly has a downgrade-to- previous-edition option introduced for PC makers deserves to be classed as terrible technology. Any operating system that takes six years of development but is instantly hated by hordes of PC professionals and enthusiasts deserves to be classed as terrible technology.

Windows Vista conforms to all of the above. Its incompatibility with hardware, its obsessive requirement of human interaction to clear security dialogue box warnings and its abusive use of hated DRM, not to mention its general pointlessness as an upgrade, are just some examples of why this expensive operating system earns the final place in our terrible tech list.