In the past few decades, quite a few new technologies and products have transformed our daily lives – from smartphones to GPS navigation to all the innovation happening in kitchenware. Many of these products were a result of years of research and hard work, though they also happen to have come at just the right time. The smartphone, as one example, wouldn’t have succeeded without other innovations, like the Internet.
If you take a look at some of the biggest technological fails of the past few decades, though, you’d find many products that weren’t so lucky, despite being good ideas that ended up succeeding in other forms later. From the Playstation Portable to the Microsoft XP Tablet, these technologies may sound groundbreaking for their time in hindsight. At the time they were released, though, all of them failed to make any real impact in the market.
10. PlayStation Portable
Commercially, the Playstation Portable wasn’t technically a failure, as it sold over 80 million units over its ten-year lifetime. The Guinness book of World Records even called it the most powerful handheld console ever made when it was released in 2004, which further added to the early hype around it.
However, it wasn’t the right time for a handheld console that could run modern, Playstation-grade games. The battery life was a problem, for one, as the console barely stayed on for long enough to really call it ‘portable’. Moreover, the handheld market at the time was dominated by Nintendo with their own proprietary ecosystem, while Sony was still a minor player. The PSP – while a commercial success in the beginning – failed to hold a significant chunk of the handheld market for long, and was eventually discontinued in 2014.
9. GM EV1
While electric vehicles are all the rage now – thanks to the impending threat of the climate apocalypse – they weren’t back in the late 90s. That doesn’t mean that no one knew that fossil fuels may be bad for the environment, just that it wasn’t the right time for electric vehicles. The technology was too expensive, there was no large-scale infrastructure to support them, and, most importantly, consumers just didn’t think it was a useful innovation.
General Motors, however, believed that if marketed well, the idea had the potential to take off. They came up with the EV1 – the first ever mass-produced electric car. The car actually got great reviews in the initial days of its release, as it was surprisingly fast and efficient for an electric vehicle.
However, GM had already spent a lot of money on the EV1 project, and the sales never really picked up, either. The program was discontinued in 2002 after years of running into losses, which was around six years before Tesla released its first electric vehicle.
The UC-2000 was released by a Japanese company called Seiko in 1984, and could be best described as a digital watch-cum-wearable computer. On first look, it even looks futuristic, at least for 1984. Essentially a digital watch that could also be worn with a keyboard that turned it into a tiny computer, the idea may even have worked if it was anything like it was marketed
As soon as it hit the market, everyone realized that the device wasn’t anything like a computer at all. All it could do was basic stuff like storing a few numbers, seeing the time and calculator functions. You could connect it to a computer to use its more advanced functions, but then you already had the computer for that. On top of that, the UC-2000 was priced at $300, which was a lot of money for a watch with an unnecessarily large keyboard. It was soon discontinued, though you could still find a few pieces listed on second-hand shopping sites if you really want to try it out.
7. Power Glove
The Power Glove – released by Nintendo in 1989 – was, if you couldn’t guess, a glove device with various buttons. It could be programmed to associate specific gestures with certain functions, though it didn’t work for every game. The Power Glove was only compatible with a few games released by Nintendo, and none of them were very fun to play. The glove itself was weird and clunky to use, though that didn’t dissuade Nintendo from marketing it as the next big thing in gaming..While the Power Glove did gain some traction in its early days due to its unique concept, that didn’t last long.
The Power Glove failed to make any significant mark on the gaming market, as Nintendo massively miscalculated the size of the market for such a device back in 1989. It was a commercial failure, and was discontinued within the same year.
Nintendo learned from the whole thing, however, and came up with an improved version of the Power Glove in 2006 – the Wiimote. It was later bundled with the Wii console, which remains one of Nintendo’s best-selling products ever.
6. IBM 8516
The 8516 was IBM’s foray into the touchscreen market, only way back in 1992. Back then, the technology wasn’t even close to as polished as it is today. At best, the monitor worked for basic functions like ticketing, as the touchscreen was only accurate for large movements of the finger. Try to get too precise, though, and you might as well just use a keyboard..
Back in 1992, when even monitors were in their early days, the 8516 was a dream of the distant future, when screens could be operated by hands and fingers instead of clunky peripherals. For that time, though, it wasn’t the best idea to mass produce and invest heavily into, and the 8516 was soon discontinued due to lack of sales.
5. Sony Aibo
The Sony Aibo debuted in 1999 for $2,500 in the US and 250,000 yen in Japan. The idea was to develop a fully-functional robotic dog that could be trained like a real dog without all the mess. It was also a lot sturdier and lived longer than a real dog – you can still find videos of mourning owners burying their Aibo’s from 1999..
Apart from its high cost, the Aibo wasn’t able to do much and its movements were clunky, as the field of robotics was still in its nascent stages. While it always enjoyed a loyal following among those that did buy it – the first Aibo sold about 65,000 copies – it was never a widespread commercial success.
Sony finally discontinued it in 2006, though never really gave up on their dream of developing a fully-functional robotic dog. After years of learning from the failure, they finally released a modern version of the Aibo in 2018.
eCash was one of the earliest experiments in the field of cryptographically-secure digital money. Created by David Chaum and his company – DigiCash – in 1990, the project aimed to provide a fully secure and private system of payments to emerging digital startups in the early ’90s. eCash used a concept called blind signatures to keep transactions secure and untraceable, and even got a bit of traction from some startups and a few banks in its initial days.
Ultimately, though, the project proved to be a failure, as there was no wider market for different kinds of money at the time. Digicash filed for bankruptcy in 1998, and eCash ended up being one of many experiments with digital money in recent history.
While it was generally a good idea, it was not the right time for it, as the project was also limited by the cryptography of the time. Of course, all those problems were later solved with Bitcoin, though that didn’t happen until 2009 – at least a decade after DigiCash shut down.
3. Listen Up
Listen Up came barely four years before the first iPod was released in 2001. It would have probably succeeded, too, if it was marketed and priced keeping the actual consumer market in mind. Moreover, even in 1997, the technology to mass produce affordable MP3 players just didn’t exist.
While we still don’t know much about the world’s first MP3 player – or at least that’s how it was sold – we know that it created quite a bit of hype before its release. That wouldn’t matter, however, as one unit of Listen Up was reportedly listed for $75,000 not too long ago, now putting this retro device out of reach for most people.
Unsurprisingly, the idea failed, and we haven’t heard much about Audio Highway or Listen Up ever since. While we don’t know how many units they ended up selling, they definitely sold a few, as you can still find a few listed on eBay.
2. Virtual Boy
Virtual reality may be a popular field of scientific study now, though that wasn’t the case back in the ’90s. The technology had barely started developing, and there was no real demand for anything like it in the market. It was so futuristic that no one really knew they wanted it, though that didn’t discourage Nintendo from at least trying.
They released the Virtual Boy in 1995, and it was a revolutionary idea. It was perhaps the first device of its kind, offering us a glimpse into what the future of virtual reality might hold. Unfortunately, the device itself was mostly useless. For one, it wasn’t ‘virtual reality’ in any sense of the phrase. All it did was play the same thing as a television, only a bit more 3D. More importantly, it required you to sit next to the device to be able to use it, making it inconvenient and clunky to use.
Virtual Boy was discontinued after selling about 770,000 units, making it Nintendo’s worst selling console ever.
1. XP Tablet
The Windows XP Tablet was exactly what you’re imagining, and that may be why it failed, too. Microsoft released the tablet version of Windows XP in the early 2000s, along with quite a few accompanying models that could run it. Many of them featured the earliest working forms of touchscreen technology, though it still had to be operated like a stylus.
It was a great idea, and if successful, it’d have come at least six years before the launch of the first iPad. There was one problem, though. Microsoft designed it as a computer on its own, which didn’t work as well as, say, the iPad, which complements a modern laptop without being as heavy or power-intensive.
The XP Tablet couldn’t do most of the things computers could, either, such as email. Moreover, almost all the XP tablet devices were prone to heating and heavy to carry around, making laptops – even at that time – a better option in every situation.