Tech Innovations That Never Really Caught On


Technology is ever moving forward, but its acceptance is a fickle thing. We are almost cursed with abundance these days, so consumers are able to be discerning about which technology they want to spend time and money on. Even a good idea may have to fall by the wayside if it’s marketed incorrectly or its full potential can’t be realized. There have been a number of technologies presented as both innovative and advanced that just face planted after delivery because society didn’t want or need it around.

10. Google Glass

Google was so behind Google Glass as a new technology that it’s almost stunning how badly they miscalculated the device’s appeal. It became publicly available in 2014 after a limited trial run for selected users, and people summarily trashed the idea with no mercy.

The idea behind Google Glass was a very sci-fi, yet practical one. It was a wearable headset that looked like a pair of glasses. It contained much of the functionality of a smartphone, but instead of you having to lift your phone and look at the screen, it displayed everything you needed right before your eyes. You can almost see how, on paper, it was considered a great idea. 

What Google didn’t foresee, or maybe they just underestimated, was how much people who didn’t want that technology didn’t want other people to have it, either. If a creep has a cell phone and is recording videos of you on the subway, or maybe of your kids at the park, you can at least see them doing it. How would anyone know if someone was filming them with Google Glass?

Glass was immediately banned in numerous public places. Obviously, they were not going to be allowed in movie theaters, but restaurants, casinos and others followed suit. There were privacy concerns dealing with the potential to record not just video of people, but conversations or images of a sensitive nature.

Legal issues also arose. The legality of driving with a pair on became an issue since it could both distract and obscure vision. At least one driver in California got ticketed for it. 

Even if you were a Glass fan, Google’s terms expressly forbid you from selling them to someone else, essentially telling you that if you paid for it, Google still owned it. Everything combined together to ensure Glass was dead in the water.

Google still makes Glass and you can still buy them (they’re pretty much exclusively for the business sector these days), but from the hype to where it is now has been a stunning drop. There’s a reason you’ve seen few, if any, people wearing them in the last five years. 

9. Segway

The youth of tomorrow will never fully appreciate what a spectacular failure Segways turned out to be. To look at them today, you might not understand the issue. They’re silly, sure. But they’re like a scooter. Maybe they’re fun to ride, what’s the big deal? Context is everything. When Segway was introduced, people said it would literally change the world. That’s as bold as bold gets. And it was very wrong. 

To start with, the Segway was a two-wheeled scooter. It was unveiled on Good Morning America after a ton of hype. People had no idea what it might be but, remember, “change the world” was in people’s heads. Harvard Business School paid an advance of $250,000 for a book about it before they even knew what it was. Steve Jobs said it was as significant as the personal computer and Jeff Bezos said it was revolutionary. Imagine hearing that and then seeing a Segway for the first time. 

Diane Sawyer infamously said, “I’m tempted to say ‘that’s it?’” upon first seeing the Segway when it was unveiled on the show. And that was how pretty much everyone felt. The company predicted 10,000 sales per week. That never happened. By the time the company stopped production in 2020, they had sold 140,000 units

The Segway was the butt of jokes almost immediately. George Bush famously fell off of one. They were banned in several cities after people lost control. The most famous one ever was the ride of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. With a $5000 price tag and no actual problem to solve, few people wanted them. People were happy walking or driving as they always did. No one needed an overpriced slow-moving invention that could knock you over to bridge the gap. 

8. Internet Fridges

A Smart Fridge is a lot like a Smart Phone with one key difference – it doesn’t fit in your pocket. Internet-enabled refrigerators were the next big thing back in the year 2000. That’s when the first Smart Fridge was introduced by LG. And with a $20,000 price tag, who could resist? Everyone.

It’s more than 20 years later and the Smart Fridge is still a thing. Many companies make them now, but they still don’t make up a massive market share. One of the big roadblocks stopping Smart Fridges from catching on is how potentially useless they are. That’s not just hyperbole or baseless critique. Many companies don’t continue to support the technology. Think of how often you need to update your phone these days. If not with hardware, at least with software. That’s not happening with Smart Fridges. Samsung only offers software support for two years. A new Samsung Smart Fridge will cost between $2,000 and $5,000 depending on the model. That’s a big investment for something they won’t guarantee is usable in two years. 

The market is just now picking up steam, more than two decades later. That’s fueled in a large part by integration. Smart Fridges come with Alexa and Nest compatibility and more. The features are less about a fridge and more about that Home Hub interconnectivity that sees every part of your home being connected. And for people who want that, the technology is now making it viable, if expensive and potentially unreliable in the future. But up until this point, it was simply not a thing people wanted. 

7. QR Codes

QR codes are pretty ubiquitous out in the world. You’ll see them on ads and product packaging all the time. But how often do you use them? They were a hard sell for users when they were first adopted because there was no standardization. If you saw a QR code in 2012, there was a good chance you couldn’t scan it even if you wanted to. Most phones didn’t include QR scanners and not all QR software was reliable. 

On a basic level, a QR code is a more advanced kind of barcode. Scan it and you can get info on a product. No one really cared, though. In fact, if not for the Covid-19 pandemic, the QR code may have faded away for good. But because of the changing nature of business, the codes have seen a slight surge in popularity. That said, the numbers are maybe not the most encouraging. According to statistics, 11 million households scanned a QR code in 2020. Compared to the population at large, that’s still somewhat limited. But apparently good for QR. 

The reason QR saw a surge during Covid was that it allows for hands-free information gathering. Scan an item and you don’t need to pick it up and learn about it. That popularity may continue post Covid, no one can say for sure. But prior to the pandemic, the technology was bordering on being obsolete because it’s mostly unnecessary. Anything you can learn from a QR code, you can learn with a quick Google search in a more user-friendly manner. 

6. Quibi

Quibi was set to be a new and exciting way to consume video content. It was combining big name Hollywood talent with the quick entertainment form of a YouTube video. Shows would be between 5 and 10 minutes for viewers on the go. The company raised $1.75 billion in investment money. They had amazing names on board, like Jennifer Lopez, Chrissy Teigen, Steven Spielberg, Andy Samberg, Idris Elba, and Kevin Hart. The list just keeps going and going. This was not a mid-tier or B-Movie scenario at all. This was the elite of Hollywood all in one place. And yet it failed in under a year. They had projected over seven million subscribers in that first few months. When they shut down, they had just 500,000.

Quibi was plagued with problems from the get go. The company blamed the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it had changed how people consumed media. That may have been one factor, but there were clearly others. 

To start, the platform and content were seriously mocked online. There was no real buzz, but there were a lot of jokes. Quibi had made it impossible to share videos or screen caps of the shows, which is a major way word-of-mouth spreads on social media. So they had locked down their own ability to generate buzz.

When people did get a chance to see the shows, to put not too fine a point on it, many of them were awful. Even with all the talent involved, the shows looked and felt rushed. Few garnered any true praise for quality. Many of their daily shows did things like recap sports highlights or jokes from the late shows the night before, the same stuff you can see on YouTube or Facebook every day for free.

Quibi only worked on mobile devices. If you wanted to stream on your TV, it just wouldn’t happen. The company added that feature later, but it was likely already too late. They were committed to the idea that it was to be used on the go, even when they knew people weren’t on the go. 

The company did almost no advertising and their biggest ad, which aired during the Super Bowl, came months before the platform was even available. All around, they made bad choices and paid the price for it in the end. 

5. Juicero

If you were on the internet back in 2016, you may have been lucky enough to catch the “blink and you’ll miss it” hilarity of the Juicero. It was a $400 juicer that was being supported by the likes of Dr. Oz and Gwyneth Paltrow, not to mention $120 million in backer investments. It was meant to be a convenient and cutting edge way to be healthy. Like Keurig was for coffee, so the Juicero would be for juice. All you needed to do was put their patented juice packets in the press, push a button, and let juice squeeze out into a glass. The machine’s maker bragged about how it could produce 4 tons of pressure. 

Right away, people noticed a problem. You had to buy packets of pre-diced fruits and veggies to get your juice. The machine was a glorified press. And soon someone posted a video of themselves squeezing the juice out of the packet by hand. The manufacturer countered by saying yes, you could do that,but the machine was also connected to the internet and it could warn you if the fruit sack was expired, thus preventing you from drinking an out-of-date product. Then people said that the expiry date was literally printed on the bags. So there was no reason to have a Juicero. It just squeezed fruit.

4. Monowheel Bikes

These have existed for years in one form or another. You can see the patent filed for the design of one from 1869. So why aren’t they a thing yet? Well, there are a few factors, but the biggest one is also the funniest one – gerbiling. Have you ever seen a gerbil running on his little wheel in a cage? And at some point either he gains too much more momentum or maybe slips and the wheel keeps spinning but the gerbil is no longer running and is now stuck to the wheel spinning round and round? That happens to people on monowheel bikes.

When applied force overcomes gravitational force, the person in the middle of the monowheel frame becomes a desperate and powerless gerbil. This can happen when the bike brakes suddenly or even when they accelerate too fast. 

The bikes also have very shaky stability and also there’s a giant obstruction right in front of you when you ride one, which also limits their appeal. But once you hit the gerbil thing, it’s hard to even worry about anything else.

3. 3D TV

3D movies were a big gimmick back in the day when you had to wear those red and blue glasses. It was never more than a novelty because it didn’t really work well, and it made the rest of the movie look awful.

Modern 3D is a lot better. No colored glasses, and a more seamless experience. Not everyone likes it, and it costs a premium to see films that way, but after Avatar came out and blew people away, it became a staple of big Hollywood blockbusters. It was so big, in fact, that the 3D TV tried to capitalize on it. Why wait for the movies when you could have 3D at home?

A new 3D TV would cost around $2,000. You also need a Blu-Ray player to handle 3D movies. And then you needed the 3D glasses. They cost around $100 a pair and everyone needed a pair to watch. They also had to sit directly in front of the TV because it didn’t work right at angles. 

Most movies aren’t shot in 3D and some are just converted to 3D afterwards for some scenes. So users were investing a lot in a limited experience. All in all, not enough people liked or cared about the technology to keep it afloat with all the costs involved.

2. Picturephone

If you watched any sci-fi created from the 1950s through to the 1990s or so, you saw a picture phone in one form or another. It seemed like the logical evolution of a telephone. As radio gave way to TV, so would talking on a phone gave way to looking a someone on your view screen. Star Trek famously put everyone on screen to chat. So when AT&T invented the picturephone in 1964, of course, it seemed like the wave of the future.

The phone launched for real in 1970 and quickly went nowhere. The cost was absolutely insane by anyone’s standards. The service was $160 a month in 1970 money, or about $1,100 adjusted for inflation. Plus a per minute fee after the first half hour. AT&T predicted they’d make one billion dollars by 1980.

They managed to sell 453 phones in Chicago and 32 in Pittsburgh by 1972.The company had been aiming for 50,000 units by 1975. They were clearly not on track.

The Picturephone failed because no one else had one. Those 32 people in Pittsburgh probably didn’t all know each other, so most of the time your $1000 a month phone was just a regular phone. Then there was that $1,000 a month. They ended up dropping the cost to $75 a month, but that still works to over $500 with inflation. 

One of the biggest issues with Picturephone is an issue we still see today with things like Zoom or Skype. Most people don’t want to be seen on the phone. Maybe you’re in bed or in the bathroom, or just not looking your best. You don’t want to get ready to be seen on a call. 

1. Virtual Reality

Launched by Nintendo in 1993, the VirtualBoy was a “virtual reality” headset on which you could play a limited number of games. It was an amazing concept with poor execution. It was expensive, it looked bad, and it made people feel sick. All in all, a marketing bomb. But surely VR would catch on one day!

If you’ve been online between 2010 or so and now you’ve heard about how VR is going to take off at any moment pretty much constantly. Facebook bought into this heavily with the Oculus Rift that cost them $2 billion back in 2014. Years later and statistics still indicate it’s poised to take off any time. Globally, the VR gaming market is worth $22.9 billion. That seems like a lot. On the other hand, the global gaming market is over $150 billion, so VR is still a small portion. 

Is the future of VR coming? Probably? It’s hard to say because it’s looked that way for years. This is very possibly a case of a technology arriving before it’s time. But the fact is still, nearly 30 years after the VirtualBoy debuted, VR is still not a dominant factor in gaming. 

For many years, VR was an expensive proposition. It was thousands of dollars to buy just a single headset. Costs are somewhat cheaper now, but there’s more market saturation. You can choose Oculus, PlayStation, Valve, HTC, and more. At least console gaming is still mainly just Microsoft vs Sony with a little Nintendo added in for spice.

VR tech keeps updating, making old tech obsolete and kind of a risky investment. As well, many people just don’t like wearing a pair of glasses that can get sweaty and block their view of everything else, not to mention crushing their hair. It’s fun for some, but not all. It’s likely VR will only ever be a niche market compared to standard gaming. 

You need clear space to play VR games and people and pets can’t just walk around you for fear of getting smacked by accident. This isn’t a sit and play experience. The technology isn’t quite up to traditional gaming standards yet either. 

So sure, one day VR may really be the next big thing, but don’t count on it any time soon.

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