Getting consumers to embrace a new technology isn't easy. It's few and far between for gadgets that get a permanent place in our everyday existence.
You can't fault the tech industry's major players for trying; it's just that many A's for "effort in product development" end up with an F for "failure to catch on."
In some cases the idea was ahead of its time. Other products weren't quite right in the engineering and execution. Then there are the examples that in retrospect were so wrong it baffles the mind that tech-industry giants thought these were the candidates with revolutionary potential.
Here's a look at some notable gadgets that received fanfare but faded into obscurity or, even worse, consumer ridicule.
Steve Sasson, an employee of the film giant, actually invented the digital camera in 1975, putting together a portable device that could digitally capture an image in 50 milliseconds (though it took 23 seconds to record that image to a cassette tape). The quality was poor, but it was a prototype machine, and no research had yet been done on the technology. Kodak executives, though, weren't impressed with the potential. Thinking that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a screen — and wanting to maintain their enormous share of the traditional photography market — they decided to patent the idea for safe measure (a wise move) but keep the company's own product locked away.
While Apple and Samsung are kings of the smartwatch field these days, Microsoft was actually one of the first to actively explore the area. The SPOT — Smart Personal Object Technology — gave email notifications, offered interchangeable watch faces and had an FM radio inside (which delivered information like news, weather and stock prices). You could also get messages (via MSN Messenger) from friends. The timing was poor, though, as high-speed cellular service was just starting to rise and proved to be a more attractive option for consumers. By 2008, Microsoft killed support for the SPOT program.
Given how attached millennials are to their phones, a mobile broadcast TV service seemed like a pretty safe bet in 2007. But FLO TV, which was sold through AT&T and Verizon, never found an audience. Qualcomm blamed its partners, saying they didn't market the service sufficiently, but the release coincided with a , limiting appeal for a service essentially moving the monthly cable bill to mobile. At the time, analysts also questioned whether consumers wanted to pay a monthly fee to watch TV on such a small screen. Though to use FLO TV, the consumer needed a specific chip-set, meaning it limited customers' phone choices, which may have been the ultimate nail in the coffin.
Recent headlines declare that the era of virtual reality is finally here — and for everybody. New products from Facebook's Oculus, HTC and Sony, among others, may finally bring VR success — success that has eluded the technology for at least two decades.
Nintendo's 1995 failure in the space, Virtual Boy, featured a monochrome screen, a weak game lineup and a design that didn't allow users to turn their heads. It floundered quickly. Add in user complaints of headaches and nausea and it ultimately became the biggest console flop in Nintendo's history. The company discontinued it in less than a year.
Today, Apple is likely still at work on whatever secret about the future TV Steve Jobs claimed in the Walter Isaacson biography he had "finally cracked," but two decades ago, a one-time Apple principal scientist, Steve Perlman, saw a growing demand among consumers to multitask when watching TV.
That led to WebTV, a device that augmented television viewing, letting owners surf the web on their TV as they watched their favorite shows. WebTV also offered email notifications, the ability to take still pictures of on-screen images and program schedules and information.
Microsoft bought the idea from Perlman, eventually renaming the product and service MSN TV, but as other options became available, it reduced support. In 2013 it decided to quietly shutter the service. Perlman's influence, though, is still being felt: His work, including the invention of QuickTime, is built into every iPad, iPhone, iPod, Mac and most PCs, according to his corporate bio. Perlman is currently CEO of Artemis Networks, a mobile wireless data company.
HP's Touchpad was largely a "too late to the party" failure. The iPad was out, and the iPad 2 was looming. But it had plenty of unique features, including an integrated Webcam, the ability to receive calls, haptic feedback — touch-sensory control, which was unique in handheld gaming, like today's rumble effect in an Xbox or PlayStation controller — and an incredibly powerful processor. What it lacked, though, was a plethora of apps, and that kept buyers away.
Less than two months after it hit store shelves, HP cut its losses and had a fire sale for the remaining Touchpads. The device that sold for $499 in early July 2011 cost just $99 by mid-August of that year.
In 2003, Nintendo's Game Boy Advance was at the height of its popularity, but games for phones were still lousy, at best. Nokia's N-gage was an attempt to make phone-based games a more significant force, with high-resolution graphics and familiar franchises. But the phone's many flaws, both as a gaming and telephonic device, quickly made it a gadget pariah. A redesigned version that came out a year later corrected many of those flaws, but it was too late because the device had already been widely ridiculed and written off by the video game world, which was its primary audience.
Apple is known to only launch a product when it's good and ready rather than rushing to capitalize on any first-mover advantage. But four years before people were pecking away on their Palm Pilots, Apple tried to popularize the personal digital assistant. It got a lot of early attention, but the system's extremely high price — $699, the equivalent of $1,165 today — coupled with the fact that its handwriting recognition (a primary function) was subpar, eventually doomed it. Steve Jobs pulled the plug on Newton in 1998.
The Palm Pilot itself was starting to get played out by 2003, and gamers were itching for a portable game system with higher-resolution than the Game Boy. That seemed to open a window for the Zodiac, a combination PDA and mobile entertainment center. It played games (including "Madden," "Doom II" and "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater"), was a portable music player and had a crisp screen that made watching movies on the go possible. But a fairly weak battery and poor timing worked against it.
Despite strong reviews, the subsequent release of the Nintendo DS and Sony's PlayStation Portable proved too overwhelming. The company was sold to an undisclosed Asian corporation and shut down two years later.
There was certainly interest in this head-mounted display when prototypes went on sale in 2013. The ability to perform several functions of a smartphone (including directions, web searches and instant photo/video shooting) without having to fish a device from your pocket? It sounded great. Ultimately, though, the high price of the spectacles, along with numerous safety and privacy concerns, made Glass a fringe item. Alphabet's Google hasn't exactly canceled the project, and in a few professional niches, such as medicine, Glass reached some level of acceptance. Just last December, Alphabet filed a new application with the Federal Communications Commission for a new version of Glass, but it hasn't yet publicly discussed any details.
Ouya was one of the first real breakouts on Kickstarter, raising $8.6 million from gamers who were eager for something new. And with its $99 price tag, the Android system seemed poised to shake up the hierarchy of the console world — gamers no longer needed to buy expensive cartridges and could try out games before committing to purchase.
It didn't take long before things started to go wrong, though. And the mistakes began compounding. It launched with no parental controls. It failed to deliver units to some of its Kickstarter backers in a timely fashion. The system interface and controller were harangued by users, and the software lineup was weak. The console was designed to spotlight independent games, but nowadays Xbox and PlayStation are giving those a much greater emphasis.
Privately held high-end gaming gadget company Razer — on the list of U.S. start-ups valued at more than $1 billion — bought the remnants of the company in 2015, incorporating elements into an Android TV box.