Eight Tech Flops: The Great Tech Revolutions That Never Made It

January 21, 2014 in Gadgets by bbadmin

In the fast-moving, fast-paced world of technological innovation, there are aspiring and talented creators always coming up with either new gadgets or improvements to existing ones that make life faster, easier and more interesting. The trouble is, sometimes a well thought-out idea and a useful product isn’t enough to make it. Inventors need to gain favourable press coverage and have their product accessed by the right market, or all their efforts may end up being in vain. Read on to find out about products that could have been great, but that instead ended up unfortunately falling by the wayside


 1.    Apple Newton

Released in 1993 to much acclaim and hype from the journalistic community, the Apple Newton was ahead of its time in that it was a portable PDF (much like a primitive version of the Blackberry used by many today). It offered a range of organisational and calendar features, just like the blackberry does, and it even came equipped with a stylus for touch-screen use.

So why did the Newton fail? Mainly, it was because of the negative coverage of the product’s handwriting identification program, which was made light of at the time by major comedians. At a price of at least $700, the Newton was considered prohibitively expensive at the time, and so within five years of its release the product disappeared altogether.

2.    Digital Audio Tape

So Digital Audio Tape (or DAT) was a format for playing recorded sounds and segments of speech through the basic cassette-player format. In fact, at the time (and this is true) the DAT was billed by Sony as being able to produce a higher quality rate of sound than CDs, which the market competitors of the time.

The early 1990s saw the DAT format struggle against alternative CD formats, as the CD began to gain serious traction as a successor to audiocassette format. This, coupled with legislative restrictions on the use of the DAT (for copyright reasons), meant that the product never fully took off among consumers (although it was used by recording professionals for a while).

3.    DivX

Now many among us would be familiar with the Codec extension ‘DivX’, but long before this there was an actual disc format known by the same title, and a DivX player to boot. The aim of DivX was to give consumers an alternative to returning VHS tapes, whereby they could buy a DivX cd, watch a movie on it and then either discard it or pay further fees to continue using it. However, because of a lack of consumer confidence in the new disc medium as an alternative to VHS, and because of a concerted campaign by video-rental stores, the DivX system never got off the ground and was shelved a year after its release, in 1999.

4.    IBM PCjr

Back in the mid 80s, long before the world of desktop flat-screens and Ultrabook power-horses we know today, IBM released a product called the PCjr. It was a basic computer designed to compete with the Commodore 64 and Apple II, but it was thought by users to be quite cumbersome to deal with. On top of that, it didn’t contain a hard drive, but instead required memory cartridges to be inserted by the user. Even though it was technologically impressive by the day’s standards, certain design flaws and poor marketing meant that the PCjr didn’t really get off the ground and it was shelved a short while after it made its debut.

5.    Microsoft Bob

Now, who here remembers the little paperclip that did the rounds explaining functions of the Windows XP? Or the little dog that helped you search your computer for files? As quirky and at times, irritating as those guides were, they were nothing compared to the frustration generated by the highly unpopular Microsoft Bob. Released in 1995 as an accompaniment to Windows 3.1, Bob was a bit of a buffoon- and apparently his unhelpful suggestions irked users more than pleased them. For this reason Bob was withdrawn from the services of Microsoft, and replaced with more endearing cartoon assistants as the years went on.

6.    Smart Households

In the years immediately prior to the dot com burst of the early noughties, there was a lot of speculation and hope within various tech industries that household appliances would soon become super intelligent- that they would order products for you, clean the house for you automatically, pay your bills and so on. While there remains a level of interest in this type of technology today, the whirl of enthusiasm and funding that initially went into these types of projects has dropped off, and with it the household managing supercomputer dreams that dominated our attention not so long ago.

7.    Apple Lisa

So we all know about the Apple Macintosh, that market and world-changing personal computer. But did you know that not long before this, Apple released a clunky, non-user friendly PC called Apple Lisa? While you could open multiple applications on it, and there was a desktop HUD, the computer was extremely slow and cost over $10,000 a unit to buy when first released (less than what you’d have to pay in laptop rental fees for an Ultrabook these days!).  On top of all this, it just couldn’t compete with the more affordable, more capable IBM pcs being released at the time.

In the console-gaming world, one of the early serious contenders in the market was actually the game company Sega. Through a series of misadventures and poor strategic moves, Sega was losing out in the console wars and it needed a last-ditch miracle to save itself- this came along in the form of the Dreamcast. While it was a fine enough console for the time, and still has many nostalgic proponents today, in market terms the Dreamcast just couldn’t keep up with the ferocity of Sony’s PS2 onslaught. Although it sold over 10 million units, it was dwarfed by its competition, and its failure pretty much signified Sega’s departure from the console-market battlegrounds.

Author Bio:

Todd Turner is a third year IT student who has an interest in the history of technological evolution. Specifically, he is interested in how consoles have developed over time.