Tech disasters: the biggest flops to ever hit the market
Making a best-selling gadget with broad, international appeal isn’t easy at all – as this list of calamitous tech devices proves. Even the biggest names in the technology business occasionally have trouble launching and drumming up interest in some of their products.
Whether it’s woeful hardware design, poor timing or just a lot of bad luck, these gadgets sank without trace. We leave them here as a warning for the future – from global corporations to small Kickstarter teams, you’d be wise to try and learn from these mistakes.
1. BlackBerry PlayBook
Many manufacturers have tried to take on the iPad and failed, but few tablets have flopped as completely as the BlackBerry PlayBook did. It was BlackBerry’s attempt to stay relevant in a changing mobile landscape but in the end nobody was in the market for a powerful slate that ran BlackBerry’s own mobile operating system.
Despite some impressive specs on paper, in reality the clunky interface and poor battery life put people off. And then there was the apps problem, something that has also limited BlackBerry’s success in the post-iPhone smartphone market – you really need a good app selection to make a compelling case for a device.
2. Google Nexus Q
Google’s had its fair share of hits but it’s also had plenty of misses down the years too. Consider the Nexus Q, an ill-fated attempt to extend the Nexus branding beyond smartphones and tablets: the little orb offered media streaming direct from the cloud as well as some social networking extras on top.
The idea wasn’t terrible but Google never really put its full weight behind the device. It was too expensive, it didn’t support non-Google apps, and after postponing the official launch date the device was discontinued less than a year after being unveiled. In the end the Chromecast was a much better proposition.
3. Eyetop Wearable DVD Player
A pair of high-tech specs that play DVDs right before your eyes, anyone? Anyone at all? This rather strange-looking gadget arrived on the market in 2004 and was something of a precursor to Google Glass (and you probably know how well that particular device turned out). Unsurprisingly, it never found a lot of buyers.
In theory you could keep your eyes on what was ahead of you while also watching the action out of the corner of your eye, but viewing movies is an all-or-nothing experience: you either want to watch a film or concentrate on your surroundings, not both together. At least you got a perfectly good DVD player with your purchase…
4. Microsoft Zune
With the iPod proving a runaway success at the turn of the new millennium, it made sense for Microsoft to want to try and cut its own slice of the music player pie. Unfortunately, its own attempt at a portable player for the masses never really took off – even though it lasted a full six years before being discontinued.
To be fair to Microsoft the devices themselves were actually pretty good. The problem was it was late to the portable music party and looked a little old-fashioned next to the iPod Touch. With limited compatibility with non-Windows devices and the same old app problem that Windows Phone has had, the Zune died in June 2012.
5. iPod Hi-Fi
Not even Apple is immune to an underwhelming product launch or two (remember the Ping network?) – and there won’t be many of you who bought the iPod Hi-Fi from the mid-2000s. It lasted less than two years on the market despite being unveiled by Steve Jobs himself on stage at an Apple event in February 2006.
Unfortunately for Apple, there were better products already out there from third-party accessory makers. The company’s own attempt was overpriced, lacked a radio, didn’t work with all iPods out of the box and left the music player in a vulnerable position atop the speaker. Oh, and iPods were already on the way out anyway.
6. Nokia N-Gage
The N-Gage from Nokia launched in October 2003 to try and revolutionise the handheld gaming market. Alas, it never got close to doing that: it was limited, buggy and not all that easy to hold, and Nokia eventually abandoned the physical device in November 2005, though the name lived on for a few more years.
It turned out that no one was really looking for gaming devices that could also make calls – what the people really wanted were smartphones that could also play games. Add to that the fact you had to remove the back cover and the battery to switch between games and it’s easy to see why the N-Gage wasn’t a success.
Another ill-fated device in the style of the N-Gage, the Gizmondo was a handheld gaming device launched in March 2005 that promised to play music and movies as well as games. It also had Bluetooth, 128-bit graphics, GPS capabilities and even a camera, so in theory it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all.
And yet – the device sold less than 25,000 units before it was put out of its misery in February 2006. The battery life wasn’t great but it was a poor selection of games and the rather bizarre antics of the team behind the device that meant it never took off as a serious successor to the mighty Gameboy.