25 Worst Gadget Flops of All Time

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There are gadgets that change everything (the iPhone, the first Intel Centrino laptops, Bose's noise-canceling headphones), and then there are devices that are so spectacularly bad that they should be immortalized in their own way. The last few decades have seen all kinds of flops, from a not-so-world-changing scooter to Nokia's attempt to beat Nintendo and Sony at their own game.

More recently, we've seen a smartphone that’s likely the fastest to go from $99 to 99 cents and a Death Star-like media player that doesn't do much other than look menacing. To make our list of all-time gadget flops, the product had to do more than fail to execute. It had to have serious hype behind it—enough to help make that crash and burn all the more satisfying. Here are our Top 25 Worst Gadget Flops of All Time.

Segway (2001)

Other than the original iPhone, very few gadgets in history were hyped this much before launch. Dean Kamen's Project Ginger had all sorts of praise heaped upon it by those who previewed the new-age scooter. Here's what Steve Jobs reportedly said about the Segway in a book proposal: “If enough people see the machine you won’t have to convince them to architect cities around it. It’ll just happen.” Oops.

Priced at a staggering $5,000, the Segway didn't even come close to living up to its expectations. Sure, it was nifty that the Segway was self-balancing, but that wasn't nearly enough to overcome the sticker shock or the sheer geek factor of this vehicle. The final insult came when President Bush fell of a Segway in 2004. Today, you'll see these scooters ridden by some police officers and postal workers, but that's pretty much it.

More: 8 Tech Products That Won’t Make it to 2014

ViewSonic Airpanel Smart Display V110 (2003)

Part of Microsoft's ill-conceived Smart Display product line, the Airpanel V110 allowed users to access their PCs wirelessly from up to 150 feet away. It was kind of like a tablet—with a really short leash. For a totally unreasonable $1,000, those gullible enough to buy this device were likely disappointed to learn that the Airpanel turned your computer into a brick for everyone else while you were using it. Add in limited viewing angles and glitchy performance and you have a real stinker.

More: Top 8 Windows Tablet-Laptop Hybrids

 

BlackBerry PlayBook (2011)

If BlackBerry's comeback fails, the PlayBook will be remembered as one of the nails in the coffin. Research in Motion was so busy showing off that it's 7-inch tablet could play high-def videos via its HDMI port that it forgot to include native email and calendar apps. That's right, the PlayBook didn't let you view your messages or appointments unless you had a BlackBerry phone connected to the slate via Bluetooth. Amazingly, RIM called this glaring weakness a security feature. Less than 9 months later, co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille stepped down from their posts.

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Cisco Umi (2010)

Before Cisco's consumer division completely imploded, the company staged an elaborate press event in San Francisco to show off the Umi, a device that enabled families to video chat in HD right from their living rooms. There was just one problem. No one wanted to pay a whopping $600 for a one-trick-pony set-top box, never mind the dumb $25 monthly fee. With free services like Skype and FaceTime already available for our phones, tablets and laptops, Umi was destined for the gadget scrap heap.

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Nokia N-Gage (2003)

Once upon a time Nokia believed it could compete in the handheld gaming market, and that delusion manifested itself in the form of the N-Gage. This combination phone and mobile console was so awkward it was funny—assuming you didn't fork over $299 to get one. For starters, the N-Gage forced users to hold it up their heads sideways to talk, which make people look like they were holding a taco up to their ears. Gamers also needed to remove the back cover and battery to swap games. Nokia would release a mobile mea culpa sequel in the N-Gage 2, but it was too little, too late.

More: Failure to Launch: 5 Most Embarrassing Tech Events

MSN Direct Smart Watches (2004)

Literally and figuratively, MSN Direct Smart Watches were ahead of their time. Made by the likes of Fossil and Swatch, these bulky wrist-worn monstrosities fetched stock quotes, news, sports, and weather via FM radio waves for $9.99 per month. Unfortunately for Microsoft and its partners, smartphones already did the above and much more. The hardware would fade from the market by 2008, but Microsoft only recently shut down the network.

More: Top 5 Smart Watches to Watch

Oakley Thump Sunglasses (2007)

Before there was Google Glass there was Oakley's Thump sunglasses, which combined shades with an MP3 player. Too bad the glasses were ugly and the audio controls were difficult to use. Plus, users were stuck with a measly 256MB of flash memory at a sky-high $495 price tag. Shockingly, a celebrity endorsement from Dog the Bounty Hunter failed to move the needle.

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Microsoft Zune (2006)

Hoping to make a dent in the iPod’s mammoth market share, the original Zune got some people so excited that one man decided to have the Zune logo tattooed on his arm. Too bad he didn’t have anyone to share his music with. The Zune-to-Zune sharing feature (which worked over Wi-Fi) fell flat because you could only play tracks you acquired three times within three days. You also had to be near the other unfortunate Zune owner. A lack of a video store at launch further hurt the Zune’s cause. A more polished design in the Zune HD and a half-baked gaming strategy couldn’t save this franchise, but elements of its slick UI live on in Windows Phone.

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HP TouchPad (2011)

It's hard to believe now, but the HP TouchPad was one of the most eagerly awaited tablets back in July of 2011, promising to breathe new life into webOS' multitasking-friendly interface. Some of the software elements were indeed slick, such as Stacks for organizing related tasks and the polished notification system. Ultimately, though, sluggish and buggy performance and a dearth of apps doomed this slate. After less than 3 months on sale, HP pulled the plug on the TouchPad and all webOS hardware. So much for “doubling down” on the platform it purchased from Palm.

More: Top 10 Tablets to Buy (or Avoid) Now

Motorola ROKR E1 (2005)

Before Apple dove into the smartphone market it dipped a toe in the water by partnering with Motorola for the ROKR E1 ($249), dubbed the first "iTunes phone.” The ROKR wasn't even a one-hit wonder. Thanks to its lame 100-song capacity and the inability to download tracks over the web, consumers immediately tuned this handset out. No one wanted a gimped companion device for their iPod that could make calls; they wanted it all in one device. And Apple would give it to them two years later.

More: Top 10 iPhone Alternatives

Twitter Peek (2009)

Not all single-purpose devices are bad, but this was the worst. The Twitter Peek allowed Twitter fans to check their feed and post updates using a built-in keyboard. While cute, the device showed only 20-character previews of your Tweets, forcing you to click to see more. And the built-in browser was buggy. It didn't matter that you had a choice of payment plans (free service if you paid $199 up front or $7.99 monthly if you spent $99). There were plenty of free apps for cheaper smartphones that did the same thing. Perhaps the Fail Whale should have been printed on the box.

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HTC First (2013)

Too soon? Nah. Sometimes it doesn't help to be first, especially when you're releasing a device for which there's a free app that does nearly all the same stuff. The HTC First for AT&T comes pre-loaded with Facebook Home, which puts your friends' updates right on the home screen and makes it easy to jump in and out of texting sessions with creepy floating Chat Heads. Although HTC's device offered a more robust notification system than the free app, that wasn't compelling enough for smartphone shoppers. AT&T cut the price from $99 to 99 cents in less than a month. Something tells us there won't be an HTC Second.

More: HTC First and 6 Other Doomed Single-Purpose Phones

Garmin Nuvifone G60 (2009)

It's hard to blame Garmin for attempting to protect its GPS turf. The Nuviphone G60 entered a market in 2009 that saw the Motorola Droid include Google Navigation for absolutely nothing. Available for AT&T, the G60 sported a fairly large (for the time) 3.5-inch display and a driver-friendly interface, but smartphone shoppers didn't know what to do with a Linux device. By the time an Android-powered sequel hit the streets, Garmin's opportunity had hit a dead end.

 

Samsung Q1 (2006)

Known as a part of the buzzed-about Project Oragami before it hit the market, Samsung Q1 was an Ultra-Mobile PC that weighed 1.7 pounds and ran full Windows on a 7-inch (800 x 480) touchscreen. Price? $1,099. That's too much for a device whose software wasn't touch friendly and whose battery lasted a sad 3 hours on a charge. Today Samsung is the No. 2 seller of tablets behind Apple, but the Q1 should get none of the credit.

More: The 15 Most Overpriced Gadgets of All Time

CueCat barcode Reader (1999)

Step 1: Take a gadget to scan a barcode in a magazine. Step 2: Connect the USB device to your PC to direct you to a website. Step 3: Wonder why you didn't just type the URL in your browser. The likes of Wired and Forbes supported this wacky idea for a while, and many subscribers received the device for free to encourage usage. But that wasn't enough to prevent the CueCat from being put to sleep.

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Google Nexus Q (2012)

Google has had decidedly mixed results with hardware, but the Nexus Q was an unmitigated disaster. Despite its Death Star-chic design, this gadget was an overpriced $299 orb that attempted to make media consumption more social. You and your friends could create a queue of tracks and/or YouTube clips and stream them from your phone or tablet. Inexplicably, though, the Nexus Q couldn't access anything other than Google's content, making the Roku look like the deal of the century. There are rumors that a Nexus Q2 is on the way, but it had better be an entirely different beast.

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BlackBerry Storm (2008)

Do you wish your touch screen felt like it was collapsing every time you tried to respond to an email? That was the magic of SureType, an ironically named feature that made the BlackBerry Storm one of the most hated smartphones ever. A lack of Wi-Fi, glitchy software and sluggish performance solidified the Storm as a unnatural disaster. RIM's Storm 2 would improve on the original in every way, but how could it not?

More: 14 Essential BlackBerry 10 Tips

Microsoft Kin One and Kin Two (2010)

During the launch for Microsoft's Kin devices the company told us that its new quasi-smartphones for hipsters were three years in the making. So how did the company forget to include apps? Or games? It also didn't help that Verizon Wireless forced its pricey smart phone data plan on customers to cover the cost of all those photo and video uploads. Mercifully, Microsoft killed these awful products after 6 short weeks on the market.

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Fusion Garage JooJoo (2010)

The polar opposite of an iPad killer, the JooJoo tablet was widely panned for its awful battery life, unintuitive interface, and choppy Flash video playback. Did we mention this 12-inch monstrosity weighed 2.4 pounds? Add in a measly 5 hours of battery life (max) and you know why this slate didn't stand a chance. An attempt at a comeback in the form of the Grid 10 failed just as miserably, thanks to a confusing interface that literally had a map to show you where you were.

More: Tablet Buyers' Guide 2013: 5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy

Sony Tablet P (2012)

Sometimes two isn't better than one. Exhibit A is the Sony Tablet P, which sported dual 5.5-inch displays that you could use either laid flat or clamshell style. While small enough for jacket pocket, the P was way too big for your jeans and it cost a fairly steep $549 (or $399 with a two-year contract). And even though some of the apps stretched across both screen, you couldn't run two separate apps simultaneously like today's Galaxy S4. Worst of all, the P was instantly dated because it didn't support AT&T's LTE network. It was HSPA only. Why bother?

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Dell Streak (2010)

You could call the Dell Streak a precursor to modern-day phablets like the Galaxy Note II, but that would be an insult to phablets. The Streak was so comically large that AllThingsD's Kara Swisher called it a waffle on stage at the D8 conference. The Streak also suffered from a relatively low-resolution display (800 x 480 pixels) and ran dated Android 1.6 software. A 7-inch follow-up with abysmal battery life sealed this product line's fate.

Sirius S50 (2005)

Siriusly? Somehow the satellite network provider believed that consumers would want a portable radio that wasn't really portable at all. To get live stations you had to connect the S50 to a car kit. You could listen to recordings on the go, but only two hours' worth. Maybe that was for the better, since the S50 didn't even live up to its measly 6 hours of rated battery life. At the time XM2Go devices were a much better deal; they were bulkier but actually live up to the promise of live satellite radio.

Sharp RD3D (2003)

It's probably not a coincidence that Sharp exited the laptop market in the U.S. not long after the RD3D bombed. For a gulp-inducing $3,300, this 15-inch notebook was the first to display 3D content without the aid of glasses. Even if you were willing to put up with the eye strain, the RD3D's sluggish performance with 3D enabled and laughably narrow viewing angles made this laptop fall flat on its face. Other companies would try to pick up where Sharp left off, including Nvidia and Toshiba, but they failed, too.

More: Laptop Buying Guide 2013: 8 Essential Tips

Palm Foleo (2007)

Other than a few review units for the press, the Linux-powered Palm Foleo never saw the light of day—and that's a good thing. This 10.1-inch not-quite-a-netbook was designed as a companion device for Treo users, syncing data via Bluetooth but offering a Wi-Fi connection. The idea was to give buyers a bigger canvas to view email, edit documents, and surf the web with the Opera web browser. A $499 price tag and an executive decision to revive Palm's then aging mobile platform would relegate the Foleo to collector's item status.

OQO Model 01 (2004)

The power of Windows in the palm of your hand. That was the promise of the OQO Model 01, which ran Windows XP on a 5-inch display. This mobile Internet device was indeed versatile, offering a slide-down thumb keyboard and a desktop dock. Alas, a very chunky design (.9 inches inches thick), serious heat and noise issues and short battery life made the $1,999 price tag way to much to stomach, even for well-heeled mobile executives.

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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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38 comments
  • Bob Webster Says:

    Your most famous bad predictions of all time missed my favorite. Watson (head of IBM) once replied to the question of what the market for computers worldwide would be. After a moment's thought he said "6".
    (Of course this was back when their only use was to compute the aiming angle of cannons.)

  • Carl Smith Says:

    Barbara, that's so awesome. I wish I'd thought of the smart watch. I'm shocked Nokia didn't appoint you CTO.

  • Carl Smith Says:

    This article is a bit boring. There's loads of much more fascinating choices you could have made, if you'd done a few hours homework.

  • Don108 Says:

    The CueCat Barcode Scanner may have been a financial flop, but it's still effective to inexpensively scan barcodes..if that's what you need to do.

  • Barbara E Bj Says:

    I gave them my ideas for free; one would think with that price, they wouldn't be able to resist... nooooo.

  • Barbara E Bj Says:

    With the bluetooth technology, they could have made small, pocket peripheral "monitors" to the device, also, that would allow users to pull out the bigger monitor -- no bigger than a regular handheld phone screen possibly or all the way to the larger types of monitors, too, made with bluetooth accessibility -- for easier viewing of things other than phone, like the news or email. But, for that expanded viewing to really be useful now, they would have to get rid of the blocks to receiving "live" netcasts through bluetooth. Then, the "monitor" wouldn't have to be connected by wires but could connect fully through remote wireless.

    That would be something *I* would use.

  • Barbara E Bj Says:

    sorry... got the ngage confused with the msn watch --- the latter did the news, per se. But the idea of my post is still the same. I sent my idea to Nokia, but the device was an MSN device. Not that I didn't like MSN at the time, also, but that was way too basic and the news services alone on a watch were already outdated -- people wanted MORE and had MORE in phones that looked like phones. A phone watch is the ticket for those who don't mind a very small screen and bluetooth phone use. I loved bluetooth phone at the time.

  • Barbara E Bj Says:

    I came up with the idea of something similar to the smart watch not all that long before MSN created it, but I sent the idea to Nokia, not MSN. If they had included all that I suggested, it would have done a lot better than it did. My idea was for the watch to BE a smartphone with all of the features of a smartphone, but primarily a more easily carried and less obvious PHONE that wouldn't look like a phone. I was inspired by "Inspector Gadget" and James Bond sorts of surreptitious gadgets that did more than they appeared to do. With bluetooth, answering the phone would have been a breeze with any number of ear pieces.

    Gaming gadgets that did nothing but gaming were on the way out if not virtually useless anymore by that time. The smartphone as a watch is still an idea worth pursuing.... except of course for the fact that, now, users are totally enamored with the larger screens on phones. I was thinking smaller rather than larger, and more concealed than a phone.

  • Edward Wolcott Says:

    I'm not sure why several of these products were on the list, including the Sharp RD3D. At the time, the RD3D was quite innovative and while the price was high, it wasn't marketed to the mass consumer...it was sold to professional users for use with CAD, medical imaging, and molecular modeling programs. Yes, the case was bulky and the Pentium 4 chip ran a bit hot, but the Sharp engineers did a total redesign for their 2nd gen 3D laptop, the AL3D, and they sold every one they made.

  • John Says:

    Not agree with the Playbook being a flop...as compared to HP Touchpad.
    The Playbook still exists...for sure it was hi-priced and targetted primarily to BB users, but since v2.0 OS, Playbook has native email, calendar, and so on....*** and runs flawlessly ***.
    And with the current prices, it's a bargain.

  • MasterDisaster Says:

    I laughed so much when I read at slide 19, joojoo pad: ..." thanks to a confusing interface that literally had a map to show you where you were." I mean, is someone so hard tripping to need a pad to show you where you are? Hilarious, as 99,3% apps available for any mobile device, they all do nothing you couldn´t do without them, well they actually do, they steal your valuable and limited time to live.

  • R.B.McKEEVER Says:

    I have heard that G.Bush fell off the Segway when it was OFF! It's not suposed to "balance" when it's OFF.Talk about getting a bad rap.

  • Seederman Says:

    I sure wish slide shows masquerading as articles were on the list.

  • martina eleizabeth Says:

    Re the segway and quote from the article - " The final insult came when President Bush fell of a Segway in 2004."
    That is so unfair! This was hardly the failt of the machine! Bush was probably so drunk and/or so high at the time. that he could have fallen off the ground if he had been lying on it! The company should have sued Bush for damaging their reputation

  • Mike C. Says:

    You really must at least *try* to get writer's who have actually lived more than 22 years...

  • JDE Says:

    "A $499 price tag and an executive decision to revive Palm's then aging mobile platform would relegate the Foleo to collector's item status."

    This implies someone would actually want to collect it.

  • Justin Says:

    You left out a bunch.
    How about the apple Lisa? The Mac portable? The Newton? Performa? The pippin? The g4 cube? Apple TV? The new version of Final cut? Snow leopard? The iphone 4/4s? I just noticed you forgot to list one Apple failure of which there are hundreds.

  • Matt M Says:

    I noticed that only one gadget on this list was pre-2000, and even that one was 1998. There were many, many gadgets before that, and certainly some very big failures. The mini-disc player and format comes to mind. As does the laser disc. Maybe I'm misremembering and those were not as bad of failures as I remember, but I'm sure if we put a little thought into it, we could come up with many others. So, while I'm not saying that the devices on this list don't deserve to be here, it seems like this is a very skewed and incomplete list.

  • Dale R Says:

    The Segway may not have been a "failure" per se, but it was in relation to what was expected. If you remember the ads before the Segway was revealed (there was great secrecy to what it even was), they were saying things like "in 30 days, prepare for the world to change overnight" or some nonsense like that. The Segway was interesting, but...a world changer? Hardly.

  • CueCatFan Says:

    CueCats were also available for free at your local Radio Shack, and some stations (such as those owned by Belo) broadcast signals that would travel the audio out from your TV to internet-connected PC with CueCat software to bring up related websites.

    In the era before smartphone cameras and QR codes, this was actually a genius idea.

    The problem with the CueCat was the software, which kept an unsecure database of products scanned. When the privacy issues came to light, that's what killed the CueCat.

    There is even a hack to convert the CueCat's scan into input for your computer, far cheaper than the typical handheld scanner/wedge. :)

  • Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Says:

    Hi Joe

    Thanks for your comment. The reason most of the gadgets on this list are more recent is because we focused on mobile gadgets, which is what we focus on in terms of coverage.

  • Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Says:

    Hi John,

    This error has been corrected. Thanks for your note.

  • Gordon Daily Says:

    I had a BlackBerry Storm and I loved it. I eventually moved on to a Droid Razr because there were more apps available, but I never had any issues with the touchscreen as described above.

  • SueB Says:

    I see Segway's all the time at many businesses. I'll agree that in the personal market they bombed, but in the business world they seem to be very popular for getting around large buildings and complexes.

  • Bill Says:

    One of the things that killed the Rokr was that Cingular stopped carrying it and it was picked up by another carrier - but there were updates to it after Cingular dropped it, that you couldn't get if you were a Cingular customer... It was orphaned -

  • Bill Says:

    I had a Rokr and really liked it - I didn't want an ipod that would make calls - I had a phone that would store a few audio files to play - when I wanted some music or some inspiration (Zell Miller's speech to the RNC - it was awesome!) - it doesn't compare to my iphone 5, but times have changed since the Rokr came out.

  • victor Says:

    For a tech website...this one loads really slow...I can't make it through the show...do you really have to load the whole page to see the next slide? annoying man....

  • Juan Rodriguez Says:

    Add Google Glass to the list.

  • MBauer Says:

    Really the biggest tech flops of ALL TIME all come from the last 5 years? Color me unimpressed with this list, what about laserdisc format, etc.

  • John Says:

    Interesting article. Maybe you should check your facts about the Blackberry Playbook...
    -When was it ever a 10" screen? NEVER. Sheesh, even your picture shows a different measurement.
    -And such a small tablet was such a bad idea that...hmmm...amazingly...Apple copied the the idea and made an iPad MINI.

    You were correct that the Playbook did not sell well at all, and lacked very essential features...

    You could have mentioned, though, that the Playbook can both truly multitask and run Adobe Flash, unlike Apple products.

    Too much of an iFanboy slant in this product description. Epic fail. Go work for BGR.com

  • wcatesjr Says:

    Segway a flop?? I know it hasn't been as successful as they would have liked but they are still making Segways!!! I look at the whole list and as far as I can tell none of the other flops are still in production. Keep in mind that the Segway has also led to other innovative applications that has kept that company in business. I would strongly disagree that the Segway has been a flop! If anything it has been a stepping stone to success.

  • Joe Says:

    This should be renamed "25 Worst Gadget Flops of the Last 12 Years" since that's all the farther back they went. There were "gadgets" before that, FYI, unless "gadgets" is very narrowly defined. Who wrote this, a 20something kid?

  • Bryon Says:

    All time? More like the last 10 years.

  • Jason Says:

    Interesting picks, I could see a few others that are missing. Also, around slide 23, looks like the text and the pictures are out of sync. There is a discussion about the Newton, but the photo is wrong. Continues for the rest of the show.

  • Brandon Says:

    Your list started out as intriguing when it included the Segway, but then it just turned into computing / mp3 fail whales. I guess I should have expected such blandness from "the pulse of mobile tech."

  • Andrew Says:

    I'm lost on why the CueCat Barcode Scanner was a Gadget Flop as it (and the concept behind it) was the predecessor to the QR code. This is one of the most used, non-text mass communication devices currently used on the open market.

  • Dave Says:

    How can you call the segway a failure? Have you noticed the number of police departments using them? Or security.

  • Amritaansh Verma Says:

    IMO the Nokia N-Gage was NOT a failure, I owned the ngage-2 and was revolutionary at the time, and had sold like hot cakes worldwide. The design was very innovative and was in many ways ahead of the monolithic blocks of glass we are seeing on every phone these days. Some of the ngage exclusive games were classic and are still fairly popular amongst emulator users.