25 Worst Gadget Flops of All Time
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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