Winner: Apple iPod
It was only the size of a deck of cards, and yet it redefined consumer electronics and the entire music industry. Apple’s original iPod ($399) was truly the first lust-worthy gadget, putting 1,000 songs in consumers’ pockets for the first time. Thanks to its superthin 1.8-inch hard drive, breakthrough scroll wheel interface, and auto-syncing with iTunes, the iPod would leave the likes of Creative, Rio, and Sony in the dust. The original model worked with Macs only, but Apple would add Windows support the following year (and the still-unrivaled iTunes Music Store the year after), eventually catapulting the iPod to 74 percent market share. More than 220 million sales later, the iPod has evolved into everything from a camcorder to a mini game console, but its core DNA—simplicity, portability, and lust-worthiness—remains very much intact.
Finalist: Kyocera QCP 6035
Before the BlackBerry, iPhone, or Palm Treo, Kyocera was the smart phone pioneer, cramming a full Palm OS PDA into a $499 phone that, at the time, was relatively pocket friendly at 7.3 ounces and 5.6 x 2.5 x 0.9 inches. The 1.8-inch monochrome display, partially hidden by the flip cover, worked well with the included stylus for Graffiti handwriting recognition, and the QCP 6035 included both HTML and WAP browsers.
Loser: Kodak mc3
These days any self-respecting cell phone can take pictures, record video, and play MP3s, but back in 2001 combining these three features in a single $200 device was ambitious. And the results were tragic. The 5.5-ounce mc3 shot washed-out VGA photos (especially indoors) and recorded jerky video at a mere 20 frames per second. This Frankengadget didn’t even have a backlit LCD. The one saving grace of the mc3 was its MP3 player—ironic, given the brand—but back then you were limited to a measly 64MB CompactFlash Card for about an hour of tunes. Ultimately, this failed experiment generated buzz but raised serious doubts about Kodak’s ability to compete in the digital convergence era.
Finalist: Olympus Eye-Trek FMD-700
The video equivalent of noise-canceling headphones, the Eye-Trek attempted to simulate a 52-inch big-screen TV experience using a pair of heavy (and ugly) shades. The device induced eye strain within 30 minutes, and you had to schlep around a control box and a rat’s nest of cables in addition to your video source of choice. Add in poor audio quality and an astronomical $1,200 list price (not including charger or batteries) and you know why these specs were DOA.