Tech Fails: 5 Times That New Technology Flopped

Joel Harvey

New technology – we love it, right? In this day and age of hi-tech gadgets, we all want to own the newest cool bit of kit. After all, we must keep up with the Joneses because we’re pretty sure we saw them on hoverboards this morning. And we mean the Back to the Future hoverboards, too. Great Scott, we hate the Joneses.

But we’re not always willing participants in jumping on the bandwagon with every latest tech fad. Sometimes, we collectively turn our noses up to them, which causes untold embarrassment for the inventors. And the makers of these things aren’t small-fry inventors either – they can be big companies who’ve invested a lot of money in making this tech.

This week, we learned one of them was Snapchat who lost $40 million on their flop Spectacles product. And they aren’t the first to spectacularly crash and burn when releasing new technology.

Google Glass

Snapchat are the latest example of how not to create augmented eyewear. But it was our overlords at Google, who got there first with their Glass product.

Released in 2014 to much fanfare, the Glass was supposed to be the fashion accessory of the future. You could check the internet, record videos, and be hit by traffic when crossing the road because you weren’t paying attention to reality. Yes, the Glass had it all and for the low, low price of £1,000.

The world didn’t exactly embrace Google Glass, though. And not just because of the cost. Within months of its release, there were serious concerns raised about safety, privacy and health due to using these glasses. The backlash was strong, and Google would end up ceasing Glass production at the start of 2015.

Nintendo Virtual Boy

Seriously, not everything in this piece will be about eyewear. But once again, a device designed to trick your eyes was another big disaster for the company that made it.

Encouraged by the success of the GameBoy, Nintendo wanted to take things one step further in 1997 with the Virtual Boy. This was at the tail-end of the first wave of VR, so companies were still interested in it as a potential lucrative form of new technology.

The Virtual Boy was a shambles,  though. It was hideously clunky and caused repetitive eye-strain with its poor visuals. But what’s worse, the games on it were largely awful. And for a games console, that’s probably what hurt the most.

Well, that and the bleeding eyeballs. Actually, maybe the bleeding eyeballs inched this one and hurt more than the rubbish games.

Nokia N-Gage

More gaming fails in the world of new tech, but this time with a less obvious video game player. In 2003, Nokia were keen to expand upon their mobile phone empire and combine it with a portable game system. Bear in mind, this was the pre-smartphone world – a time when phones and games only really combined forces when you played Snake.

And so, the N-Gage was born; an attempt to synergize the two markets. But instead, it synergized two different markets: the street market and your bin.

It was an unquestionable flop. Like the Virtual Boy, poor games and hideous design lay at the heart of the problem. It was simply a product that didn’t understand what it wanted to be – a phone or a portable gaming device – and ultimately, ended up doing neither very well.

And what was the name all about? It sounded like a bad nineties boyband.

Sony Betamax

Ah, the great videotape war of the eighties. Video Home System (VHS) and Betamax were the two warring sides, and only one emerged in living rooms across the world as the triumphant victor. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t Betamax.

Sony’s attempt to corner the burgeoning home video recording market of that time was a remarkable failure. By comparison, the Betamax product was a superior device to JVC’s VHS product; at least in terms of picture quality and sound. But it still flopped and failed to outsell its rival.

And the Betamax has become a by-word for failure in the world of new tech ever since.

Sinclair C5

The year is 1985, the place: Merthyr Tidfil. And the man is Sir Clive Sinclair. Together, these unremarkable elements would combine to create one of the biggest flops in British tech history: the Sinclair C5.

Yes, this was the battery-powered vehicle that nobody in the country wanted to drive. Despite much hype, the C5 was a disaster and sold only around 17,000 units. It cost Sinclair millions in lost revenue and ultimately forced his company, Sinclair Research, into liquidation.

The C5 was a vehicle that had its heart in the right place though; at least it deserves credit for that. But sadly, it still remains an example of abject failure and disappointment. Two things that us Brits wish were Olympic sports because boy, we’d clean up if they were.

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