Complex Made Simple

Innovation bust: These 5 tech products aimed big but failed just as greatly

With thousands of new tech products created around the world every year, there often come a few with great aspirations, wanting to be the next iPhone or PlayStation.

More often than not, a majority of these get by reasonably off mediocre earnings, while few succeed Sometimes, there will come a service or device that aims big but ends up failing as greatly as it had aspired to Here are 5 devices from recent history that reached for the stars but barely made it past the stratosphere

With thousands of new tech products created around the world every year, there often come a few with great aspirations, wanting to be the next iPhone or PlayStation. More often than not, a majority of these get by reasonably off mediocre earnings, while few succeed. Sometimes, there will come a service or device that aims big but ends up failing instead.

The annals of history are filled with products like these, technological marvels that failed due to technical errors, lukewarm customer reception, ill-conceived designs, and other reasons. 

Here are 5 devices from recent history that reached for the stars but barely made it past the stratosphere. 

1. Google Glass
First unveiled in 2012, the augmented reality (AR) headset looked like it was plucked right out of a sci-fi film. When you were done watching the concept video (below) Google used to showcase its device, you were bound to be amazed.

The video showed off what a day in the life of a Google Glass user could be like, with features often reserved to our smartphone screens now hovering around us in real space as computer imagery: map routes, video calls, the weather forecast, and more. It was truly groundbreaking. 

Then came the price tag: $1,500 for early access users. Soon after, controversy. Given that the headset served as an incognito video recorder at all times, it created awkward situations in social scenarios. Some restaurants and public establishments outright banned its use in their premises for privacy reasons. It died a quick death in 2015, though it served to excite and inspire the tech world about the prospect of a well-thought out AR headset that could improve our lives. 

Google retooled the device for enterprises, intended for use in construction and medicine, for example, and the latest edition retails for $999.

2. Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Many of us remember Samsung’s ‘explosive’ phablet from 2016 – explosive for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. The Note 7 was an unassuming threat at first. It was the company’s customary annual installment in the Note line, it was slightly bigger, better, and faster, as is usually the case with smartphone releases by now. 

Reviews were solid, publications often recommended it as a solid pick for someone looking for a larger smartphone. Eventually, however, most of the publications would have to retract their statements. 

That’s because Samsung Note 7 devices had defective batteries and a design that didn’t properly accommodate said batteries, which could cause the energy storage units to suddenly combust and explode. This was such a problem that airline outright banned them on their flights. 

The whole debacle cost Samsung $2.3 billion in lost profits. Luckily for the company, its overall smartphone sales remained strong, especially in following years, so the Korean phone maker did not suffer in the long run.  

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3. Virtual Boy 

Image: Evan Amos

Before the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR came an obscure failure of a VR headset known as the Virtual Boy in 1995. Designed and produced by Nintendo, the video game company behind successful launches such as the Gameboy and NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), the headset was misleadingly advertised as being a VR headset, when in fact it created a monochromatic (red/black) illusion of 3-dimensional depth (much like the 3D you experience in cinemas, but much, much more crude). 

Simply, 90s technology was nowhere near being able to handle what Nintendo had envisioned, and the Virtual Boy was a failure for the company. The good news is that it got the world thinking about VR. 

4. Segway

Hailed by many (such as Steve Jobs) as the next big tech to emerge at the turn of the millennium, the two-wheeled personal transportation device wanted to be the next big thing after walking. It’s safe to say it failed.

While certainly an interesting technology for urban travel and the first-last mile issue, it looked socially awkward to many, and was instead relegated to policemen, mall security and tourists.

After changing owners many times, the company finally ended production this year, as reported by the Fast Company.

Read: With AR, even a small office can become a lavish workspace worthy of a CEO

5. Windows 8

Released in 2012 during the tablet craze two years after the launch of the iPad, it was all too clear what Microsoft was attempting with its latest OS. 

The much-derided “Metro” tile interface discarded a UI many had grown to love for over a decade, with its Start button, desktop icons, and taskbar. It was clear the Metro interface was intended for use with tablets, with the big clickable tiles and large text. Maybe Microsoft thought that tablets would be the future of personal computing – we can’t know for sure. All we know is that the company overestimated people’s demand for tablets like their Surface line and that by haphazardly creating an OS that worked on both desktop computers and tablets, they ended up alienating their core customers. 

They eventually rectified their mistake by release their next OS iteration, Windows 10, which was better received.