9 epic gadget fails

In the week Google launches its much-maligned Glass, MT looks at 11 gadgets that were supposed to change the world - but ended up slipping, unnoticed, into obscurity.

by Emma Finamore
Last Updated: 23 Jun 2014

1. Sinclair C5

Launched in 1985 for a shoulder-pad shuddering £399, the Sinclair C5 was touted as the new, trendy mode of transport for everyone from 14 to 40: an electric, futuristic three-wheeling pod, shuttling its users from A to B at 15 miles per hour - the fastest speed allowed in the UK without a driving license. So far, so rad… right?

In reality, the C5 was more Herbie than Delorean, not to mention its absolute-death-trap factor (no proper lights, no helmet, a driver seated mere inches above the road), which led to just 20,000 sales and a wide panning in the press.

The advert for it however, really is rad…

2. MiniDisc

Teenagers of the 90s will remember a brief interlude somewhere between CDs and MP3s where a handful of tech-savvy dads scoured the shelves of Woolworths for the ‘future of audio sound’ - the MiniDisc player/recorder - and stockpiled shelf upon shelf of blank discs, waiting to have hours of high quality music loaded onto them. Alas, most of these discs never fulfilled their mini-destinies, as in its first year Sony managed to sell just 50,000 MiniDisc players.

3. Segway

A self-balancing human transporter with a computer-controlled gyroscopic stabilisation system? How could that possibly fail? Quite a few reasons, it turns out. Fans of Arrested Development will know the inherent hilarity at the sight of a grown-up riding one of these things, but more importantly, no-one actually needed them. Almost as importantly, they were banned from both pavements and roads.

The fate of Jimi Heselden, the millionaire owner of the Segway Company, did nothing to boost PR: he plummeted to his death off the edge of a cliff in 2010, while driving one of the machines.

4. Betamax

Ah, the great Videotape Format War of the late 70s-80s. We remember it well. But why did VHS emerge victorious, over the higher quality Betamax?

Not only were they cheaper, but VHS tapes could record far longer than Betamax, meaning you could get more Magnum PI for your buck. And with that moustache, it really was no contest.

5. The Squarial

Before broadcasting bigger boys Sky waded across the pond and bullied the UK's BSB into joining their gang to form BSkyB, the two companies' satellite systems - the amazingly named  (and shaped) Squarial and the much less exciting Sky satellite dish - were in direct competition in the UK. Essentially, both sides suffered heavy (financial) losses during this battle for consumers’ hearts, and were forced to merge, with Murdoch and his boring round satellite dishes emerging as leader. 

6. Nokia N-Gage

Basically a Gameboy that doubled up as a phone, and not in a good way.

7. Gizmondo

With an alleged mafia leader at its helm, arrested on suspicion of - among other things - grand theft auto, cocaine and illegal gun possession, and drink driving, this handheld games console had the makings of a cult hit when it launched in 2005. However, even endorsement from Jensen Button couldn't save the Gizmondo from being discontinued just a year into its young life. 

8. Microsoft Zune

One word: iPod. Nine years earlier.

And finally….

9. Google Glass 

After what feels like decades of hype, Google officially launched its Glass this week – but only for 24 hours, and only in the US, and only to adults. We’re sure when (/if) it finally launches properly, Glass will be an initial hit with tech geeks the world over: unfortunately, though, while some people think it makes them look sci-fi, MT thinks it makes them look idiotic. The novelty value of the titanium monobrow will wear off faster than a hand stamp to the local Star Trek convention.

Wearing a $1,500 computer on your face? No-one likes a show-off. Or a walking CCTV system. 

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime