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The 15 biggest technology failures

Gadgets that didn't revolutionise the world

We've rounded up the top 15 big ideas that were supposed to revolutionise technology, but beyond a few prototypes they never actually appeared. In some cases we're glad they didn't.

Honourable Mentions

Apple Copland

While "Pink" continued to slowly run aground as Apple/IBM's Taligent, Apple still found itself needing an operating system that took a great leap forward from System 7.5. Code-named Copland, this new operating system was to include preemptive multitasking (the type of multitasking we enjoy today, versus the less-efficient cooperative multitasking that earlier versions of the Mac system software offered); a full-colour, shaded interface (up to that point, Macintosh GUIs still echoed their black and white origins); and multiuser capabilities. As time progressed Copland picked up more planned features, such as QuickDraw GX, themes, and user interface improvements, while the development team's productivity dwindled, bogged down by the increasing requirements and the need to get a growing number of developers up to speed.

In 1996, Apple and most notably, CEO Gil Amelio, was referring to Copland in public as the forthcoming System 8, and the usual prerelease hype - including tradeshow demos, T-shirts, and other swag - got into gear. Apple eventually had to give up on the unworkable Copland, with its technologies only starting to appear in Mac OS 8. Apple got its great leap forward a few years later with Mac OS X.

Sky Commuter Cars

What are the persistent, defining visions of the future? Marauding mutants, to be sure, but also jetpacks and flying cars. Though the jetpacks are (mostly) on hold, researchers continue to tease us by working on various kinds of flying cars, envisioning a utopia of uncluttered roadways and conveniently forgetting the first 20 minutes of 'The Fifth Element'.

One such attempt was the N2001C - the Sky Commuter car - a personal vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) plane designed by Flight Innovations. The details are sketchy, but the upshot is that after more than $6m (£3m) in funding, the project was shelved. An eBay auction claiming to be of the last Sky Commuter prototype in existence caused some excitement (and raised some skeptical eyebrows) in January.

Oh, well. No Sky Commuter, but at least there's still the Falx Stalker or the Transition (a light aircraft that folds its wings to drive on the road) to look forward to.

XtremMac MacThrust G4

In 1999, Swedish company Xtrem promised the XtremMac MacThrust G4, an overclocked Macintosh (a rarity in the Mac world) that could hit 1.2GHz. There was just one problem: the fastest PowerPC G4 processor at the time was a mere 500MHz. Xtrem claimed that it could achieve the incredible speed increase by exploiting existing features in Apple's hardware, and, of course, by cooling the daylights out of the CPU.

Xtrem missed its August shipping date, and then its January shipping date. By February the company had relaunched its website and retrenched on specs: The new XtremMac would hit only 1.066GHz. Meanwhile, Mac G4s had climbed to 733MHz, and the few Mac users who weren't skeptics collectively shrugged. If it ever got released, no one noticed.

  1. The gadgets that didn't revolutionise the world
  2. The Amiga Walker PC and Sega VR
  3. Glaze3D Graphics cards
  4. The Atari 2700 and the Secure Digital Music Initiative
  5. Whatever happened to the Action GameMaster
  6. The Apple Interactive Television Box
  7. Taligent and Microsoft Cairo
  8. The saga of Silicon Film EFS-1
  9. What happened to Project Xanadu?
  10. Honourable mentions


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