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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.

Action GameMaster

Active Enterprises was a gaming company that valued quantity over quality, releasing cartridges for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Sega Genesis jammed with 52 games, each of dubious quality. The Action GameMaster, which Active announced in 1994, was no deviation from the philosophy. The portable game system would not only play its own cartridges but would also handle NES, Super NES, and Sega Genesis games (with the help of adaptors), as well as CD-ROM games, via another adaptor. Contributing to the kitchen-sink approach were a TV tuner add-on and car and AC adaptors. (Even with all that functionality, Active claimed that the GameMaster would have "lightweight portability".)

Despite a wildly enthusiastic press kit distributed at 1994's Consumer Electronics Show, the Action GameMaster failed to materialise. Small wonder, considering it would never have been able to licence the required hardware from Nintendo or Sega. And even its own concept design revealed that Active's concept of 'portable' was clearly different from the rest of the gaming world's: if the company's claim of a 3.2in LCD could be taken at its word, the design suggested that the Action GameMaster would be at least 10x8in. The company, which was likely banking on a flood of orders that never came, disappeared soon after.

Infinium Phantom

Sometimes a product name is just too perfect. Almost from the moment that Infinium Labs' January 2003 press release announced the Phantom, a console that would "outperform the Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2, and GameCube", it encountered skepticism.

The release was chock-full of tech marketing jargon yet remained entirely free of details about the Phantom itself, while promising a March unveiling and a November launch.

Details did emerge soon after: The Phantom was slated to be, in essence, a PC running the embedded version of Windows XP, which would allow gamers to play PC games, but the primary hook was Phantom's on-demand system, where subscribers could download any game they wanted over an internet connection. At one stage, the company even planned to give the console away free to anyone who subscribed to a two-year service.

Bloggers and forum posters had a field day with the Phantom, deriding the lack of a physical product or any reliable information on Infinium.

Imagine everyone's surprise when a Phantom unit was actually shown at 2004's E3 tradeshow, complete with the wireless LapBoard (a keyboard and mouse that fit on a tilting tray), and a new launch date, which, of course, came and went with no Phantom.

A revamped Phantom was on display at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, but a string of missed and reset release dates eroded any goodwill that its public appearances may have generated. Later in the year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) gave notice that it would bring charges against former Infinium CEO Timothy Roberts. The SEC filing several months later revealed that Infinium had lost over $62.7m (£36.3m) in three years, with only $3.5m (£1.75m) going to actual development. A few months after that, Infinium officially ended the Phantom project, changed its name to Phantom Entertainment, and focused its efforts on the LapBoard, which, despite an order from Alienware, has yet to materialise.

NEXT PAGE: The Apple Interactive Television Box

  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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