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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.

Apple Interactive Television Box

These days we watch movies on game consoles, browse websites on our mobile phones, and listen to music on, well, just about anything. But for the longest time so-called convergence was always just out of reach, and the Holy Grail of the convergence craze was interactive television, where couch potatoes could, say, visit a company's website when it was displayed during a commercial, or vote on the outcome of a TV show while watching it. (No, The X Factor hadn't been launched then.)

In 1993, Apple partnered with BT and Belgacom to produce a set-top box to go along with their interactive television services. The Apple Interactive Television Box was a modified 25MHz Macintosh LC-475, and, rather modestly, allowed users to download and watch content (and fast-forward or rewind, similar to today's Sky+). Future plans included interactive gameshows and educational content for children, as well as add-on hardware such as a mouse, a keyboard, and a CD-ROM drive.

In 1994, selected households in the UK and Belgium placed the black set-top box sporting an Apple logo on top of their TVs, and trials began a year later in the US. Apple quickly learned that consumers simply weren't interested in interactive television.

The trials ended, and the Interactive Television Box was shelved. Fast-forward to 2008 (skipping 1996's internet-enabled but failed Apple Pippin @World gaming console), and the company's sleek Apple TV lets you rent HD and standard-definition iTunes Store videos directly from your TV.

Palm Foleo

Palm Computing's founder, Jeff Hawkins, is a lucky guy. What few people have done once - define a product category - he has done twice, first with the original PalmPilot PDA and later with Handspring's Treo smartphone. (Both categories existed before Hawkins' inventions, but Palm's products made them accessible enough for nontechnophiles to latch on to.)

On May 30, 2007, Hawkins went for the hat trick when he announced the Palm Foleo, a $499 (£250) Linux-based sub-laptop designed to synchronise with a smartphone so that business travellers could, among other things, work on documents and email without cramping their thumbs.

Even such notable features as its 1kg and its instant-on feature failed to muster more than a collective 'Why?' from the digerati. Stuck somewhere between a PDA and a notebook in power and size, it seemed to be only an extra device to carry around, with too much feature overlap.

Barely three months after Hawkins presented the Foleo, Palm pulled the plug on it, citing a need to "get our core platform and smartphones done first".

Some people might argue that Hawkins could yet be vindicated, as low-cost, lightweight laptops such as the Asus Eee PC seem to be catching on. Despite being underpowered, they are good enough for some tasks, but not as feature-packed as a full-featured laptop.

  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

NEXT PAGE: Taligent and Microsoft Cairo


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