Poor Alexander Graham Bell. The telephone he invented back in 1876 suddenly isn't good enough. At least according to Apple, which announced in January that it is "reinventing the phone" with its iPhone, which ships on June 29. (See our review of the iPhone prototype - full review to come.)
The iPhone combines three products: a mobile phone, an iPod music player and a PDA for retrieving email and web browsing. The device has a touchscreen that Apple CEO Steve Jobs says is the "most revolutionary user interface since the mouse”. He predicts that Apple will sell 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008. (Listen to the PC Advisor podcast , 'Mobile phones - business or beautiful', to hear our view on Apple's new handset.)
But the iPhone isn't the first tech product to generate a deafening amount of buzz before its availability in stores. Here's our list of the most-hyped tech products of all time. Some thrived, others died, but all generated more than their fair share of ink.
1984 - Apple Macintosh
An unforgettable Super Bowl ad kicked off the marketing campaign for the original Apple Macintosh computer. Dubbed ‘1984’, the ad featured a female runner in red shorts and a white tank top carrying a hammer, which she throws at a Big Brother-like image that was supposed to represent IBM. Two days later, the Macintosh went on sale and, like the ‘1984’ ad, it was a big hit.
Since its debut in January 1984, the Mac has gone through many design changes, but it has kept its rebel image. The Mac made two other appearances at the Super Bowl, with a 1985 ‘Lemmings’ ad and a 1999 ad featuring HAL the talking computer.
1993 - Intel Pentium chip
The first microprocessors were identified by such numbers as 286, 386 and 486. Intel changed that forever with the Pentium, the first chip to become a household name.
Intel hired outside experts to come up with the name Pentium, which was a term Intel could copyright. Intel Inside television ads urged PC buyers to request Pentium processors. Soon Intel sped past rivals AMD and Motorola in sales of high-end desktop processors. You could argue that Intel was too successful with the Pentium. None of Intel's follow-on processors - Celeron, Xeon or Itanium - ever reached the popularity of the Pentium, which at its peak was as synonymous with PCs as Kleenex is with tissues.
1993 - Apple Newton
Former Apple CEO John Sculley will go down in history for coining the phrase ‘personal digital assistant’. And he used the term excessively to market the Apple Newton, which Sculley claimed would be the "defining technology of the digital age" when it began shipping in August 1993.
An early tablet PC, the Apple Newton Message Pad was supposed to usher in a new era of handwriting recognition. Instead, Doonsbury and the Simpsons mocked its quirky interface. The Apple Newton was too big to fit in a pocket or purse. And at nearly £1,000 a pop, it was too expensive to appeal to a mass audience. The Apple Newton was marketed from 1993 to 1998.
1994 - IBM OS/2 Warp
It had a Star Trek reference in its name, and actress Kate Mulgrew, aka Capt. Kathryn Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager, as master of ceremonies at its launch. But that wasn't enough to propel OS/2 Version 3.0 into the stratosphere.
IBM's alternative to Microsoft's Windows operating system never caught on with the masses. Not that IBM didn't try to promote this hybrid of Windows and Unix. IBM ran ‘It's a Warped World’ ads, which featured hippies talking about the software's graphics. But it wasn't enough to make the operating system hip.
Originally designed jointly by IBM and Microsoft, IBM eventually took over OS/2 development in the early 1990s, when Microsoft began to focus on Windows 95. Big Blue marketed OS/2 from 1987 until 2005, and finally cut off support at the end of 2006.
1995 - Microsoft Windows 95
The opening riff of the Rolling Stone's classic ‘Start Me Up’ brings back memories of Windows 95 to anyone who was a techie in the mid 1990s. You couldn't escape the ubiquitous Windows 95 television ads, which were part of a $300 million campaign to launch the new operating system. Microsoft even lit up the Empire State Building in the colours of its logo, draped a 300-foot Windows 95 banner down Toronto's CN Tower and paid for the whole print run of 1.5 million copies of the Times of London. Computer stores opened at midnight on August 24, 1995, to allow customers to buy the software. Microsoft sold 40 million copies of Windows 95 in the first year.
1996 - Oracle's Network Computer
Remember the NC? It was supposed to unseat the PC on corporate desktops. At least according to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who is no stranger to hype when it comes to his software company, yachting or trashing rival executives, particularly Bill Gates.
The NC was a small diskless device reminiscent of a dumb terminal. It was supposed to pull applications from network servers, but networks at the time weren't fast enough to make the NC unseat the PC. When Ellison unveiled the NC in New York City, he actually lit a PC on fire. Too bad the market for NCs wasn't that hot. By 1998, Oracle's NCI spinoff was focused on interactive television. Renamed Liberate Technologies, it was last heard from in 2006, when it was trying to buy a trucking company.
2001 - The Segway
Speculation was rampant before award-winning inventor Dean Kamen unveiled his mysterious device code-named Ginger. Tech industry heavyweights including Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Apple's Steve Jobs and venture capitalist John Doerr predicted the device would revolutionise the transportation industry.
Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalf predicted on national television that it would be more important than the Internet. Imagine everyone's surprise when Ginger was a battery-powered scooter!
Although it has a cool name - the Segway Human Transporter - it failed to live up to predictions that it was a backpack-powered flying machine. Six years later, the Segway hasn't caused cities to be redesigned or eliminated US dependency on foreign oil. As of September 2006, only 23,500 Segways had been sold.
2002 - Microsoft Tablet PC
Bill Gates is convinced there's a better way to take notes than with a pad of paper and a pen, but his vision of a tablet PC and digital pen has yet to catch on. Not that he hasn't tried to convert business leaders.
In 2002, six months before Microsoft unveiled its first Tablet PC, Gates gave the 100 attendees at Microsoft's annual CEO Summit prototypes of the Tablet PCs to use during the conference. Despite a big launch in New York City, the Tablet PC failed to catch on beyond a few vertical markets, such as healthcare and insurance. In its first year of shipments, Microsoft said 500,000 Tablet PCs were sold, representing a tiny fraction of overall notebook sales.
In a 2006 interview, Gates admitted that Tablet PCs were still "not as mainstream yet as we expect it will be."