8 gadget screw-ups of the decade

17th Dec 2009 | 13:00

8 gadget screw-ups of the decade

The least-wanted products of the last 10 years

Palm Foleo, Gizmondo and more

Plenty of things seemed like a good idea at the time, and we don't just mean that bout of heavy-petting from the Christmas party, last night's fifth pint or the chicken kebab - we're talking about some of the biggest mistakes made by the biggest tech companies in the world.

Regrets? Sony, Toshiba, Nokia and many others have had a few since the turn of the millennium, during what we shall call... The Decade of Disaster.

8. Sony UMD movie format, 2005

In Sony's ego-mad world, everyone was going to buy a PSP because it was a new type of PlayStation, then everyone would buy stacks of Sony Pictures films on the convenient, portable, higher-resolution UMD format. The money would have to be piled up in bin liners!

PSP umd

Sadly, the problems with using UMD for films were numerous - it was slow, it hammered the battery, retailers weren't keen on stocking another format, plus the rise in digital distribution - by which we mean stealing things with Bittorrent - made the concept of buying a separate copy of a film to watch on a small screen seem... pointless.

In a time when our DVD collections were reaching peak size, the last thing we wanted to do was to buy Spider-Man 2 on another bloody format.

7. Motorola ROKR E1, 2005

A mobile with built-in iTunes support? This design monstrosity should've been a sensation, but sadly for Motorola, a clunky look, slow interface and astonishingly short-sighted 100 song limit made it seem like a... very bad idea. Presumably much to the relief of Apple, in hindsight.

Motorola rokr

6. Gizmondo, 2005

It was literally a car crash in the end, with company boss Stefan Eriksson smashing his Ferrari, legging it, and eventually being convicted for embezzlement and illegally owning a gun.

The Gizmondo story was equally made-for-TV - a celebrity-packed launch, a store right on London's fancy Regent's Street and adverts all over the place. But the gaming phone had no big game franchises and the flagship shop remained defiantly empty.

Gizmondo store

A cheaper, ad-funded Gizmondo model arrived later and could've done big business, and as a cheap GPS device it deserved to at least whittle out a little niche of its own, but the Giz soon became a laughing stock that'd burned too much money to be able to carry on.

5. Palm Foleo, 2007

There must be a few Palm executives who still deliberately harm themselves with regret over the decision to axe the Palm Foleo, which was to be a stripped-down ultraportable laptop with a 10" screen, running Linux to keep costs down and boot times fast.

Sound familiar? Yes, rather similar to the netbooks that rule today's world with their tiny plastic fists, only the Foleo would be synched with a Palm mobile for extra mobility points.

Palm foleo

The decision to cancel the Foleo's release was taken in September of 2007 - a few weeks before Asus launched the Eee PC and changed the course of laptop history. Poor old Palm. Always the bridesmaid. The fat bridesmaid.

3G video, Nokia N-Gage and more

4. 3G video calling, 2005

The poor old mobile networks, fresh from being ripped-off by the UK government to the tune of £22bn in its "sale" of the 3G spectrum, hit on a great way to recoup costs - massively expensive video calls!

Suddenly every new mobile came with two cameras, your usual one on the back, plus a low-res one on the front so you could video talk to people like you're on the set of Space 1999.

3G video calling

Did anyone ever make a video call in the end? We think the Queen may have made one once, during a state visit to Nokia's HQ, but that was about it.

3. Audio CD DRM, 2005

One of the most spectacular failures of DRM was Sony BMG's attempt to make us install software audio players on our computers should we want to play our legitimately-purchased new disc on a PC.

The problem was, us tech-savvy music lovers automatically ripped every CD we bought, believing having a digital copy to be an undeniable right that came alongside the purchase.

CD drm

Sony pulled it, recalled the infected discs, and in the end, the affront of being told you couldn't play a CD on your computer without first installing a piece of software only served to speed up the demise of the physical CD.

2. Nokia N-Gage, 2003

Not only was N-Gage a large slice of disappointment, it even spawned a monstrously successful internet "meme" laughing at the thing - sidetalking. Oh, the fun we had with bananas, shoes and TV remote controls back in 2003.

n-Gage

Talking into the side of your N-Gage was humiliating enough, but it was having to open the battery compartment and remove the battery to switch games that caused most people to label N-Gage a poorly-thought out piece of kit no one wanted.

It had a version of Tomb Raider for it, but then so did the Sega Saturn. But we're in the wrong decade for that one.

1. HD DVD, 2006

We could argue for hours over the need for a high-def movie format - so the introduction of two of the bloody things, well before most people in the UK even had an HDTV, was extremely bizarre.

A polite meeting between both camps beforehand could surely have saved millions of pounds and the thousands of eggs that ended on the faces of everyone involved in the HD DVD vs Blu-Ray format war.

HD dvd

In the end, the death of HD DVD was pronounced by Warner Brothers, which announced its intention to go Blu-ray-only on 4 January 2008. HD DVD then publicly collapsed in the space of a few weeks, as other film studios followed suit in dropping support. Toshiba joined the Blu-ray brigade shortly after.

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Liked this? Then check out 8 bits of everyday tech we won't use in a decade

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