Vaporware - How Machines Will Always Disappoint Us

There's a principle in psychology that says promising something and then taking it away is a bigger disappointment than not knowing about it in the first place. Vaporware is the epitome of this for gadgetheads.

This Gear Diary diary on the Keyport brought back feelings of anger and frustration. If you don't remember, the Keyport was a device that took in six of your keys—custom made—and allowed you to individually *snickt* them out like a switchblade or Swiss Army Knife. Fantastic idea; shit execution.

The company's been showing off their "product" since 2007, and even showed pictures and video of the manufacturing process—a process that's so sophisticated they're able to charge $300 for a set. What did they do with all those $300 pre-orders? Not delivering a product, that's what. In fact, they refunded people's money in 2008, but then didn't get around to returning their keys. Why? We have no idea. After Gear Diary's post went up, a Keyport rep got ahold of him and promised that his keys would be returned and that actual products would be shipping some time between now and the heat death of the universe. Sounds doubtful.

But that's not the only disappointment we've had in the last few years. There was the Palm Foleo, which was actually an interesting idea (an Netbook-like device that connected to your Palm) that may have been slightly too early for its time. It came before the Netbook craze, and died an unseemly death from people who wanted no part of it and shamed Palm into ditching its development. But what of the people who did? The Pre doesn't have enough drying power to soak up those tears, but might be a better choice, market-wise, in the end.

Then there are the things that have been vaporware so much that people stopped caring. Was anybody actually surprised that Duke Nukem Forever was canned because the company ran out of money before their employees were able to switch rendering engines yet another time? Saddened, yes, but surprised? And how about the Phantom game console? They finally managed to deliver the keyboard + mouse part of their product, and even that was like pushing a mattress through a moonroof.

Are we conditioned, as tech lovers, to be accustomed to being let down? Did we care that the $10 Indian laptop turned out to be just something stupid? Or that the $100 laptop idea brought up years ago still hasn't materialized? Or how about a decently-powered laptop that will let you get eight hours of work done? Where's that?

I think we're just so used to our gadgets disappointing us that we'll take what we can get. We don't really care that Microsoft hasn't gotten around to placing all those promised features of Longhorn—which was stripped down to become Vista—into Windows 7. We're just happy they're getting the OS delivered on time. On time! We're grading one of the world's largest software companies on a scale we use to grade Kindergarteners.

Machines Behaving Deadly: A week exploring the sometimes difficult relationship between man and technology.