If you subscribed to a magazine in 2000, there was a decent chance you were sent a CueCat, and an even better chance you never used it. The CueCat was a barcode scanner that you plugged into your computer. The idea was that users would scan ads in magazines and thus be shepherded magically to the advertiser's website. If it sounds like a needlessly cumbersome way to use the Internet, that's because it is! Fortunately, the CueCat was put down for good in 2001.
The 3Com Audrey, in many ways Chumby's precursor, had grand designs as an "internet appliance" when it was released back in 2000. It was a touchscreen device that could play music and video, check email, and sync with up to two Palm PDAs. Unfortunately, it also ended up costing more than a comparable notebook—and its usefulness was unclear in a home when more than one computer meant "buy an extra phone line." Audrey burst along with the Internet bubble in 2001.
I still remember the hype around Dean Kamen's Segway when it was code-named Ginger, and was supposed to change everything about the way we lived forever. Whoops! Turns out it was a $3000 scooter for mall cops and guided tours. It was a great feat of engineering, sure, and its tech probably has changed robotics and other fields forever. But the product itself never lived up to its enormous promise.
Sony Clié PEG-NZ90
The Clié was a "Personal Entertainment Organizer," which is a fancy way of saying that it was a multimedia PDA. An $800 multimedia PDA. What's the point of being the most advanced Palm OS PDA at a time when no one really wanted PDAs? Its death in 2005 was a harbinger of the demise of the personal digital assistant age.
Iomega had their core competence in storage, but that didn't stop them from trying to get in on the digital music gold rush back in 2001. HipZip was a music player created to push Iomega's PocketZip discs. Like the overarching idea of tiny removable media for audio players that the record companies got so excited about, the HipZip and its discs never caught on. Within a year both were shipped to the proprietary-format graveyard.
Olympus Eye-Trek FMD700
The Eye-Trek's main purpose was to
ruin your eyeballs forever
emulate a 52-inch TV by plunking two 1.5-inch LCD screens into Geordi La Forge's visor. The supposed benefit was portability, but the specs came attached to a cumbersome control box and a mess of cables. All that, and you still had to connect the Eye-Trek to a portable DVD player or laptop for the video source. Later versions of the same technology were equally migraine-inducing, so it's nice to see that we've finally given up on the "watching things on your nose" category.
Xybernaut Poma Wearable PC
Let's assume for a second that wearing a computer is actually a good idea, and not an impractical fiasco that invites ridicule and regular poundings. Even in that fantasy world, the Xybernaut Wearable PC was still a woefully underpowered device marketed by con men who were later indicted for securities fraud.
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IBM Deskstar 75GXP
Widely nicknamed the Deathstar by its legion of dissatisfied customers, IBM's 75GB hard drive had such high crash rates that IBM was hit with a class action lawsuit in 2001. They sold the business to Hitachi the following year and settled the suit in 2005, but that didn't get anyone their data back.
The iDrive was supposed to be a brilliant way to control all of the comfort and information aspects of the BMW experience when it came out in 2001, but instead it became the laughingstock of the car world. It was apparently sluggish and extremely unintuitive, making a mockery of good UI design. BMW worked hard to fix it, but its bad reputation was hardest to live down.
Monster M1000 HDTV HDMI Cable
Monster says these HDMI cables are "future ready," which is to say they work great with massive-bandwidth video and audio formats that don't exist yet. It's probably even true! So if you want to spend gobs of money to make sure that, in the year 2024, you won't have to stock up on cables again—assuming of course that we're still using wires and that HDMI is still the connector of choice—hell, go for it. I'd rather pay $5 per cable, each and every year until we just go wireless.
Sony Qualia-017 MiniDisc Player
Say you're Sony. What do you do when the iPod has been beating your ass for three years and your weird little proprietary disc format is swiftly losing the hearts and minds of the American digital music enthusiast? You introduce a $1900 solid brass MiniDisc player, that's what! I guess it's better than hitting consumers over the head repeatedly with a soiled diaper, but not by much.
It was a phone, a gaming system, and a taco all in one. It was awkward to hold, hard to use and prone to freezing up. And when it was put out of its misery in 2005, we collectively shrugged. No one ever cared about n-Gage, and when it came back as a short-lived gaming platform for Nokia phones, no one cared even more.
Microsoft Spot Watches
Microsoft's determined effort to put a computer on your wrist fizzled out in 2008, but not after a lot of time and money went into cutting deals with Fossil, Suunto and Swatch to make these "smart" watches. Users could access MSN Direct news, weather and more for a monthly subscription—all of which could also be done with a much less painfully humiliating way using computers and, eventually, smartphones. (The MSN Direct network's only fleeting success was with Garmin GPS units, but that will soon be discontinued, too.)
Sony NW-HD1 Audio Player
In 2004, Sony was so enamored of its ATRAC3 format that they released this Network Walkman that didn't offer any MP3, WAV or WMA playback. Instead, NW-HD1 owners had to use Sony's software to convert their music files to ATRAC3 and transfer them to their music player, an unnecessary and debilitating hassle that helped the iPod widen its already sizable lead.
I'd love to put the original DIVX disc on this list, but it was released in the '90s. Flexplay's a good stand-in, though, another self-destructing disposable DVD format turned into landfill fodder by Netflix, streaming video and common sense.
CableCard was intended to open up all consumer electronics to the joys of digital cable (particularly HDTV), but it ended up doing the exact opposite. The FCC copped to as much recently. We did get TiVo HD out of the deal, but its execution retarded living-room innovation for at least half a decade, and any capability that might truly change the way we interact with our home theaters—such as letting your Xbox 360 or PS3 act as a DVR, or serve up the cable on demand we already pay for—is still a pipe dream at this point.
Universal Media Disc
I understand Sony wanting to give the PSP its own special proprietary data format, I really do. But did they really expect me to buy movies on UMD? Limited storage meant that bonus footage had to largely be stripped from UMD releases, and exclusive PSP compatibility meant no one developed content for UMD anyway. Even Sony's giving up on the technology, opting instead for flash memory in the PSPGo.
Windows Smart Display
Originally introduced as Mira at CES in 2002, this was what Microsoft anticipated to be the "cordless phone" revolution in the PC business. Just like your main phone is plugged into the wall, but you had a cordless handset with you on the couch, so would you leave your computer plugged into the wall, and have a cordless touchscreen to keep an eye on your emails and such. What? You are thinking that perhaps, by 2002, Microsoft should have ditched the "cordless" metaphor and moved onto the "wireless" one? You're right, they were wrong, and the $900 dumb tablet, which was too slow to stream video and locked up your actual PC when in use, was put out to pasture by 2004.
Motorola Rokr E1 iTunes Phone
Before the iPhone was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, the Motorola Rokr E1 hit the scene as a phone that played your iTunes. Steve even introduced it himself, along with the very first iPod Nano. However, by the time he shipped the Nano—at the same time Moto shipped the Rokr—Apple had very clearly disassociated itself with the phone. Among its problems—and there were many—the Rokr maxxed out at 100 songs, had torturously slow download times, and couldn't play music and function at normal speeds at the same time. It remains the only non-Apple-branded portable device to support the FairPlay DRM, though.
Kodak EasyShare One Wi-Fi Camera
The Kodak EasyShare One was the first consumer camera to feature Wi-Fi capability, and for that it should be applauded. On the other hand, if they'd waited until they had the technology right they may have avoided the incredibly slow start-up time, the awful battery life and the plain bad pictures it took. Let's just say, there was never an EasyShare Two.
Concord Eye-Q Go Wireless Digital Camera
The Eye-Q was the first Bluetooth digital camera, and also probably the slowest. Even if you were willing to endure the agonizing 15 minutes it took to download 7MB of images, the pictures you were left with were as unsightly as the camera itself.
Gizmondo was a gaming system with GPS and Bluetooth support and a camera. It also had 128-bit graphics and played music and movies. Sounds good! Worked terribly. No games, awful battery life and poor marketing killed the Gizmondo back in early 2006, around the time its co-founder killed his $2 million Ferrari Enzo on the Pacific Coast Highway.
This was the first dedicated Blu-ray player on the market, released in June 2006 to compete with Toshiba's HD-XA1 HD DVD player. Neither machine worked well at launch, but the Samsung—which suffered slow loading times, didn't always like the discs you put inside it and cost $1000—was definitely the loser of the two. We're still not certain the best format won.
The Finger Drum Mousepad
Just think: At some point there was a meeting where someone pitched this idea, and lots of other people agreed with it, and then they all spent actual human money to manufacture and market it. Either that meeting was run by Neil Peart, or mousepad executives ain't what they used to be.
Sony VN-CX1A Mouse/VoIP Phone
Just because you can shove two functions into one device doesn't mean you should. In fact, you generally shouldn't! It's also a little screwy that this was marketed to business people, since they're the ones most likely to need to talk and use their computer at the same time.
NeoTune iPod Dockable Headphones
I suppose if you didn't have any pockets, or hands or self-respect, these might be a viable alternative. But I'll assume that you have at least one of those three things, and invite you to join me in mocking this ridiculous contraption.
Logitech FreePulse Bluetooth Headphones
Bluetooth products for the iPod were overly complicated, prone to failure and desperate to solve a headphone-wire problem that simply no one suffered from. Which explains why there's essentially no mainstream use of Bluetooth headphones and stereo adapters, today.
Rhymes with "thrive," but did the opposite. In 2006, Viiv was Intel's oddly named stab at a living-room PC platform. In 2007, Intel pulled the plug after being unable to secure OEM support or consumer interest. Nobody really knew what it did.
Feel Bright Light Sun Visor:
The Feel Bright Light was perfect for people who wanted to spend $200 to a) own a sun visor with built-in photosynthetic light and/or b) look like a golfing hooker all day.
This is a sex toy for your dog. A sex. Toy. For. Your. Dog.
More terrifying than a convention of Fat Elvis impersonators (and with less of a target audience than anything possibly sold in the giftshops of Graceland), this herky jerky robotic head was $349 worth of pure nightmare fuel. Especially if you… uh… pulled the skin off its face.
Torpedo Entertainment Projector
Back in 2007, we declared this to be the "world's crappiest projector," and I'm proud to report that the Torpedo has retained its title. It was more of a toy than a legitimate gadget, back in that thankfully brief time when toymakers thought kids would be fooled by terrible-looking projectors.
There were never more than eight PS2 games a year designed for the EyeToy, and the majority of those ended up being hugely unpopular. Whatever functionality it had was either limited or unappealing or both, and now the only new titles EyeToy owners are left with have names like EyeToy Play: PomPom Party. So maybe it's not all bad.
Apple TV is one of the few black marks on Apple's record this decade. Unfortunately, their walled garden approach to a media center just doesn't do enough things right to make it a standout product. The recent 3.0 update was the most recent disappointment, especially since there are many great devices that each do a better job with most of its video functionality, including the Xbox 360, the LG BD390 Blu-ray player, the Roku box, TiVo HD and the Asus O!Play.
IoGear Wireless USB Hub:
One of the first Wireless USB offerings, the IoGear Wireless USB hub had a complicated set-up, limited range, and took nearly 5X longer to transfer 100MB of MP3s than USB 2.0 in our review. For $200, it was an overpriced and clumsy stab at what could've been a great technology.
Wattgate AudioGrade Outlet:
It should be a crime to charge $147 for a wall socket, but so far no one's prosecuted Wattgate. Here's a tip about "audio grade" for outlets: There is no such thing.
Our succinct advice at the time we first reviewed the Q9m was that if you bought it, you were dumb. Seriously, when Verizon Wireless is trying to skin over a phone OS because it's too annoying to use, you know there's a problem.
Taser Holster/MP3 player:
Even if it were a competent MP3 player—and with only two buttons, it's not—this would be a difficult premise to get behind. Unless you're the type who needs to blast some Judas Priest to get amped for a good tasing, in which case sure, go for it, right after you get that professional help you so desperately need.
Sony PRS-700 Touchscreen Ebook Reader:
Sony decided that the paper-like e-ink wasn't enough of a draw for an ebook reader, so they decided to "fix" it with a touchscreen and LED side lighting. Which gave the PRS-700's lovely paper-like e-ink screen a nasty case of glare, topped off with feeble, uneven lighting, kind of a problem if being read is your sole purpose in this world. Worst of all, when the tactic was bashed for its obvious flaws, they kept on doing it.
Things that aren't improved by being extra small: steaks, neckties, teacup handles, computer monitors, novelty checks, optical mouses. A for effort, Z-Nano, but F for usability.
iLuv i9500 iPod Dock With 4 CD Players:
Man, you know what would be a dumb idea? An iPod dock with a CD player. Because, you know, you've already got the iPod in there. That'd be dumb, right? Okay, now multiply that dumbness by four, and you've got the iLuv i9500.
A bit of a cheat here, since it debuted in 1998, but Sony's been torturing us with variations of its "why won't it just die already??" flash-memory format throughout the decade, so we call it fair game. Let's run down every iteration: Memory Stick, Memory Stick Select, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Pro Duo, Memory Stick Pro-HG Duo, Memory Stick Micro, Memory Stick XC. Whew! Exhausting, confusing and redundant. The real question is, how many of those formats exist because the engineers screwed up on the older formats? I'm sure some of you card-carrying IEEE members can figure it out.
Digital Photo Frame Pencil Cup:
Really, digital photo frame anything. This one's just particularly awful.
The CatGenie really does grant three wishes, assuming those wishes are:
1. For a litter box that does all the cleaning for me automatically!
2. For that automated litter box to be a gigantic, slow, smelly, expensive, power-sucking monstrosity.
3. Intense buyer's remorse.
A portable satellite radio player is a good idea, in theory. Sirius's first stab at it, however, wasn't very well thought out. The biggest problem was that to access a live satellite signal, the S50 had to be hooked up to a car or dock—which kind of undermined the whole "portable" aspect. If you wanted to take your content with you, you had to download it, but there was only 1GB of memory to play with.
JVC GD-463D10 3D LCD TV:
If the TV industry wants us all to own 3D sets one day, they've gotten off on the wrong foot with this headache-inducing JVC monitor. It's over $9,000, the image looks terrible, there's no content for it, and it only comes with two measly pairs of polarized glasses.
Garmin Nuvifone G60:
The Nuvifone was dead on arrival when it was released this fall. As much as I respect the cojones it takes to charge $300 for a handset whose main selling point—navigation—is available elsewhere as a free or cheap app, Garmin's decision to have the rest of the phone's functions be consistently terrible sealed its unfortunate fate. Our review summed it up perfectly: Do Not Buy.
The hardware's not terrible, but the software earns this phone the unique distinction of actually managing to make Windows Mobile 6.5 worse. In short, as we said in our review, the Omnia II is a disaster.
If you want to make a camera that takes 640x480 SD video and 0.3MP stills—not much better than some low-end cameraphones—that's your business. And if you want to make that camera waterproof, but only up to six feet, well, not much I can do to stop you. But when you charge $400 for that piece of crap, that makes Brian Lam angry. And when Brian Lam is angry, we're the ones who suffer. So thank you very &#;@$% much.
We picked on the TwitterPeek a lot when it was announced, and for good reason! It's a $200 device that does only one thing. That's not so bad, except that the one thing is tweeting, which you can do on any mobile phone or PC. Not only that, but it doesn't work particularly well. So once and for all: TwitterPeek is the most useless gadget ever, and I'm glad it came out in time to make this list.