20 Worst Technology Failures of the 2000s
For every great device that’s invented and every impressive piece of software that’s unveiled, there are hundreds more that turn out to be big failures. With the practically endless array of new gadgets and services that are unveiled each year, it can be difficult in the moment to separate the wheat from the chaff and determine which products are destined for greatness and which are more likely to go down in the history books as some of the worst technology failures. But there are plenty of products that manufacturers and critics alike thought were headed for greatness — and were sorely disappointed to realize they’d missed the mark. Ahead, refresh your memory on 20 of the worst technology failures of the 2000s.
1. America Online
Technically, America Online was launched in 1989. But at its peak in 2001, the company was worth $240 billion. You probably still remember the free service disks that cluttered your mail, weekend newspapers, and magazines. The company was dominant in the 1990s, but when broadband spread and it became easier for people to access the internet, users realized that AOL’s services weren’t really that great.
2. Apple PowerMac G4 Cube
Launched in 2000, The PowerMac G4 Cube was an underpowered computer with a hefty price tag. The device was designed by Jony Ive, and featured an 8-inch cube suspended in acrylic, so that when you looked at it from across the room, it appeared to be floating. However, the $1,600 price tag made it a tough sell, and Apple discontinued the device after it had been on the market for only a year.
3. BlackBerry PlayBook
Launched in 2011, the BlackBerry PlayBook failed to capitalize on BlackBerry’s strengths: its email and messaging capabilities. Neither functionality was available on the tablet, which failed to stand up to the competition or even to convince BlackBerry devotees that it was a worthwhile purchase.
Introduced in 2000, the CueCat was a plastic cat with an infrared sensor. You’d plug it in to your computer’s PS2 port and scan barcodes to go to a related website. Digital Convergence, the company behind CueCat, mailed them to subscribers of magazines like Wired, and the technology was hailed as a revolution — until it was discovered that the device was collecting information on its users. Hackers posted instructions on how to keep the device from sending data back to Digital Convergence, and the company threatened to sue those hackers. The device never really took off, in part because it was tethered to your computer, unlike the QR code scanners we all have on our smartphones.
5. DataPlay Disc
When it was introduced in 2001, the DataPlay Disc was met with excitement from the tech press. The technology, which consisted of a small disc that could hold 500MB of data, was unveiled at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. There, it won a Best of Show award and attracted deals and attention from manufacturers that wanted to make players and studios that wanted to distribute their content via the format. But DataPlay went bankrupt in 2002 and was unable to deliver on the big launch everyone envisioned.
6. Eyetop Wearable DVD player
Launched in 2004, the Eyetop Wearable DVD player integrated glasses equipped with a 320×240 LCD screen in the right eyepiece, which was meant to simulate a 14-inch screen. If you wanted to watch a DVD on the glasses, and could stomach the motion sickness that they caused, you’d also need to carry around the included DVD player and battery pack.
7. Google Wave and Google Buzz
Google tried repeatedly to launch a successful social networking platform, but failed with both Google Wave and Google Buzz. Google Buzz, an early predecessor to Google+, failed to catch on despite a close integration with Gmail, and Google Wave didn’t succeed in trying to offer a compelling alternative to IM and email tools.
8. HD DVD
Introduced in 2006, HD DVD is one of the more well-known technology failures of the 2000s. HD DVD was an optical disc format that was meant to replace the DVD. Even though lots of people bought expensive players and recorders, and more than 400 movies were released in the format, the industry eventually chose Blu-ray over HD DVDs. HD DVD was backed by Toshiba, but electronics companies including Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony all chose Blu-ray instead.
9. Internet Explorer
Microsoft’s web browser became notorious for its poor security practices, starting with IE 6, which was introduced in 2001. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) told users to pick any browser other than Internet Explorer 6 if they wanted to avoid infecting their computers with malware. The group said that people who used IE 6 were much more likely than users of other browsers to get infected with the Scob or Download.Ject keylogger, which would steal personal information.
10. Microsoft’s Tablet PC
In 2001, Bill Gates unveiled the Tablet PC and positioned it as the next big step forward for the PC. The idea was to offer a Windows XP-based convertible laptop that supported pen input and featured handwriting and voice recognition functionality. But the device didn’t work well, the form factor was too bulky, the interface wasn’t intuitive enough, and the software wasn’t polished enough.
11. MSN Direct Smart Watches
When they launched in 2004, MSN Direct Smart Watches were ahead of their time. The bulky wearables, which were made by companies including Fossil and Swatch, could show you news, weather information, sports scores, and stock quotes via FM radio waves (with a service fee of $9.99 per month). But they were superfluous given the fact that smartphones could complete all of those functions and more.
Though it may be difficult to imagine now, there was a time when MySpace was the place to be online. In 2005, a year after it was acquired by News Corp., the social network beat Google as the most-visited website in the United States. (It also wasn’t until 2008 that Facebook beat MySpace to be the biggest player in the social networking space.) But MySpace failed to capitalize on its considerable lead. The company made a variety of bad decisions about its interface, user experience, and core features, and eventually fell out of favor as users migrated to Facebook instead.
13. Palm Foleo
Unveiled in 2007 and canceled soon after, Palm Foleo was an underpowered netbook that would make it easier for Palm users to write emails, manage their calendars, and type notes. However, critics noted that it was hard to envision a use case for a device that wasn’t small enough to fit into a pocket, but not fully-featured enough to make it worth carrying around.
Ping was Apple’s attempt to connect the iTunes Store with a social network. That sounded like a good idea, but the social network quickly became a destination for spam, fake accounts, and sketchy links. Apple eventually rethought the strategy and shut the service down, and then added a Facebook integration to iTunes instead.
When it was introduced in 2001, the Segway was hailed as a revolutionary new form of transportation that would replace walking. But the two-wheeled vehicle was expensive, especially compared to how cheap it is to walk or bike around town. Tens of thousands of Segways have sold, but the device is more at home among mall cops and security guards than among young crowds on city streets.
16. Twitter Peek
Unveiled in 2009, the Twitter Peek was a device that offered a single function: enabling you to use Twitter on the go. The device came from Peek, the same company that the year before had released a device that enabled users to check their email. But with real smartphones already on the market, either device was an unnecessary expenditure, especially with the added expense of $99 for a six-month plan or $200 for a lifetime plan.
17. Ultra-mobile PCs
Less a single product and more a category that didn’t quite live up to expectations, ultra-mobile PCs failed to go mainstream. From Sony’s VAIO U to the OWO UMPCs, ultra-mobile PCs were meant to be pocket-friendly Windows devices, but were clunky and impractical, and didn’t do themselves any favors by running Windows Vista. Just a few years after the category was introduced, it was overshadowed by the iPhone and the subsequent revelation that smartphones were a better direction for the mobile world to go.
18. Windows ME
Introduced in 2000, Windows ME was one of Microsoft’s worst Windows releases. It was difficult to install, annoying to run, and prone to crashing. Windows ME arrived shortly after Windows 2000, and was not only unstable but had fewer features than Windows 98 and Windows 2000. It was a tough operating system to sell, and offered users a pretty terrible experience when they tried to install and run it.
19. Windows Vista
Launched in 2007, Vista gained a terrible reputation in short order. Microsoft shipped eight different versions of the operating system, and none of them worked well on machines that had been running Windows XP. Even though Vista introduced a new interface called Aero plus new built-in software like the DVD maker and a universal search function, many users opted to continue running XP rather than upgrade to Vista.
When Microsoft introduced the Zune in 2006, the company’s idea was to take on Apple’s iPod. Zune failed to live up to that goal, and the iPod remained dominant in the market for portable music players. While the first three generations of Zune players didn’t stand up to the competition, Microsoft finally got its act together on the last iteration: the Zune HD. That model featured a better design, higher build quality, and a compelling new interface — but it was too little, too late to save the Zune.