The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time
They may not have scored a spot in our baker's two dozen of infamy, but these ten products were too flawed to be forgotten.
Apple Newton MessagePad (1994): Yes, we know that the Apple Newton also happens to be number 28 on our list of the 50 greatest gadgets (so no letters, please). But while Apple's innovative concept won kudos, the Newton's execution was lacking, especially in its first version. Aside from its famously awful handwriting recognition, the Newton was too bulky and too expensive for all but Apple acolytes.
Apple Puck Mouse (1998): Introduced with the original iMac, Apple's stylishly round hockey-puck-shaped mouse had only one button (natch), but figuring out where that button was and orienting the mouse without looking down created an ergonomic nightmare. Apple added a small indentation in a later version so you could figure out where to put your finger, but you still had to find the indentation. The puck got chucked a couple years after it was introduced.
Apple Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (1997): Learning nothing from Gateway 2000's fiasco a couple of year's earlier with its 10th Anniversary PC, Apple in 1997 released a specially designed bronze-colored Mac to celebrate its 20th year of making computers. This one came with a Bose sound system and leather palm rests, but it also had a weak processor, no network card, and a slow CD-ROM drive (because a faster one couldn't be mounted vertically in its special case). To participate in the celebration, Mac lovers had to plunk down $7500--three times what the same computer cost in a different case. It may qualify as the priciest case mod of all time. Steve Jobs might have bought one; we doubt whether many others did.
Circuit City DiVX DVDs (1998): Remember the disposable DVD? Circuit City's attempt at starting its own pay-per-view movie service entailed proprietary set-top players and disposable DiVX movie discs that expired 48 hours after you started watching them. The player required a phone line so it could check whether you had permission to watch. But as it turned out, consumers preferred their DVDs without strings, and Circuit City ended up dropping $114 million on its little experiment.
Concord Eye-Q Go Wireless Digital Camera (2004): The first Bluetooth-enabled digital camera cost a little more than otherwise comparable drugstore cameras, but for the premium you got the ability to transfer 7MB of images in a nap-inducing 15 minutes. (Transfer time using an old-fashioned USB cable: 8 seconds.) The Bluetooth was a bust, the camera was crude, and the pictures were awful. Aside from that, it was just fabulous.
Dell SL320i (1993): The Ford Pinto of notebook PCs, this model had the unfortunate habit of combusting and eventually had to be recalled. Laptops from Apple, HP, and Sony, as well as a handful of other Dell models suffered similar overheating problems over the years, but the SL320i blazed the trail.
Motorola Rokr E1 (2005): The world's most popular digital music player meets the world's coolest looking phones; what could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty. The Rokr E1 held only about a hundred songs, file transfers were painfully slow, the iTunes interface was sluggish, and--duh--you couldn't download tunes via a cell connection. This phone ain't rockin', so don't bother knockin'.
3Com Audrey (1999): Some of us had a soft spot in our hearts for Audrey, the Internet appliance--that supple form, the cute way her light blinked green when a new e-mail message arrived. But with limited functionality and no broadband support, she failed to excite the masses, instead becoming a symbol of why Net appliances bombed.
Timex Data Link Watch (1995): This early wristwatch/PDA looked like a Casio on steroids. To download data to it, you held it in front of your CRT monitor while the monitor displayed a pattern of flashing black-and-white stripes (which, incidentally, also turned you into the Manchurian Candidate). Depending on your point of view, it was either seriously cool or deeply disturbing.
WebTV (1995): Getting the Web to display on a typical TV in 1995 was like watching an elephant tap-dance--you were amazed not that it could do it well but that it could do it at all. With the WebTV, Web pages looked horsey, some media formats didn't work at all, and using the remote control to hop from link to link was excruciating.
Contributing editor Dan Tynan writes PC World's Gadget Freak column. He is also the author of Computer Privacy Annoyances (O'Reilly Media 2005).