Blogs gush about them. PR campaigns blow millions on them. News anchors announce their arrival like they’re members of state. And the rest of us suffer when they utterly fail to deliver. They’re overhyped tech products, and unfortunately, we’ve run across quite a few of them through the years. Here are a few of our favorites… or at least, the ones we most bitterly remember.
Segway Personal Transporter
By the way its inventor Dean Kamen and folks like Steve Jobs (who seems to have a blessing for hyperbole) talked this thing up, you would have believed it was the solution to all the world’s problems. And some people did. But instead of defying gravity, producing limitless energy or any of the other things people had dreamed up for “IT,” the thing basically, well , moved. Like an electric wheelchair. But standing up. Guess we’ll have to wait a few years for Kamen’s fusion reactor.
Before the Asus Eee hit the states and shook up the market for ultra-portable, low-cost PCs, Palm was building up the same concept with its Foleo PC. In theory, it had a number of concrete features that push it to the front of the pack, including zero boot time, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and a full QWERTY keyboard. We say in theory, because the Foleo went off radar during the summer it was supposed to debut, then finally slipped beneath the waves for good when Palm formally announced its death in September. Thanks for getting our hopes up.
One Laptop Per Child XO-1 (OLPC)
It pains us to mention such a well-intentioned project alongside so many products built to empty wallets, but there’s no question that the XO-1 has failed to live up to its pre-launch hype. Not only did the original $100 price tag fly out the window well before the machines ever reached reality, they were also off-schedule and failed to really catch hold in many third world countries. Even the concept of putting computers into the hands of children seemed to fall apart at the seams when it turned out kids were using the first OLPC batches to look at porn. We’ll give Nicholas Negroponte’s vision some credit when Ethiopia becomes the next Silicon Valley.
Optimus Maximus Keyboard
Hopefully this monstrosity taught bloggers not to get quite so excited about press photos and mock-ups. Yes, it looked like just about the coolest, most versatile peripheral ever invented when news of it first spread, but as we discovered when we tested it out, the thing is barely usable in real life. The only keyboard we can really think of that’s any worse would be the aforementioned iPhone keyboard. There’s also the price, which makes us cringe when we think about the poor art students who scrimped and saved for one only to pull it out the box and realize they had accidentally ordered a worthless novelty. (Watch our Optimus Maximus Keyboard review)
Here’s one that really proves that PR alone cannot put a shine on a dud of a product. Microsoft did its damndest to convince every last corner of the Web that it was out to slay the iPod with its vastly superior Wi-Fi-enabled Zune back in 2006, and many outlets accordingly made the Zune out to be a legitimate threat. But when it launched, techies everywhere quickly figured out it was nothing special – just another MP3 player with a big name on the box. We got excited when they hit bargain bins. (Read our Microsoft Zune review)
If the more recent cloud of negativity surrounding the PS3 has erased your memory of the hype surrounding its launch, let us remind you: Some of these things sold for over $2,000 on eBay in the days after they went on sale. A man was shot trying to secure one. It was the ultimate gaming machine, the console to destroy all consoles, the status symbol of November 2006. And it totally flopped. After most gamers discovered that being able to see individual blood droplets from an alien’s brain or the glistening sweat on a football player’s neck didn’t make the games any more fun, the $600 price of admission just didn’t seem worth it anymore. Nearly two years later, it’s starting to gain some ground, but we’re guessing the guys that originally shelled out thousands of them to impress their friends still feel like tools. (Read our PS3 Review)
Don’t get us wrong, it’s not a bad product, but the hype that preceded the iPhone’s release set the bar impossibly high for the poor thing. Forget about shepherds turning up at a manger, the iPhone had hip Apple fans all over the country camping out for days to get their hands on one. Despite a relatively smooth launch, the original iPhone still had a number of huge disappointments waiting in store for the less-than-faithful who weren’t willing to overlook them, like pitifully slow EDGE Internet that rendered the slick browser less than useful, and a clunky abomination of a keyboard that irks us to this day.
Considering that the Kindle was far from the first e-reader on the block, it’s totally amazing to us that it gathered the momentum it did thanks the measly inclusion of a wireless data connection for buying books remotely. At $359, the Kindle is still a pricy gadget for buying books that aren’t all that much cheaper than their paperback equivalents. You know how many books $359 can get you at a garage sale? At least 359, which is more than we’re guessing you’ll ever get through on the Kindle. And when you’re done, can you hollow out the Kindle with an Xacto knife to hide things inside? That’s what we thought.
When the vast majority of the world runs your operating system, a certain amount of hype for the next version is to be expected, but Vista manages to make our list based purely on the abysmal delivery on those pre-launch promises. Prettier? Check. Absolutely anything else? Uncheck. We really wish this one had turned out to be some harmless novelty like the Optimus Maximus, but instead it’s installed on just about every PC sold today. For shame.
Apple MacBook Air
Apple’s MacBook Air just barely edged out competing notebooks in its quest for thin, and as CNet found out, actually loses its title as “world’s thinnest” to a notebook from 1997. Even still, the Apple propaganda machine managed to make this reinvention of the wheel out to be the Earth-shattering king of ultraportables, with signature Apple marketing smugness to match. It’s a small notebook, folks. We’ll be amazed when it fits into the same envelope your credit card bills come in. (Watch our MacBook Air Review)