When it comes to so-called “life-changing” gadgets and technologies (insert your favorite wonder of the modern world from iPhones to Netflix downloads and high-school girls warbling out karaoke on YouTube here), sometimes all the years of toil and endless gallons of blood, sweat and tears that go into development are justified. But sometimes those selfsame gizmos and services, despite all the headlines, hype and millions of man hours poured into their creation, turn out to be steaming piles of excrement instead – hence the list we have here. While just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stupid inventions and technologies that have cropped up over the past 30 years, they’re certainly some of our favorites, especially when in need of a quick punchline…
Nintendo Virtual Boy
When you’re looking at a device that has to be setup to automatically pause every half hour to spare users a cranium-splitting headache, you know you’re looking at a serious misstep on somebody’s behalf. The video game system that every kid wanted and every kid that owned never wanted to play was a valiant effort on Nintendo’s part, but never even came close to delivering the 3D visuals expected of it. A monochrome screen and about 20 games total made it the weakest system in recent memory, right next to the closest runner up, the tacotastic N-Gage. We can only assume that creator Gunpei Yokoi had “Epic Fail” listed as his cause of death when he passed away two years after its launch.
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Man was not meant to smell the Internet. In this botched attempt at resurrecting the 50-year-old Smell-o-Vision concept for the digital age (the first of many), a Californian startup created a device that would blend different 64 different fragrances on the spot, allowing users to digitally transmit smell. Surprisingly, the pilot program never got off the ground, which is odd because smell chain letters, smell spam, and smell viruses seemed like they would have had a lot of potential to us.
Want to convert your lightweight and portable cell phone to an unwieldy handset like the one your kitchen phone had in 1971? Neither do we, which is why we’re completely boggled by this “retro” handset that promises to do exactly that. Its discontinuation indicates we’re not exactly alone, either.
Please Hold Retro Cell Phone Handset
In retrospect, a dedicated, cat-shaped device that scans product barcodes to bring you to a website with more information about that product looks outright ridiculous. At the time…. it didn’t look much better. The creators may have had something smarter up their sleeves with a unique serial code that could be used to track the items a single CueCat user scanned, but after that information leaked, it merely damaged the product’s reputation and lead hackers to circumvent it. Nowadays, the CueCat is better known as a reminder of dot-com cash burning, and, if you’re in the market for a UPC reader, a cheap way to score one.
Peeking over somebody’s shoulder while they’re trying to tap out a private note or the beginning sentences of an essay is enough to drive even the most seasoned writer to madness – which is why adding an automated paperclip do the same thing in Word must be one of Microsoft’s biggest blunders. This constantly interjecting and hard-to-eliminate “office assistant” plagued Microsoft for users for six years before Microsoft finally gave it the axe in 2003, making it even more notable to us than than its short-lived (and also much-maligned) predecessor, Microsoft Bob. Clippy would spout off with sentences like “It looks like you’re writing a letter…” before offering to “help” by directing you to the right template or some other action off a list of misguided suggestions. If you ever run through a monitor with a whole angrily punched through it in the corner, you can almost assuredly blame Clippy.
Microsoft Office Assistants
If “getting paid to surf the Web” sounds too good to be true, it was for the founders of this company, not users. We actually remember receiving a few checks for downloading the AllAdvantage client, which ran ads as you surfed the Web, in exchange for a check at the end of the month. But as you might expect, thirteen-year-old kids gorging on repetitive ads month after month does not translate to hundreds of dollars in sales for anyone, so AllAdvantage went belly up only two years after launch, a highly visible (and highly predictable) victim of the dot-com bubble.
We don’t care how many inches of big-screen TV these things claim to simulate, they’re tiny LCD screens you cram in front of your retinas. And despite cropping up with new models every year for seemingly as long as we can remember, none have yet managed to deliver the promised experience, or a design that wouldn’t get them immediately taken away and snapped in half by your neighborhood version of Nelson. Whether you pick up a pair of iTV Goggles,Vuzix glasses,or MyVu, you’ve effectively branded “NERD” onto your forehead forever.
Atari’s late-coming successor to the 5200 was essentially a few years late and a couple hundred games short. The highly competitive Nintendo Entertainment System steamrolled the Atari in terms of graphics capability, and also stole away the best developers with exclusivity agreements, leaving little for potential Atari fans to grasp on to. This system is so sorely remembered that it was one of last classic systems to even be emulated on the PC – proving that even “free” was too high a price point. The saddest part: Nintendo actually offered Atari the North American rights to the NES, but the deal fell through. That has to sting.
Car Stereo Remotes
Designed to spare you the three-foot reach to the front of your car, these stereo remotes represent the pinnacle of human laziness. Maybe we’ll sound like old-timers making jokes about changing the TV channel with a dial, but there’s really no good reason you need a palm-sized remote to flick through stations from the driver’s seat – or any other seat, for that matter. You’re better off poking the controls with a stick, which at least has the advantage of making you look as slovenly as you are.
Car Stereo Remotes
Apple Hockey Puck Mouse
Perhaps no Apple product is more representative of the company’s blind quest for aesthetics at the cost of functionality than the USB mouse released in 1998, which infuriated even the most patient Apple fans by so flagrantly defying good sense. Besides its nonsensical circular shape that made it uncomfortable to grip, and easy to mis-orient, it followed the usual Apple routine of sporting only one button, a trend that would continue for years. The puck mouse was actually so clumsy that outside companies had to develop add-ons to make it usable. (Attaching a chunk of fruit-colored plastic to the puck was apparently more acceptable to Apple diehards than soiling their systems with a functional, non-Apple peripheral.)
Apple Hockey Puck Mouse