The Next Big Tech That Wasn’t: Some Of The Biggest Tech Fails

photo by association WDA via Flickr modified by Curiousmatic. 

When it comes to technology, “the next big thing” is always around the corner. But unfortunately for imaginative tech companies, that “thing” isn’t very easy to come by–even if you’re a staple like Microsoft.

Below are four tech products that fell flat on their faces–no tamagotchis allowed.

Nokia N-Gage

This ambitious device was Nokia’s excursion into the intersecting arenas of gaming and mobile phones–as it turns out, it may have been a bit too ambitious. Realistically, the N-Gage touted a fairly extensive list of capabilities–from mobile gaming, cell service, to MP3 compatability, N-Gage was ready for just about every media format of the future.

While all of those ideas were in many ways a step or two ahead of their time (N-Gage was released in 2003), the execution of Nokia’s lofty concepts has left us with a mere glimmer of what could have been. From a usability standpoint (clunky, unreliable, and underdeveloped are some adjectives that come to mind) the N-Gage faltered until it’s eventual death in 2009. Shortly thereafter Nokia was eclipsed by the launch of the real “big Apple.”

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”WybqnB9AtwHyehhCJuwXhCjW0tsoMNnF”]Microsoft Zune

When discussing ghosts of techmas past, it would be an egregious error not to mention Microsoft’s swing (and miss) at the Apple iPod–the Zune. Microsoft’s mobile music player was first introduced in 2006, and was unleashed into a market already locked under the vice grip of Apple.

The Zune offered listeners a few innovative, if ultimately ignored, selling points–not the least tantalizing of which was its sharing hardware, which allowed users to transfer songs by touching MP3 players. From 2006, Microsoft went on to release a series of Zune products, including the Zune HD in 2009, which turned out to be the penultimate chapter in their unfruitful book.

Ultimately Zune went the way of the dodo in 2011 when Microsoft announced that it would discontinue sales altogether. In 2012, Robbie Bach, former president of entertainment and devices division at Microsoft, cited a number of reasons for the Zune’s failure–lack of imagination, bad marketing, and of course, better competition, being some of the key factors.

Ringback Tones

Believe it or not, ringback tones (those catchy tunes you hear when calling your friend) were once being projected as the next big mobile music explosion–at least by ringtone providers. In 2008 music royalty and publishing company BMI projected that ringback tones would nearly double their market from $140 million in 2007 to $210 million in 2008. As we now know, they may have gotten a tad ahead of themselves.

Despite an initial explosion which launched ringtone sales from $68 million in 2003 to $600 million in 2006, the ringtone would eventually all but wither and die–taking the ringback tone with it.

The introduction of freeware which allowed users to create their own free ringtones in tandem with the endless possibilities offered by cutting edge smartphones rendered ringback tones an anachronistic fad. To this day, however, ringback tones live on, immortalized through the iconic Vivaldi movement “Spring”–the default song which plays after a verizon user’s ringback tone has expired.

3D Television

I know what some are thinking, “You’ll see, 3D TV’s will rebound.” Just a year ago, it would have been easy to adopt such a view, but in 2014 (a lifetime in technology years) we’re still left waiting for the once heralded technology to rise from the ashes. The proper advice would be not to hold your breath, and maybe take those goofy glasses off.

In 2013 the future of 3D television looked bright. Sales were up, and major broadcasters like ESPN were beginning to hop on board the next TV dimension. But the future for 3D was perhaps a bit too bright for some to handle–both literally and figuratively speaking. In June of 2013 ESPN announced that it would discontinue its 3D broadcasting, citing “limited viewer adoption of 3D services to the home.”

As of late, 4K technology has succeeded 3D television as the next big “it”– boasting quadruple the number of pixels in a full HD picture–and seems to be more in line with consumer desires. You might not want to run out and scoop up a 4K television quite yet, however–remember–that’s the type of mentality that had you sporting glasses and a thousand dollar headache post-3D TV purchase.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
James Pero