There are gadgets that change everything (the iPhone, Amazon Echo, Bose's noise-canceling headphones), and then there are devices that are so spectacularly bad that they should be immortalized in their own way. The last few decades have seen all kinds of flops, from a not-so-world-changing scooter to a phone that literally went up in flames.
To make our list of all-time gadget flops, the product had to do more than fail to execute. It had to have a decent amount of hype behind it — enough to help make that crash and burn all the more memorable. Here are our top 25 worst gadget flops of all time.
Talk about a disaster. After getting rave reviews in August 2016 for its improved S Pen, great camera and sleek water-resistant design, the Note 7 literally exploded or caught fire for dozens of owners. Samsung was forced to issue a worldwide recall that affected 2.5 million devices. But that's not why this is a world-class flop. Several of the supposedly safe replacement Note 7s also caught fire or smoked, causing the evacuation of a Southwest Airlines flight and smoke inhalation for another victim. Samsung halted sales on Oct. 10 and said the phone would be permanently discontinued the next day.
Other than the original iPhone, very few gadgets in history were hyped this much before launch. Dean Kamen's Project Ginger had all sorts of praise heaped upon it by those who previewed the new-age scooter. Here's what Steve Jobs reportedly said about the Segway in a book proposal: "If enough people see the machine you won't have to convince them to architect cities around it. It'll just happen." Oops.
Priced at a staggering $5,000, the Segway didn't even come close to living up to its expectations. Sure, it was nifty that the Segway was self-balancing, but that wasn't nearly enough to overcome the sticker shock or the sheer geek factor of this vehicle. The final insult came when President Bush fell off a Segway in 2004. Today, you'll see these scooters ridden by some police officers and postal workers, but that's pretty much it.
I'm not sure of the exact moment when Google's overly hyped wearable jumped the shark, but it was somewhere between the term "Glasshole" being coined and Robert Scoble posting a photo of himself wearing the device in the shower. Google's device was definitely ahead of its time: It let you take photos, get directions and more, using your voice and a tiny head-mounted display. But this overpriced $1,500 gadget offered terrible battery life, and its interface was confusing. Most damning, society just didn't like the idea of nerd hordes roaming around invading everyone else's privacy, with bars, restaurants and all sorts of other places banning the device before it even went on sale to the public.
The PlayBook will be remembered as one of the nails in the BlackBerry's coffin. The company that was then called Research in Motion was so busy boasting that its 7-inch tablet could play high-def videos via its HDMI port, that it forgot to include native email and calendar apps. That's right, the PlayBook didn't let you view your messages or appointments unless you had a BlackBerry phone connected to the slate via Bluetooth. Amazingly, RIM called this glaring weakness a security feature. Less than 9 months later, co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepped down from their posts.
Talk about a hot trend. Hoverboards, which were really just glorified two-wheel scooters, were all the rage in 2015 for about six months. Then videos started popping up all over the web of these devices catching on fire, some while charging and some while being ridden. Amazon cracked down on certain brands, and then the Consumer Product Safety Commission declared hoverboards unsafe in February 2016. Add in the fact that hoverboard injuries were becoming a meme due to our collective lack of coordination, and this category was totally doomed.
No, it wasn't a virtual-reality headset. It wasn't even a wearable headset. Promising to "immerse players in their own private universe," the $179 Virtual Boy was an awkward tabletop monstrosity with a weird, all-red display that was priced considerably higher than the Game Boy. It also didn't help that Nintendo included a warning to users to take a break every 15 minutes to rest their eyes. Despite bold predictions of 3 million in sales, Nintendo reportedly sold just 770,000 units before the company pulled the plug on the product. Those with morbid curiosities should definitely check out Fast Company's exhaustive analysis on the many ways in which the Virtual Boy was a bona fide disaster.
It went by different names over the years, including Windows Mobile and Windows Phone. Then it became Windows 10 Mobile. But whatever you call it, Windows Phones never really took off. The first death blow was the arrival of the iPhone in 2007, which then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dismissed as overpriced. Apple's innovative touchscreen and multitouch gestures suddenly made QWERTY keyboards phones like the Motorola Q seem dated.
The Windows Phone platform enjoyed modest success later with Nokia's high-powered Lumia camera phones in 2013, but Microsoft squandered any opportunity to build on that momentum after purchasing Nokia's phone business for $7.2 billion later that year.
After struggling to get app developers and shoppers to care about Microsoft's unique tile interface and half-hearted Xbox integration, Microsoft operating system group vice preseident Joe Belfiore finally made it official that the company was pulling the plug on its platform in October of 2017. That also killed any hopes of seeing a Surface Phone hit the market.