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5 Unsuccessful Prototypes of Everyday Technology

5 Unsuccessful Prototypes of Everyday Technology

By Steven Romano

The iPad, cellphones, televisions with built-in Internet access... these devices and more wouldn't even exist without the foundation laid down by their prototypical forebears who weren't quite up to market snuff. Read on for our look back at five unsuccessful prototypes that paved the way for today's technology that we take for granted!

1) Betamax

Back in the mid '70s, before Blu-ray, DVDs, and VHS, Sony started a global revolution when they released a tiny little cassette tape called Betamax—and it blew everyone's mind! Making it possible to record television programs and, eventually, kick starting the home video market, Betamax was the best and only format... until JVC unveiled VHS. Despite having a superior picture and sound, Sony failed to meet the consumer's demand for longer recording time, prompting studios to back VHS when it came to releasing movies on video. Betamax is a distant memory these days, but the fact that it blazed a trail for subsequent formats counts for something.

2) Apple Newton

Whether you laud their innovation or vilify them for sucking your wallet dry, there's no denying that Apple has become a force to be reckoned with. But during the company's humble years, 1993 saw the release of the Apple Newton, a personal digital assistant that was in development for six years. Regrettably, the Newton didn't match Apple's expectations. Plagued with issues including a $700 price point, poor handwriting recognition, and generally cumbersome, the device languished on shelves until it was discontinued in 1998. Today, Apple products such as the iPod Touch and iPhone are definitely the Newton's far more successful progeny, allowing users to utilize scheduling and notepad programs in addition to other features making PDAs obsolete.

3) Tablet Newspaper

Sounding absolutely Jules Verne-ian to our modern sensibilities, a think tank from Knight Ridder—an American media company and the second largest newspaper publisher before being bought out—predicted the shift from print to digital publication all the way back in 1994 with the Tablet Newspaper. Spearheaded by Roger Fidler (then-director of the Knight Ridder Information Design Lab), he foretold the use of tablets as the eventual replacement for print media with eerie accuracy. And the Tablet Newspaper functioned in the same way as an iPad does today. So why didn't such a technological innovation reach the market 20 years ago? According to sources, Knight Ridder shut down the lab in the device's early stages.

4) WebTV

It's become an industry standard to outfit most—if not all—HD televisions with Internet capabilities, but this wasn't the case during the '90s. Back then, TVs and computers were completely separate technologies, leaving many to dream about surfing the web from the comfort of a La-Z-Boy recliner. The wishes of the idle came true in 1996 when WebTV Networks, Inc. (later purchased by Microsoft and rebranded as MSN TV), released a box doing just that. Though due to paying monthly fees for a diluted web-browsing experience (coupled with a growing familiarity with computers), WebTV eventually sat in the shadows, used solely by a small dedicated few.

5) N-Gage

Similar to TVs, most portable game systems available today play more than just games, now including features like Internet access and instant messaging right out of the box. Eleven years ago, this convergence was unheard of, prompting Nokia to develop and release the N-Gage. Like an ungodly crossbreed between a cellphone and a game system, the N-Gage's fate was sealed the second it came off the production line. The same buttons used to make calls doubled as game controls, and its aesthetically displeasing design reminded users, when using it as a phone, of a taco. Add to that a lackluster library of games, it'd be another few years before Sony's PSP and Nintendo's 3DS system got the multimedia concept right.

What's the worst piece of technology you've ever owned?

Tags: technology, science, games, toys, nintendo, sony, vhs

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About the Author
Steven Romano

Like Captain America, Steven Romano is just a boy from Brooklyn. When he isn't contributing to The MindHut and other geeky websites, Steven's hard at work writing his first novel and comic book scripts. Follow him on Twitter @Steven_Romano, and swing by his blog: stevenromano.tumblr.com

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.