The 10 biggest technology flops of the past 40 years

Hype is the coin of the realm in the technology business. If you listen to vendors and the media, it might seem that every new product, service, concept or even security threat will be the Next Big Thing. Some live up to all the fuss, but many don't - and some fail spectacularly.

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Our list of the 10 biggest technology failures includes a few that weren't all bad. In fact, some were quite good but were either too far ahead of their time or victims of overblown expectations. Others, of course, were downright lousy.

Apple Newton

In 1993, Apple hyped its Newton PDA as only Apple can, with clever advertising and relentless word-of-mouth campaigns. While the device's physical size was gargantuan by today's standards, it was full of features, such as personal information management and add-on storage slots, which remain essential parts of today's mobile devices.

So, why did the Newton flop? One reason was the ridicule heaped on it by talk show comedians and comic strips (most notably "Doonesbury"), which focused on the supposed inaccuracy of the handwriting recognition.

Also, the Newton was expensive - about US$700 for the first model and as much as $1,000 for later, more advanced models. In addition, the Newton was arguably ahead of its time.

Still, before it faded away in 1998, Newton paved the way for PDAs, which led, in turn, to today's smart phones - in particular, the smaller, cheaper PalmPilot, which was released in 1995 and became a runaway success.

To clarify, the official name of Apple's product was the MessagePad; Newton was really the name of the operating system. But Newton captured the public's imagination, so that's what the device was popularly called.

DIVX

Presaging our current era of Netflix and downloadable movies, DIVX (not to be confused with DiVX, the video codec) flashed brightly in the late '90s, then flamed out. The idea, hatched by electronics retailer Circuit City, was interesting - customers could rent movies on DIVX discs that they could keep and watch for two days. Then users would toss or recycle the discs, or pay a continuation fee to keep viewing them.

The DIVX discs were to be priced competitively with video store rental fees, with the added benefit of not having to be returned. All that was required was a DIVX player, which Circuit City would be happy to sell you, and the movie discs, which Circuit City also would be happy to sell you.

Hardware vendors went along for a while but weren't overly enthusiastic, since the DVD format, for which they also were manufacturing players, was starting to gain traction at the time. And the video rental industry fought the concept tooth and nail, loudly proclaiming the benefits of the DVD format, which they called "Open DVD", over DIVX.

Consumers did not warm to the scheme either, fearing that DIVX vs. DVD could turn into another costly Betamax versus VHS debacle. DIVX died a rapid death - it was launched in 1998 and was pretty much sunk by the middle of 1999, leaving some people with worthless equipment - although vendors did offer a $100 refund for those who had bought a DIVX player. Still, left behind were lots of bad feelings about yet another bright idea that had flopped.

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