The most over-hyped tech products ever

The iPad has nothing on these guys

Rule number one of over-hype: just being talked about isn't enough. That's hype. The crux of excessive hype is disappointment, the gap between the pitch and one's reaction. Um, is that really it?

History tells us that Apple's iPad will not find itself on this list because enough people will buy it, or it will come to be seen as the forging a patch for a new type of device. Here, with the benefit of hindsight, we compile a list of some better candidates for over-hype.

In truth, although most of the products and tech on this list do die out some live on in strange forms or serving weird niches. Over-hype doesn't have to mean the end, only the beginning of a period of being forgotten and ignored.

DEC Alpha processor (1992 on)

The Alpha chip had several things going for it and in its own way was a modest success. It was 64-bit when that was still cool, it was RISC, briefly something people cared about, and it was faster than Intel's equivalents. At the height of its power in 1994's 21064 chip, the Alpha was finally bought out in 2001 by the company it had sought to rival, Intel. The chip lingered on like a silicon Dodo in HP and Compaq systems until as recently as 2004. One it was hot and then it was not.

Apple Newton (1993)

Forget the iPad, forget the iPhone, long long ago in universe of the 1990s that now seems far away, Apple invented a great tablet computer called the Newton. In fact, it didn't invent it at all having taken the concept (and possibly more besides) from the wreckage of Jerry Kaplan's uber-startup, Go Computing, which came up with pen computing when most pens still had ink in them. It didn't sell well enough and Apple gave up. Or did it? Some of its ideas turned up in the iPhone and the iPad feels like a distant ancestor.

OS/2 Warp (1994)

Miffed at pimple bursters Microsoft stealing their glory (and possibly their code) in Windows NT, IBM decided to do its own thing. It called it OS/2, which stood for ‘operating system 2'. Hired Star Trek celebs including Leonard Nimoy for the US launch, handed out branded watches and pens, and then watched as nobody bought it. Gave up fairly quickly. Warp drive into the dustbin of history, Scotty..!

Pointcast push network (1996)

Remember push? It sounded plausible to a world still so confused by the Internet that the idea that people could find useful information on it was simply implausible. So why not ‘push' all that stuff to people's screens using a screensaver connected to a magic news feed. Pointcast was that product, an unnecessary reinvention of the Internet as all-night TV news.

Oracle Network Computer (1996 on)

Probably the first serious conceptual challenge to the PC, some will no doubt claim it was a pre-cursor to the cloud computing of today. Unfortunately, Bill Gates convinced everyone that it was mostly just a return to the verboten land of mainframes. Eventually found a niche as the thin client but only after Oracle had given up. Larry Ellison shut his kimono.

Jim Clark's Hyperion (1998)

A yatch whose 200 foot mast was high enough to bump the Golden Gate Bridge, filled with SGI computers so powerful they let the billionaire Captain Pugwash owner, Jim Clark (co-founder Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon), sail the boat remotely from anywhere in the world, Hyperion was a terrifying floating metaphor in aluminium. An expensive disaster, eventually grounded by the weight of hubris, ego and crashing workstations. Hyperion deserves to be turned into a 3D film by James Cameron one day. Not so much a super-boat as das boot complete with explosions and near death.

Transmeta Crusoe chip (1999)

Another fascinating idea slightly ahead of its time and which flopped for that reason. Based on a low-power chip design that could run various instruction sets through an abstraction layer, The Crusoe's claim to hype fame rests on two things. 1. It spent a long time in ‘stealth' mode and was talked up by venture capitalists in the way of many late 1990s start-ups. 2. It employed Linus Torvalds. Sorry, make that three things. 3. It was a rival to Intel. Like its namesake, ended up stranded.

Dean Kamen's Segway (2001)

No list of over-hype can ignore the product that more than any other has come to embody the sometimes tragically large gap between what hype promises and what is actually delivered. In development for far longer than was healthy, it was supposed to be the most important invention since the PC ruined people's lives, but turned out to be a gyroscopic two-wheeled transportation device useful in the odd airport and factory. What was the problem? The $5,000 price tag bought a lot of bicycles.

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John E. Dunn

Techworld
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