From Apple’s charging mat to Google’s modular phone, these gadgets went MIA
There have been loads of tech products announced over the years, generating various levels of excitement. A few succeed, most fail, and some never even make it across the starting line. We’ve crafted a list of exciting tech products that caught the public imagination with a flurry of press releases, prototypes, or teaser reveals — only to evaporate in the heat of their own hype.
Apple’s AirPower wireless charger
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In September last year, Apple unveiled the iPhone X, iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus making a big deal out of their ability to charge wirelessly. We also caught a brief glimpse of a new Apple wireless charging mat called AirPower, which was touted for an early 2018 release. The mat was shown charging an iPhone X, an Apple Watch, and a set of AirPods simultaneously, but it seems Apple may have bitten off more than it can chew.
Here we are more than halfway through 2018 and the AirPower mat is nowhere to be seen. WWDC 2018 came and went and Apple has remained silent on the subject. But we’re not ready to count this one out just yet. There’s still a chance it will reappear alongside this year’s iPhones in September, but if that event comes and goes without any AirPower news, the charging mat could slip into the realm of the quietly forgotten like the rest of our list.
Sega VR headset
Back in 1991, when Sega was on top of the world riding the wave of the Genesis’ (Mega Drive) success, it rashly announced a virtual reality headset. The product wasn’t shown off until a couple of years later when it was revealed that Sega VR would sell for $200, work with the Genesis, and come with four games on release. It was pushed back and then canceled after prototypes induced motion sickness and severe headaches in testers.
Despite Sega VR being dead and buried, Nintendo pushed forward with the Virtual Boy, which was released in 1995 and flopped spectacularly, burying the idea of virtual reality for almost 20 years until its recent resurrection. The best VR headset today (the HTC Vive) boasts twin OLED displays with a resolution of 2,160 x 1,200 pixels. Sega VR had color LCDs with a 320 x 200-pixel resolution.
Google’s Project Ara smartphone
The idea of a modular smartphone generated a lot of excitement when Motorola announced it back in 2013. Why upgrade your phone every year to get a better camera or a bigger battery when you can just buy an individual component upgrade and slot it into your existing phone? Google had just acquired the phonemaker back then and looked ready to throw its weight behind the project, which was first shown off at Google I/O in 2014.
Although slotting together your dream phone like a collection of Lego bricks appealed to some people, it proved difficult to realize. Different concepts and hints at the involvement of big manufacturers came to nothing and Google shelved the project in 2016. A watered-down version of the idea eventually appeared in the shape of Moto Mods. Ethical smartphone maker Fairphone has also pursued the idea with its modular Fairphone 2, and LG made an attempt with the LG G5, but we’ve yet to see a big modular smartphone success.
Phantom game console
The video game industry is good at generating enormous levels of hype and excitement and then delivering massive disappointment, but few have scaled the heights of the Phantom game console. Infinium Labs announced the Phantom in 2003, promising a console that would outperform the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The marketing babble was suspiciously devoid of details, but the central idea hinged around a good-looking console with PC innards capable of offering games on-demand, downloadable from the internet for subscribers.
It was originally supposed to be released in 2003 for $400 with a $10 per month subscription for games, but it was pushed back again and again until the company removed any mention of it from its website in 2006. Valve eventually realized something close to the idea with Steam Machines, announced in 2013 and released in 2015, but even with the might of Steam behind it the platform floundered and has now all but disappeared.
Saygus V2 smartphone
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This Android superphone was set to deliver a laundry list of features for Android fans seeking something a bit more powerful than the average release. We actually managed to get a hands-on with the Saygus V squared back at MWC in 2015. It was set to have a 21-megapixel camera, a fingerprint sensor, two MicroSD card slots, a 5-inch display, a 3,100mAh battery, and to be IPx7 water resistant, all of which sounded more impressive a few years ago.
We were suspicious about some of the features that didn’t work in the prototype we tried, but like many people who put more than $500 down to pre-order, we believed it was a real phone close to being released. The release date was pushed back further and further, and Saygus couldn’t deliver, even though it continued to take people’s money. Somehow the company still exists, but a two-year delay for a phone makes it hopelessly out-of-date even if it does belatedly arrive. We aren’t holding our breath, and anyone who pre-ordered should ask for their money back while they still can.
Microsoft Courier tablet
With a string of prototypes and a team of more than 130 people working on it, Microsoft’s ill-fated Courier tablet could have been an iPad competitor of sorts. First reported on back in 2008, the Courier was a folio-style tablet with two 7-inch touchscreens and stylus support. It was designed to be for productivity first and foremost, it ran Windows — so it supported Microsoft’s full suite of Office software — and it was going to be capable of syncing with web services. It also had a camera built-in and support for wireless charging.
After some internal disagreement at Microsoft, the Courier was canned in 2010 and Ballmer led the company towards the touch-friendly Windows 8 platform, almost completely missing the tablet boat. Microsoft eventually tackled the tablet market directly with the Surface line in 2012. The company has continued to iterate, most recently with the $400 Surface Go.
There are simply too many broken tech dreams to list them all here, but here’s a quick mention of some other hotly anticipated products that never made it.
Nokia Moonraker – This wonderfully-named smartwatch was going to launch alongside the Lumia 930 in 2014, but it got pushed aside in favor of the Microsoft Band when Nokia was acquired.
Microsoft Surface Mini – Gearing up to launch in 2014 alongside the Surface Pro 3, the Mini was set to have an 8-inch display, a Snapdragon 800, and 32GB of storage, but it was canceled just a few weeks before the launch event.
Mattel Aristotle – A $300 voice-controlled hub designed for babies and toddlers, the Mattel Aristotle was set to launch in 2017 but it was canned after an outcry from privacy advocates and child-development experts.
Palm Foleo – Announced in 2007, the Foleo was designed to be a companion for smartphones offering a full keyboard and larger 10-inch screen, while connecting to the internet through your phone. It was canceled three months after being announced.
DigiScents iSmell – This bizarre 2001 product answered a question no one posed: What does the internet smell like? It connected to your computer via USB and could be triggered to create different odors by files embedded in websites, emails, or programs. The inventors miraculously raised $20 million and produced a working prototype before realizing there was zero demand.
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