5min readBusiness 21 May 2018
I sometimes wonder if there is a graveyard for 'failed' inventions. You know those new technologies that are being talked about everywhere and sure to be 'the next best thing'.
When does something cease to be a 'next big thing' and slide away into oblivion?
I think it's worth looking at how an innovation becomes touted as 'the next big thing' in the first place. It typically begins in places like Silicon Valley with venture capitalists [VCs], who are always on the lookout for new, disruptive technology that will be their next Facebook or Apple – and become a billion-dollar company.
“Investors get involved, invest, then tout the next superfood until it is part of the zeitgeist," explained a venture capitalist recently to Bonnie Halper, technology expert and founder of Startup One Stop.
The truth is that VCs may have only one or two winners out of ten companies in their portfolio, if they are lucky. The most successful VC firms' investments are monitored by Silicon Valley and the press alike, with the assumption that past success is a good indicator of future success and increases the likelihood that the companies they invest in are likely winners.
A technology can be highly praised before it is even developed or hits the market. Then reality hits, or the company moves from concept to finally delivering their much-anticipated product or service, and it turns out not to be the next remarkable thing. Some fails are more epic than others.
Here is a look at 3 Failed Digital Innovations
Google Glass – an optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses, which was designed with the mission of producing a ubiquitous computer. A smartphone-like, hands-free format displayed information right within the glasses. The wearer could use voice commands to call up information via the connected internet.
“I had a friend who was an early 'Google Explorer' and he looked ridiculous as he walked around with his Google Glass – there's a reason why they called them Glassholes.' I did try them and told him that – like CD Roms of yore – they were a limited application technology, better served in the enterprise space. Which is exactly where they're being utilized," according to Halper.
While the technology was compelling, the price was prohibitive for consumers at $1500 a pair. The video camera capabilities raised privacy concerns resulting in some negative press, criticism and even prompting legislative action. The quirky look of users when wearing Google Glass added to their disappointing reception.
While Google Glass failed and was discontinued in 2017, as Halper notes, there is a recognized need for them in large corporations and institutions; an enterprise version was recently released.
"The Segway certainly has a cool factor, both in its underlying technology which achieves balance using tilt sensors, and gyroscopic sensors." Photo Courtesy of Entity Magazine
The Segway – is a two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter invented by prolific inventor Dean Kamen and marketed as a Personal Transporter. The Segway certainly has a cool factor, both in its underlying technology which achieves balance using tilt sensors, and gyroscopic sensors, which can reach a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour.
While touted as the next big thing in transportation, the Segway's price and its uniqueness proved too challenging. At $5000 a unit, it was a luxury item for most consumers. On par with the cost of a used car, it offered less reliable transportation options. The company projected sales of 50,000 to 100,000 Segways in the first year, but only 6,000 were sold in the first two years.
As an early adopter, Peter Shankman discovered that riding it in NYC was problematic – one police officer told him to ride on the street, then another shooed him from the street and told him he belonged on the sidewalk, while yet another told him that its uses wasn't permitted at all.
While a failure with consumers, as was the case with Google Glass, the Segway has found some use at the enterprise level. It has been adopted by some municipalities for use by its police force, enabling them to patrol more of their precinct more quickly than they could on foot.Quick Response Codes [QR Codes] – are a type of two-dimensional barcode. Originally designed for the automobile industry in Japan, QR codes, we were promised, were going to revolutionize business with applications ranging from business cards to restaurants to directions to museums and beyond.
As a machine-readable label, QR Codes were essentially barcodes that contain information that can be accessed by scanning them with a specially designed reader. The first obstacle to adoption of QR Codes, was that one had to install a reader on their phone. Maybe this wouldn't be an obstacle today, but back in 2000 when they were first introduced, mobile phones weren't as feature-rich as they are today and consumers weren't accustomed to downloading apps as they are today.
The other problem with QR Codes was the inconsistent results that users encountered – not from the technology, but from the company's hyping their use.
Prospects and customers were cheered on as if they would be winning the lottery, and after jumping through a hoop to get the reader installed, then scanning the code, the hype lead to disappointment and frustration.
Users often found a regular coupon for a mere 10 percent off; not a prize worth the effort they had just put in to claim it.
QR Codes were seen on billboards, yet, there was no tangible way for a motorist to scan the QR Code – certainly not while driving. A phone number on a billboard still works easier than this recent technology reported to make it easier to access information, that created more work to use it.
QR Codes, or customized variations of them, have been co-opted by Snapchat very successfully. By creating their own version of a QR Code, and building a reader into their camera, Snapchat overcame prior obstacles and made them cool within their own ecosystem.
Eventually, all smartphones came equipped with QR code readers, but the public wasn't sold on their use and neither were companies. The Snapchat application is a unique success story for QR Codes. Otherwise, they have been a commercial failure.
Venture capitalists only expect 10 -20 percent of their companies to become successful, so despite touting something as the next best thing, they know that a number of stars need to be aligned for a digital innovation to succeed beyond the hype and attain that status. A winner isn't always based on the best technological innovation, but on several factors from ease of use, timing, to the right influencers singing its praises.
Some digital innovations weren't true failures, however, they failed to gain wide adoption with the general public. As Halper explained, “Google was founded by techies – techies don't put themselves into the shoes of civilians."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.