Of all sub-genres of technology, wearable tech seems to be the most prone to disaster. It’s not really a surprise - you’ve got an extra layer of complexity and interaction as soon as you strap a cold hard electro-gizmo to a squishy human being, and there’s also the possibility that what manufacturers think is a useful piece of technology will look completely stupid when deployed on the high street.
It’s not all bad, though: each and every one of these flops has played a part in the ongoing evolution of wearable technology, and their failure has usually been due to the restrictions of current technology rather than a lack of vision.
Basically the Oculus Rift’s batty great uncle, Nintendo’s first and only stab at virtual reality was released to a lukewarm reception in 1995. It got some things right - the dual-sticked pad which would become essential for 3D gaming and the nascent application of virtual reality. But the ultimate experience was disappointing, with buyers complaining of jumpy images, a lack of head tracking, and dizziness and nausea when using the device.
Just 1.26 million were sold worldwide, making it one of gaming’s biggest disasters.
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It may have been years ahead of its time, but that doesn’t change the fact that Xybernaut’s Poma “wearable” computer, released in 2002, was about as portable as a dead whale. The pocket-sized Windows CE computer connects to a golf-ball size display which dangles over your eye, just waiting to inflict severe ocular trauma when you walk into that lamppost you couldn’t see thanks to it obstructing your view.
Add to this a near-unusable virtual keyboard and its $1,499 price tag and you would have been better off with a straightforward PDA. “I can't recommend that anyone submit themselves to a Poma pummeling,” wrote Mike Langberg in Mercury News.
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Fossil Wrist PDA
In 2002 US watch maker Fossil was an early entrant into the smart watch race - so early, in fact, that it didn’t have anyone to race against, and no one understood the rules of the race anyway. Its wrist PDA ran the same Palm OS that powered more fully-fledged pocketable computers, and Fossil had to completely rewrite its code to run on such a (then) tiny device.
Poor sales led to Fossil discontinuing this admirable failure in 2005.
MSN Direct Smart Watch
Related to the Wrist PDA was Microsoft’s MSN Direct Smart Watch, which was also made by Fossil. It was part of Microsoft’s Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) project back in 2004, a precursor to the internet of things which used FM radio waves rather than cellular signals to transmit data to coffee makers and alarm clocks.
Thus the Smart Watch was capable of receiving weather information, news headlines and even short messages. The problem was that at this time mobile phones were rapidly becoming smarter, negating the need for a secondary rather more dumb device. The naff Dick Tracey branding can’t have helped, too.
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In the mid-2000s it was common practice to combine everything with an MP3 player, such as Rubik’s cubes and massage devices. Premium sports sunglasses manufacturer Oakley even got in on the act with its Thump sunglasses, which came complete with a couple of earbuds and up to 1GB of storage.
Unfortunately Oakley didn’t think about people who’d want listen to music indoors, or not look like a complete dickhead.
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Released earlier this year, Fitbit’s Force tracker came packed with cool functions, such as sleep and activity recording, an altimeter, an OLED display and 10,000 reports of skin rashes. Apparently the majority of people who bought the device were not okay with potentially developing an itchy, blistered wrist, so Fitbit was forced to issue a recall of the 1 million or so units it had sold.
Fortunately Fitbit has bounced back from the negative press - but the company has slapped health warnings on its new range of trackers anyway.
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Com 1 Android Wear
The Com 1 Android Wear smartwatch hit crowdfunding site Indiegogo back in September, with the team behind it claiming that if it hit its target then the $125 device would ship in early 2015. However, the campaign disappeared with a dispute with Google over copyright the reason the project was pulled.
It seems that, unlike Android on smartphones, Android Wear isn't freely available for any Tom, Dick or Harry.
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