Technology moves fast, so it makes sense that sometimes big, innovative ideas just don’t deliver the goods. That could be because they were too ambitious (read: ridiculously unrealistic), didn’t take design or hardware limitations into account, or ran into financial difficulties due to spending too much cash or not raising enough.
There are a whole host of reasons why a fantastic idea, elevator pitch or crowdfunding campaign might never make it from the drawing board or initial prototype stage onto our wrists, heads and bodies. But what were the biggest disappointments that could have really caused a stir? And which similar ideas have stepped up in their place?
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the big, bold, potentially brilliant ideas that promised us so much and yet delivered so little. (As far as we know these have all been paused, paused indefinitely or are officially no longer a thing at all. But if you know otherwise, do let us know.)
A number of smartwatches have emerged over recent years that people actually want to buy. Now we can see there’s a definite style that’s developed that people like and it’s somewhere between the squashed rectangle shape of the Apple Watch and the nice-looking-watch-with-some-smarts hybrid styles of the likes of the Kronaby. But before the days of these designs there were some wilder ideas. So many wild ideas in fact that we didn’t even have space to include them all.
Although we don’t know exactly why it’s no longer a thing, we had a few people tell us via Twitter they never received their Cuff despite having contributed to funding it more than four years ago. Now it seems the company is still alive and kicking, but pivoting its focus to B2B uses.
The thing is, all that waiting around for the Cuff meant that even if backers did ever see it, the specs inside the device would now be really out of date. In a Reddit thread about the Rufus Cuff, a Redditor posted that you may as well just strap a smartphone to your wrist, and, well that’s kind of a good point.
Nothing has risen up to take its place, because it’s mostly unnecessary to have such a huge interface on your hand when you could just, you know, pick up your phone.
But if the appeal of the Cuff was that it could be used for enterprise and logistical purposes, then maybe it’s not a wrist-bound device that we need. Instead, the Vuzix M300 are a pair of smartglasses (which we’ll get onto in more detail later) that are designed for commercial applications over consumer ones.
They deliver access to information, data collection and more all from in front of your face, leaving your hands free to get on with whatever it is you’re doing, which opens up a bunch of opportunities for those working in medicine, retail, supply chain and lots more.
The Cicret bracelet isn’t really a smartwatch, but in many ways it isn’t really anything because allegedly, it just never existed.
News of the Cicret, which claimed to be able to project an Android-powered touchscreen onto your skin that you could then interact with thanks to all kinds of fancy sensors within the wristband, spread across the internet. An Indiegogo campaign briefly launched. A Kickstarter campaign then launched. It all seemed too good to be true. And that’s because it was.
But it wasn’t just baffling because it was allegedly a scam, but because the scammers seemed to get scammed too and a wearable tech crowdfunding mystery ensued. That’s because despite the fact the Cicret was mostly impossible to actually make, the creators weren’t the only scammers. There was also another party who set up the Kickstarter campaign.
No wearable company has risen up to the impossibly high (and totally invisible) bar that Cicret set of turning your skin into an interface. However, researchers at the Carnegie Mellon university created a project called SkinTrack, which was similar.
They created two wearable pieces of hardware that communicate with each other to allow your skin, or shirt sleeve, to act as an additional screen.
A signal emitting ring then emits a high-frequency electrical signal, which the wristband picks up through the electrodes inside. The tech then tracks the position of your finger on your arm in a continuous manner. It’s all impressive, but unfortunately nowhere near becoming a mainstream reality.
Yes, another smartwatch! But this one is interesting because it had a bendy screen. Which looks cool, but given the lack of bendy screens on the market it maybe isn’t too much of a leap to guess why this product didn’t make it off the ground.
The Wove Band was made of Flexible Thin-Film Transistors, which perform like traditional transistors, but are physically flexible. What Wove Band claimed this could do was allow for the entire band to roll up without causing issues with use. It can essentially act as a high-tech snap bracelet with an e-ink display.
But although the plans seemed to be some of the most believable and interesting of the bunch on this list, the Wove Band has been paused for years now, despite having raised millions in funding.
The idea of a flexible screen is tantalising and something we’ve seen plenty of prototypes and research focused on, not just in the wearables space but in smartphones too. But it’s not a reality yet. The only element of the Wove Band that has been incorporated into wearables since is the e-ink display.
There are a few smartwatches that raised money on Kickstarter created by What Watch that team a stylish-looking smartwatch with an e-ink display. Although it’s light years behind the plans of the Wove Band, it’s still cool to see how e-ink can be used successfully in a nice-looking smartwatch.
Pebble Time 2
Back in 2016, Pebble unveiled not one but three new wearables all at once: the Pebble Time 2, Pebble Time Round and the Pebble Core.
All three looked like they’d do well, but the Pebble Time 2 might have been our favourite, with a design that stayed true to Pebble’s roots but softened the edges enough to appeal to a wider audience.
But it seemed Pebble’s triple product announcement was the death knell for the super popular tech startup.
Shortly after, Pebble started to face financial trouble and was bought out by Fitbit. This was a move initially believed to still allow the Pebble team to get on with their day-to-day work, just under the Fitbit umbrella.
But instead Fitbit cherry-picked the best designs, ideas and talent. Which is standard for acquisitions, but still felt a bit sad for those of us who had supported Pebble since their initial crowdfunding campaigns kicked off.
Of course, this meant the Pebble Time 2 was no more.
After Fitbit acquired Pebble its next wearable was the Ionic, which was hardly good news for Pebble fans. It was boxy, didn’t support as many apps (at least not at first) and didn’t seem to take any design cues from the Pebble aesthetic.
But although Fitbit hasn’t brought out a carbon copy of the Time 2 since, it is a very similar design to the brand’s latest offering, the Fitbit Versa.
Although still a bit of a leap, the Versa might appeal to lovesick Pebble fans looking for a similar option. It looks rather similar to both the Time 2 and the Time Steel, it’s housed in a design that looks a little more Pebble than Fitbit and is mostly gender neutral, which was one of the biggest appeals of Pebble’s initial designs.
The concept of smart eyewear makes sense because putting on glasses to improve our sight or keep the sun from blinding us is second nature to many. So if that’s the case, why have there been so many smart eyewear fails over the years? Let's get into it.
Probably one of the most talked about wearable flops of the last decade, Google Glass was a much hyped product that did materialise in some ways, for developers and a couple of early adopters, but didn’t become a mainstream game-changer like many believed it would.
They were a sleek pair of smart specs that could do all kinds of things, like send notifications from your phone to your lenses, allow you to record experiences, give you control over the small display with gestures and a lot more.
But whether it was down to funding issues, safety concerns, privacy concerns, hardware issues, design problems or lacking a clear function, there's no shortage of reasons why Google Glass never took off.
Since then a few other brands have stepped up, like Intel’s Vaunt. But within months of that project being announced and exciting everyone, it was also canned.
Despite a shaky start, Snapchat’s Spectacles are proving to be somewhat popular. Granted they do a fraction of what Google Glass was tipped to do, but maybe there’s a reason for that. They allow you to record photos and short snippets of video, all with the aim of then uploading your live-streamed content directly to Snapchat.
On the other end of the spectrum, Magic Leap has finally put its highly-anticipated augmented reality glasses on the market. The Leap One Lightwear headset mixes virtual elements with real world environments.
Although it remains to be seen whether the Leap One Lightwear will have as big an impact as expected, it’s great to see a product we’ve wanted for so long become widely available. Granted it’s not really much like Google Glass was tipped to be, but it’s the one piece of eyewear we’ve become excited about recently and could be the device to bring AR into the mainstream.
We were reluctant to add the Vue smartglasses to the list, because it looks like they’re still in development and still on their way to those who backed the crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
But when we asked Twitter which wearable crowdfunding campaign they were most disappointed to not see materialise yet, Vue was mentioned a few times.
The smart glasses look like regular glasses, but claim to be able to track activity, make calls, listen to audio navigation and much, much more. All of this could be with us soon, but if the list above has taught us anything it’s not to hold our breath when something looks like it might just be too good to be true.
Instead, the Vuzix Blade AR are available and are one of our favourite pairs of smartglasses currently on the market. They’re a little different to the Vue in that they’re AR-focused rather than audio-focused, but they do offer similar functionality, like messages, turn-by-turn navigation, alerts and even Alexa integration.
Ahh smart jewellery. On paper it makes so much sense to make jewellery smart because so many people already wear it, so it’s not about creating an entirely new wearable product, but enhancing one many of us already buy into.
But working with such a small form factor and making it useful, efficient and stylish has proved to be much more difficult in practice. That’s why smart jewellery, and in particular smart rings, feature heavily in our list of wearables that never were.
Vinaya was a smart jewellery company that we thought was really going places. But oh how wrong we were.
If the name doesn’t sound familiar, maybe that’s because it was originally known as Kovert Designs and then changed to Vinaya because, we guess, it sounded more in keeping with its self improvement credentials and the growing, Goop-inspired wellness trend.
But more than the savvy branding, the thing we really loved about Vinaya was the jewellery actually looked damn good – if a little large – and the team behind it put a lot of work into creating a brand that was focused on making us more mindful with the help of tech, rather than less.
They had a range of products on offer too. The first was the Altruis, which started life as a modular jewellery system that you could switch out for a ring, bracelet or necklace. It was made to alert you to certain notifications and would one day allegedly do more than that if you wanted it to.
But then everything started to fall apart, the company went into administration and allegedly broke in two and we haven’t heard anything from the team since, despite there being rumblings of the tech being used for B2B products.
So which brand has risen up in Altruis’ place? Well, there have been plenty of smart ring prototypes that have made tech headlines then swiftly fallen into the ether, with very few ever making it to market. But the two we like the most right now are the Oura ring and the Motiv ring.
Neither are the same as Altruis in that they don’t alert you to notifications. They’re both more focused on tracking your activity and giving you more insights into your day – Oura is particularly big on sleep.
But they are similar in terms of design. Both Motiv and Oura deliver smart jewellery that’s appealing to all genders – and fits all genders too. They may not have the on-trend costume jewellery appeal that Vinaya’s range had, but it’s proof that you actually can squeeze a lot of sensors into a device that’ll fit onto your finger and look really bloody good as it does it.
Of course it’s still early days for both Oura and Motiv, but they’ve both definitely come further than Vinaya’s jewellery did.
But wait, that’s not all! Vinaya also worked up a number of smart bracelet ideas: you could pop your Altruis into a bracelet, but there was also the Altruis X and the Zenta. The latter was focused on stress management and dubbed “a coach for your body and mind”.
It claimed to be able to track your physical activity, sleep, stress levels, breathing pattern and in some way that was never really fully explained, your mood. But unfortunately, just like the Altruis, the Zenta never became a thing either.
Fast-forward to the present day and there are a lot of wrist-bound wearables packed with stress-tracking smarts. For example, both the Apple Watch and Fitbit Ionic and Versa have breathing exercises built-in. What’s more, Garmin does a good job of monitoring stress levels with a lot of its trackers that have heart rate monitors.
But very few have managed to deliver on Zenta’s promise of all-day stress-tracking and even being able to use biometric data and machine learning to pinpoint emotions. Our favourite for stress-focused smarts is probably Spire because it’s focused on breathing patterns rather than just heart rate data.
It pairs up with an app that will deliver guided meditations and tips for chilling out when the device senses you're tense or your breathing is hurried and shallow.
But maybe the reason we don’t yet have a smart bracelet that does everything Zenta promised to do is that it’s just not possible – at least not yet.
There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Smarty Ring was anywhere near being actually made and rolled out or just an ambitious Photoshop scam.
But the ring did made it to an Indiegogo page (not that that means a great deal these days) and plenty of people bought into the super ambitious idea of an all-singing, all-dancing smart ring that somehow managed to squeeze a screen onto your finger.
In fact it raised its funding goal by more than 700% with plenty of those backers unsurprisingly still desperately hoping for a ring or a refund.
There’s no ring that has really stepped up to replace Smarty Ring, but maybe there’s a reason for that. The most obvious being a screen on your finger doesn’t make sense and isn’t something anyone ever really asked for anyway.
But there are a couple of rings that are cropping up that do see to a few things the Smarty Ring promised.
For starters, the ORII ring allows you to send and read texts without a screen as well as, somehow, listen to a call.
And the Blinq smart ring brings notifications straight to your digits, so you don’t have to keep looking at your phone. But we’re wary of shouting about either right now because, although they’ve received full funding on their crowdfunding campaigns, so did the Smarty Ring and it’s still early days.
Remember Fin? It’s another smart brand that decided to come up with a new name before it really launched anything to confuse us all. It’s now Neyya. The thing is, it annoyed a lot of people because not only did the name change, but so did the product.
It was initially meant to be an optical wearable capable of turning your hand into an interface that you could swipe and type. Neyya is much more simplistic, allow you to make simple gestures from the ring itself.
And if the comments on Fin’s (sorry Neyya’s) Indiegogo page are anything to go by, people are pissed. And most people never actually received a ring called Neyya, Fin or otherwise.
So yes, you can get a smart ring called Neyya right now on Amazon. Which means it maybe shouldn’t be in this list. But we’re lamenting the Fin. Also Neyya hasn’t been updated in a while so it seems the uproar has either stopped the company or made them lose steam and stop caring about Neyya. It’s hard to say.
This is another case of us not having a new device to show you because maybe it’s just not possible?
One device that is worth a mention is the NFC Ring. It isn’t a magic, gesture-based device like Fin was geared up to be, but it can unlock things with its built-in NFC smarts and allow you to share content, pay for things and much more.
There are plenty of different models to choose from too depending on what kind of functionality you’re looking for.