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Tech innovations and products sometimes fail to gain traction and sales for a variety of reasons—despite how good they are. Three common reasons include being priced too high, poor marketing, and poor execution. Today we will take a look at three failed computers of yesteryear, examine why they didn’t succeed, and make a case for why they—or their concepts—could succeed in the current market.


Apple Newton & PDAs


Photo by moparx, taken from Flickr Creative Commons

One of the most famous examples of failed computers is the Apple MessagePad series of personal digital assistants (PDA), which ran on Apple’s Newton OS. Launched in 1993 with the slogan “Intelligence by Newton”, it was anything but. According to the commercial below, it was supposed to do many things a modern tablet or smartphone would be able to.

Why it was a failed computer

At release, the first version of the Apple MessagePad retailed for around $900 at the time. On top of the very high price, the experience of using a MessagePad could be very frustrating. For a device designed specifically with handwriting recognition in mind, you would think that feature would be its strong suit. Unfortunately, the handwriting system was quite bad, and critics lampooned it.

The MessagePad series of PDAs continued to be produced for five years until 1998, when it was discontinued by Steve Jobs.

How it could have succeeded

Despite its shortcomings, the Newton platform featured many good ideas that weren’t able to be fully realized because of the technology at the time. This shouldn’t be surprising, as developers today still have not perfected handwriting recognition technology. However, the fact that tablets have many features found in the Newton goes to show that it had a good foundation—it is just too bad that the technology hadn’t caught up yet.


Windows Tablet PCs


Photo by Janto Dreijer, taken from Wiki Commons

By the early-2000s, styli had already been used with Point of Sale (POS) devices for quite a while, so industry-leading companies such as HP and Acer thought that pairing them on Windows-based PCs would be a great idea. In fact, Microsoft developed a version of Windows specifically for tablet computers. But while it is a sound idea now, these early tablet/laptops hybrids did not catch on.

Why it was a failed computer

These tablet PCs were heavier, bulkier, and not as intuitive compared modern touchscreen tablets. Some argue that much of the blame lies with Microsoft and the fact that they tried to shoehorn touch functionality into Windows XP. A primary weakness of this approach was that the use of an electronic stylus was required, and touch input was not supported.

How it could have succeeded

With Windows XP, the tablet experience never would have been a major success. A new operating system should have been created specifically with support for touchscreens in mind. However, this approach probably would not have been good anyways, as the popular and low-cost touchscreens at the time were resistive rather than capacitive.




Photo by Clive Darra, taken from Flickr Creative Commons

Netbooks are ultraportable computers that helped launch the current trend of sub 13-inch notebooks, such as the Macbook Air and Intel Ultrabook. Netbooks first came out in 2007, with the launch of the Asus now discontinued Eee PC. Quick sales generated a great amount of buzz from competitors such as Acer, MSI, and Dell. But by 2011, the Netbook was basically a bygone fad.

When the original netbooks came out, they were some of the smallest computers one could buy. To reach that size however, they had to sacrifice performance, battery life, and the then standard Windows XP. Over time, they did improve to have better performance and support Windows.

Why it was a failed computer

Netbooks were always seen as secondary computers rather than productivity workhorses, as they lacked the intuitiveness of full-sized laptops. In addition, the introduction of the iPad and the Ultrabook contributed to the death of the netbook. A little less than four years, the netbook went from the next big thing in tech to being an also-ran.

How they could have succeed

One could argue that Netbooks did actually succeed, as they eventually led to the introduction of ultraportable computers such as the Chromebook. They also helped popularize smaller screen sizes such as 11.6-inch and 13-inch. With better hardware, touchscreens, and touch-centric operating system, they could have succeeded. However, at that point they would have resembled tablets more than netbooks. Perhaps the netbook was destined to be a failed computer after all.

Failed computers are always interesting cautionary tales as they can sometimes seem to be great successes, only to fizzle out in a few short years. In the three examples above, the failure lies primarily with the hardware not being able to support the ideas they aimed for. So what do you think is the next failed computer? Let us know in the comments below.

Article Name
Three Failed Computers That Almost Made It (But Didn’t)
Tech innovations sometimes fail to attract buyers despite how good they are. We take a look at three failed products that almost made it.
Wallace Chu

Author Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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