Vintage Tech Ads: Failed Products

By milo on Sep 22, 2010 | 4 Comments

Brand new technology is often hit-or-miss—either the world gets their hands on something truly revolutionary or the “breakthrough product” turns out to be a dud. Our increasingly high-tech society has seen a lot of the former over the past several decades, ranging from the game-changing iPhone to the explosion of advanced social media applications. But during the course of such innovation, we’ve also seen, and gotten used to, the empty promises and salesman hype that often precede the biggest  technological flops. Today we remember the products that almost made it, but ultimately, and usually for good reason, fell short of becoming the next “big thing.”



Betamax was the main contender to the videotape format VHS. In the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, makers of these two formats battled each other to become the standard of home video. When both formats hit the market, most consumers immediately chose VHS because a single cassette could hold up to 3 hours of footage while Betamax capped off at just 60 minutes. MediaCollege reports that Betamax was eventually innovated to hold longer recordings, but by then it was already too late and VHS had taken the majority of the market. Not that they could hold on to it for too long, with the explosion of DVDs occurring just a few short decades later.

The Zip Drive


Before the world of CD-R drives, the only way to cram more than 1.44 MB of data onto something portable was through use of the ZIP drive. This device was a stop-gap solution if there ever was one—not quite as big as the soon-to-be CD-R, and no smaller in physical size than the standard 3.5 inch floppy. When the ZIP first hit the technology world in the mid to late 1990s, it was purported to revolutionize the education and office world through its 100 MB storage capacity and easy USB hook-up. Unfortunately, ZIP drives were quite an expensive upgrade and, while many people held off on making the switch, other engineers were working on the writable compact disc that would soon come and steal ZIP manufactures’ entire market share.



Another VHS competitor and losing contender in the format wars was the monstrous laserdisk. This beast of an early-age DVD possessed high video quality (at least higher than both its Betamax and VHS competition) but a much shorter playing time. Some laserdisks could run for only 30 minutes on each side, which was not even enough time to store a regular-length movie. The length problem, when combined with their gargantuan size and the noise generated from their big playing devices, generally prevented laserdisks from becoming at all popular in North America, though they did experience some moderate (and short-lived) adaptation in the rest of the world.

The Digital Audio Tape


The Digital Audio Tape (or DAT for short) was an alternative to the analog cassetes released by Sony in 1987. DAT was intended to become the new standard for home and car audio, but ran into problems when it was marketed in direct competition to audio CDs, which often had clearer quality of sound. ComputerWorld reports that the recording industry was also concerned with DAT because it allowed people to make near perfect digital copies of music, and thus lobbied for a heavy tax on all DAT equipment. This crippling legislation eventually passed, opening the gateway for CD manufactures and shoving DAT quickly on its way to obscurity.



Toshiba’s HD DVD was a high-density disk that was poised to replace the standard DVD as a  much better, higher definition alternative. The extreme rise in consumer HD televisions and home theater sets necessitated the invention of such a product, and both Toshiba’s HD DVD and Sony’s Blu Ray jumped at the opportunity to invent the next big thing. Entering into yet another format war (remember Betamax vs. VHS), the two companies worked feverishly to get their formats designed and ready for the marketplace before the other. And, while ZDNet reports that HD DVD was ultimately released first, it quickly failed, largely due to high cost and the slim selection of movies available on the new format.



Modo was a device that suffered the classic technological curse of being far ahead of its time. Essentially a social networking tool before social networking existed, the Modo was a portable device that would give the user information about the area in which he or she was currently located. Restaurants, bars, clubs—if you needed to know where to go based on your lifestyle history, Modo was the device that was going to tell you. Unfortunately, as TheStreet reports, Modo’s timing was all off and, instead of being an enviable success, the product crumbled with the implosion of the early-2000s dot com era.

Sega Dreamcast


Dreamcast was the almost-popular video game system that suffered a similar fate as the ZIP drive. Released in 1998 as the follow-up to Sega’s Saturn system, the Dreamcast was almost—but not quite—the Sony Playstation 2. It wasn’t but one year later that Sony announced the development of its historic  and game-changing PS2, and, in 2000, the new system was released to the adoring and spending-happy American public. Its release squashed the Dreamcast like a beetle under a steel toe work-boot. In 2001, the Dreamcast was eventually discontinued by Sega due to a lack of revenue from the project, and the company quietly went back to making games for other consoles.

Web TV


Boasting a painfully lethargic 40 kb/s from a V.90 modem, WebTV was a mid-’90s alternative to buying a computer that allowed you to surf the Internet. Sold as a unit that hooked into a phone line and television, WebTV provided users with cheap access to email and Internet. The problem with WebTV was that it was severely limited in what kind of content it could show, restricting the user’s Internet experience with a heavy hand.

Aside from that, the service was painfully slow, even for dial-up. In 1997, Microsoft purchased the small company and rebranded the product as MSN TV. A year later, the company announced that it had earned a whopping 325,000 customers, which should shed some light onto why the defunct service is now considered an antique.



The IBM PCjr was a heavily promoted and quickly deceased piece of technology that IBM hoped would become the new portrait of a family-friendly home computer. Released in 1984, the machine offered a wireless keyboard, joystick for gaming, 128 kb of memory, and a 5.25 inch floppy drive—all truly high quality equipment for the time. However, the two big problems that caused the IBM PCjr to fail in the marketplace were its price and compatibility.

The PCjr used a different kind of BIOS than the IBM PC, and would often crash when running standard software programmed for the other machines on the market. This issue, combined with a $699.00 price tag, or twice what the Commodre 64 cost, caused the PCjr to be discontinued in 1987, only three years after its original debut.


3 Comments on “Vintage Tech Ads: Failed Products”
  1. R4i says:

    Wow, talk about a blast from the past! If only some of these were still around today, haha

  2. vikas says:

    its very nice blog

  3. nitin joiya says:

    this site is very useful.


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