Inspired by a recent article at Wired Online, which detailed the lamest gadget ideas from the mid-1990s, I decided to make a list of five of the biggest flops in gadgetry during my lifetime.  In addition, the list shows some enlightening reasons as to why each of the products did not ever hit the consumer jackpot.


Hit Clips

Hit Clips were small, postage stamp-size chips (similar to say…an SD memory card for your digital camera) that would play minute-long mixes of popular music titles when placed in a specific Hit Clips audio player.  The chips would not work in any other peripheral, and there was no volume control on any of the music playing devices.  You have probably not even heard of Hit Clips unless you were less than 12 years old during 2001.  Beyond other reasons, the devices failed because its market was so niche-y that the only people that wanted them, could not afford to buy them with their allowance.


Pocket TV

These handheld televisions sets flopped for a variety of reasons.  I can speak from personal experience since I owned one (if only I could go back and redo all of my past Christmas wishes).  Unlike today's personal DVD players, there was no way to play your own videos, and the reception was so lousy that the only program I remember watching in its entirety was a Spanish soap opera.  I was forced to watch it with a green overlay, while jiggling the ever-present antennae to keep the signal.  Combine these problems with the bulkiness of the device, and you have got yourself one heck of a bad gadget.


Sega Dreamcast

It is very popular to take shots at Sega's flop-tastic follow-up to the Sega CD system.  Any gamer knows the problems that this console faced, from a lack of titles to a poor marketing plan.  Honestly, it's a shame because I played a friend's Dreamcast (he bought two of them for like $50 at a flea market), and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The games were bright, interesting, and fun.  The graphics weren't outstanding, and the controls were too large for my hands, but overall it was not that bad of a device.  The bitter taste of the Sega CD in gamers' mouths was more likely the cause of its defeat rather than anything else.



Its inventor, Dean Kamen, famously predicted in a 2001 Time magazine interview that the Segway "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy."  The company also predicted itself to make profits in the billions, but according to this article, the sales have been less than 500,000 for the greater part of the current decade.  This gadget failed because there simply was not a need for it.  Much of what it could do could be easily accomplished with a bicycle, or… by simply walking.  Add to that questions of blind pedestrian safety, and it is no wonder that the company has not seen those billions yet.


The Flowbee

According to several consumer opinion sites, the Flowbee, while ridiculous looking, actually works quite well.  It is also reasonably priced at $60, considering how many salon haircuts it could potentially eliminate.  Why then, has this product continued to remain in infomercial purgatory?  The answer is simple: look at the picture above.  I will happily pay for a $40 haircut at a salon to not ever look that silly.

What have we learned that your gadget needs to be successful?  It needs to be five things:

  • Able to reach several age groups
  • Able to consistently function properly
  • Able to neglect predecessors
  • Able to fulfill a need
  • Able to not make you look like you are vacuuming your face