By Joe Svetlik
The idea might be sound, but the world just isn't ready for some gadgets. Sadly that was the case with this lot. OK, some of them weren't fantastic in execution as well, but the ideas were admirably lofty. And for that, we salute them.
In partnership with Microsoft, powered by the HP Spectre 360
Another Nintendo gadget, another one that was a few years too early. Its 3D graphics might leave something to be desired by today's standards – it used red LEDs because they were cheaper – but in terms of full immersion and cutting you off from the outside world, it was the forerunner to the Oculus Rift, Sony's Project Morpheus, HTC Vive and any other number of forthcoming virtual reality headsets. The Lawnmower Man came out a couple of years before it, and only now has VR become respectable again.
You can't knock the idea: an electric car that's affordable for the average family. It was also environmentally friendly, as it used a battery to power it instead of petrol. However, green gadgets were in their infancy in the 80s, and many people struggled to get their heads around why they would want an electric car. It also didn't go as far as today's models, and there were security feared regarding the low driving position and build quality. Nevertheless, the main idea was sound. It's just we'd rather have a Tesla.
Nokia should be applauded for foreseeing that mobile games would be huge. But its stab at a gaming phone was a little wide of the mark. The problem was that N-Gage was more of a games console than a phone, whereas the iPhone concentrated on being a really good phone first and foremost and let developers worry about how to make games for it. The N-Gage was bulky, had a design only its mother could love and because of where the microphone was, you had to hold it sideways to speak into it. It may have been ahead of its time, but the execution was anything but futuristic.
Microsoft's music player might have flopped, but it had one killer feature: the ability to share songs by tapping two Zunes together. However, the record labels didn't like it, so added planned obsolescence to the mix: you could only play a shared song three times before it disappeared. Which ruined the point somewhat. Samsung brought the feature back for the Galaxy S3 six years later in 2012. How quickly people forget.
"Nobody wants a stylus." That was what Steve Jobs said when he introduced the iPhone back in 2007. So why did the Apple Newton have one nearly 15 years earlier? You'd have to go back in time and ask Jobs. While it might have sunk without a trace, the Newton paved the way for the Palm Pilot and other PDAs, which preceded the current crop of big-screened smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus. The firm that ended up making the operating system for the original iPod was founded by two ex-Apple Newton developers. The rest is history.
Mattel Power Glove
This one was way ahead of the current craze for wearable tech. It was also years ahead of motion-controlled gaming like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect. The Power Glove preceded both by at least 20 years, as it made its debut in 1987 in the Fred Savage film The Wizard. It might not have been the most stylish piece of tech, but the ability to control Rad Racer by moving your hand was the stuff of childhood dreams. All together now: "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad."
The idea of videoing a special moment, like your child's birthday, and then storing it somewhere to be viewed back seems obvious today. But back in 1978, having a dedicated device to do so was completely alien. Polaroid used its own proprietary video tech, which, unlike Betamax and VHS, couldn't be taped over and couldn't be watched on TV. There was also no sound. Nevertheless, it preceded every mobile phone with a built-in video camera.
Amstrad E3 E-m@iler
Dubbed the 'superphone' (by Amstrad, admittedly), this was sold as the UK's first affordable home videophone with email and internet access built-in. You could make video calls, but only to other people with the same phone. You could take a photo using the built-in camera and send it as an attachment. You could write emails on the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. In fact, you could do a lot of what we use our mobiles for. Unfortunately, internet use and email access were done through a premium-rate phone line, so the costs soon racked up. Adverts also appeared on screen, years before the internet was funded by advertising. That's one thing we could have done without.
Virgin Media Lobster 700TV
Live TV on a mobile? Back in 2006? What were they thinking? Virgin Media took a leaf out of Japan's book and aimed to turn our mobiles into portable goggleboxes. With just one downside: it didn't have Wi-Fi. Which would mean you'd soon rack up a huge mobile bill. It was also a chunky old thing. Nevertheless, live TV was a lofty ambition, and you have to salute that. This was pre-iPlayer, pre-Netflix (in the UK at least) and before YouTube had become the behemoth it is today. Talk about aiming high.
Nintendo Game & Watch
Not only did the Game & Watch precede the Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and 3DS, it's also the granddaddy of gaming on smartphones. Back in the early 80s, the idea of a portable computer game was revolutionary. It also set the template for the controls for both the NES and Game Boy, two of the most popular games consoles of all time. The Game & Watch was a huge success, but was overtaken by the Game Boy, thanks to its swappable game cartridges. Still, what a legacy.