Top 10 most overhyped products

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Top 10 most overhyped products

This week, we take a look at some of those epic failures who crashed despite being billed as the "next big thing".

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Companies don't come out with new products, they come out with "innovations" and "solutions." New products are often rolled out with rock star-level hype and grandiose predictions from executives and analysts.

While the marketing folks no doubt love all the hype given to products, it can also turn somewhat embarrassing for the company when the product fizzles. Even when a product succeeds we still remember the hype.

Here's our top 10:

10. The Segway

Iain Thomson: The Segway launch was shrouded with secrecy, so like good journalists we begged, borrowed and bribed our best to try and find out what it was.

According to some in the tech industry the Segway was going to change the way cities were built, and lead to a carbon free future. In fact what we got was a transportation platform that made you look silly and wasn’t much cop.

Now I know Steve Wozniak loves the Segway, that they are undoubtedly geeky machines that are treasured, but the fact of the matter is that they are a toy for people with more money than sense. The mileage per recharge is pitiful, governments don’t know whether to ban them or embrace them and even George Bush can’t ride one safely.

Shaun Nichols: The problem with the Segway is that it solved a problem nobody really had. Manually powered scooters and bikes are more popular than ever, and they have the pleasant side effect of making you healthier. If you don't want that, there's the bus, car and train.

Sure, the tech behind the Segway is very cool, but the market for people with a lot of disposable income and the desire to get somewhere slowly without having to exercise much doesn’t go much further than old, wealthy geeks.

9. Antivirus software

Iain Thomson: OK, this is a tad controversial but the fact is that for much of its history antivirus software has not lived up to the hype.

In the early days viruses were passed backwards and forwards on floppies, and the only precautions you needed to take was to make the disc read only. Then email and the internet came along and viruses became a much bigger problem.

The fact of the matter is that most antivirus software is retroactive – the virus needs to be in circulation before an antidote, in this case a signature file, is found. So if you’re the first recipient of a virus then you’re out of luck.

Even more worrying is custom viruses – if some script kiddie gets hold of a virus building engine and sends you a virus without propagating it in the wild you’re out of luck in the protection stakes – there’s no way an antivirus package will detect it.

For all the talk of heuristic engines to detect virus-like behaviour we’ve seen precious little action and the industry is still wedded to the idea of signature-based virus identification. Until security software gets a lot smarter we’re going to be seeing the same old problems coming up again and again.

Shaun Nichols: I'd also add the problem of social engineering to that list. As comedian Ron White once said, "you can't fix stupid." You can't really patch against it either. All of the detection tools and warnings won't make much of a difference if the user ignores them in hopes of free p0rn.

The industry is slowly moving towards heuristics, particularly the smaller vendors who don't have the resources to maintain a huge library. Unfortunately, many users still see AV software as clunky, intrusive, and unreliable.

8. Apple TV

Shaun Nichols: Nobody does hype like Apple. They do it so well that even their lesser projects get hyped to ridiculous proportions. This was the case with the Apple TV.

Though it was quickly put on the back burner for the iPhone and OS X Leopard, the Apple TV was the star of the show in late 2006.

These days, Apple TV is somewhere between the external hard drive and the mouse in terms of the company's priorities. While it was never a terrible product, it lacked a true "killer app" until iTunes movie downloads really came into force, and by then it was already stuck in the shadows of the iPod, iPhone and Mac lines.

Iain Thomson: When we got the invite to this the initial thought was that Apple was to remake the TV in the same way it had the personal computer or the media player. How wrong we were.

In fact, what we got was a digital video recorder in a shiny new wrapper. It wasn’t even that good – it had very limited codec support and needed several updates before it rivaled other players on the market. And still Apple fans bought it; proof, if any were needed, that the Apple fan will buy anything if Steve Jobs tells them it’s cool.

7. Zune

Shaun Nichols: The more I think about it, the higher I want to place the Zune on this list. It is one of the few examples of Microsoft bringing its huge marketing and development budget into an arena and getting laughed out of it.

Zune was supposed to be the iPod killer. It was a device Microsoft had spent years crafting and many expected it to do to the media player market what the Xbox did to the gaming console market.

Though the Zune had some interesting features, none of them were very good. The interface fell short of the iPod's. The wireless features had potential, but got badly limited by a lacking music service and restrictive DRM. The Zune just never had any compelling arguments to overcome the popular and fashionable iPhone. In the end, Microsoft's hype machine was no match for Apple's hip machine.

Iain Thomson: The Zune, proof positive that Microsoft will never be as cool as Apple.

At the launch Microsoft was touting this as the iPod killer, a device that would stop people contributing to Steve Jobs’ retirement fund and start putting their money where Bill Gates thought it should go – his capacious pockets.

Why anyone at Redmond thought this was a great device is beyond me. It sucks, plain and simple. I’ve owned many media players over the years and, while I’ve bought some stinkers, I’d never consider handing over hard-earned cash for this piece of junk.

6. 3D Worlds

Shaun Nichols: The story of the 3D online worlds is proof that sometimes a cool technological idea and a good business idea aren't always the same thing.

Lead by Second Life, 3D worlds peaked in popularity around 2006, but have tapered off since then. At the peak of the hype, big media names such as Reuters and Cnet went as far as to set up bureaus and assign reporters to cover Second Life as a beat. Sun and IBM bought their own in-game islands which were used to host products releases and press meetings.

The problem is, there wasn't a whole lot of a reason to do so. The enterprise benefits of those online worlds were and still are minimal. Having experienced the meetings and press conferences firsthand, I can tell you that they fall well short of an in-person briefing and the distractions of a 3D world and lack of access to other applications makes them far more inconvenient than a phone briefing.

That's not to say that online worlds aren't successful in other markets. World of Warcraft is among both the most popular games and online communities right now, due to the fact that the gameplay actually gives people a reason to be there beyond simply walking around a 3D map. Second Life also maintains a loyal core of users, though the gambling ban did cause many to flee.

3D worlds, though still a niche, have fallen short of their promise for a new generation of internet hubs and revolutionary way to interact with people.

Iain Thomson: If Second Life and its ilk are the future then hang me now.

We got bombarded with press releases talking about how Second Life had a bigger population than Bolivia etc. In fact, it was all rubbish – there are a dedicated core of people who inhabit 3D worlds but the majority of users try it out and decide they prefer the real world.

There’s also the nutjobs who patronise these environments. While there are perfectly normal people who use 3D worlds, some of whom I count as friends, there are also a lot of people who are a few flying buttresses short of a full cathedral. You know the type I mean, those who have avatars of genitalia or sundry other tasteless personas. Sadly 3D worlds attract these people like flies and they, more than anything else, make 3D worlds a busted flush.
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