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The Transmeta Crusoe was perhaps the most creatively engineered processor available around the new millenium. Rather than directly implement a particular instruction set, the Crusoe used a software abstraction layer called “Code Morphing Software” to translate guest software instructions into native instructions on the Crusoe. While this was only commercially used for x86 compatibility, the Crusoe was demonstrated running Java bytecode directly.
The Crusoe also had the benefit of having lower power consumption and running cooler than contemporary Intel and AMD CPUs, which made it popular for notebook and ultra mobile PCs. It was used in the Compaq TC1000, Toshiba Libretto L-series, and OQO Model 01, among others. The 128-bit Crusoe was replaced with the Efficeon in 2004, though the company pivoted away from designing CPUs shortly thereafter. Transmeta’s influence can still be felt in newer products, as their power management techniques were licensed to NVIDIA, among others.
Intel Compute Card
Intel Compute Card was an attempt to stuff a CPU, RAM, and Flash storage in the size of roughly six credit cards stacked together. The back of the Compute Card had a connector which allowed it to be plugged into a dock, which breaks out extra USB and Ethernet connectors, as well as video output.
The dock was also instrumental for cooling, as the card itself had no particular way to dissipate heat, making it necessary to wait for the card to turn off for some time before handling. Four variants were unveiled at CES 2017, but little mention of them was made afterward. It is still possible to buy Compute Cards, though the price for performance does not make it particularly compelling.
ZTE Axon M
2017’s ZTE Axon M was a well-intentioned retread of a foldable two-screen concept pioneered by the also unsuccessful Kyocera Echo. The Axon M combined a pair of 5.2-inch 1920×1080 screens, which was intended to create a single 2160p display when used unfolded.
ZTE’s attempt was plagued with problems, foremost of those being the hinge in the middle distracting from the experience. Likewise, weight and battery issues, as well as ergonomic problems–the screens were not level when the device is laid flat–made the phone frustrating to use. Additionally, the time delay between unfolding the device and having the software adjust was a common pain point of the Axon M.
ZTE’s near-brush with death as a result of sanctions did not help circumstances. One year on, new units were being clearanced out for $250, unlocked.
It is difficult to think of any other commercial electronic product which generated as much vitriol against users as Google Glass had. Glass, a sci-fi head mounted display (HMD) was a attempt at Ubiquitous Computing released in 2013, but died by 2015. A 2014 survey indicated that 72% of respondents hated Google Glass, while organizations such as “Stop the Cyborgs” spoke out against the technology. By that point, the pejorative “glassholes” had become commonplace to describe users of the technology.
The technology was revived in 2017, and is in use for AR applications in healthcare, among other areas.
The “Smart Luggage” trend included various bags with features including a USB port for charging phones, GPS trackers to find a bag’s location, remote locking, and weight sensors. High-end models included a motor to assist in moving the bag in an airport. These features, naturally, required power, typically supplied in Lithium-ion batteries. These are flammable, as Galaxy Note 7 users are well aware.
TSA restrictions now require the battery to be removed before checking smart luggage, making most of the feature set useless. As it stands, if you are going places, your smart luggage is not making the trip with you.
Sony Xperia Touch
The Xperia Touch is Sony’s Android-powered short-throw projector. It is touch capable at 23 inches, and can be used as a view-only projector at 80 inches. CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt praised it as being a social device, highling “the sharing-is-caring nature of a screen you can easily and conveniently turn off and on, move around and beam anywhere that’s flat.”
Unfortunately, the Xperia Touch is $1,699, making it more of a technical proof-of-concept than a mass-market product.
Nokia Lumia with e-Ink Case
Microsoft built an e-Ink case for the Lumia 640, inspired by focus groups indicating that people wanted “quicker and easier ways to access information stored on their phones,” according to ZDNet’s Liam Tung. Though it was being prototyped in 2015, details of the case existing were only made public in 2018, long after Microsoft killed Windows 10 Mobile.
2nd generation Mac Pro (2013)
The 2nd generation Mac Pro bears a striking resemblance to a certain Japanese trash can. The design is thermally constricting, preventing Apple from iterating on this design, which is why in 2018 the company still sells something essentially unchanged from the introductory configuration.
Apple plans to replace the 2nd generation Mac Pro sometime in 2019, once again paying much-needed attention to the professional market.
Sony CLIÉ PEG-UX50
The CLIu00c9 PEG-UX50 is a peculiar Palm OS powered PDA released in late 2003, which looks like an odd mashup of a Nintendo DS and a Sony VAIO notebook PC. Sony’s asking price of $600 made it a hard sell. While the horizontal display made it better for viewing web content, Palm OS was not quite intended for horizontal use, making un-optimized apps look weird.
The Chumby was a personal information display which housed a 3.5 inch touch screen in a leather and plastic exterior. It was something of a complex alarm clock that could also play internet radio, pick up news from RSS feeds, and act as a digital photo frame. Though initial alpha units premiered in 2006, the first commercialized version was released in May 2008 for $179. The concept was extended by Best Buy as the “Insignia Infocast,” and Sony as the “Sony Dash,” both of which ran on Chumby software, and picked up the ability to use Netflix, Youtube, and Spotify.
Lenovo ThinkPad Stack
Lenovo’s ThinkPad Stack series of pogo-pin connectable devices never quite worked out. The initial lineup included a 10,000 mAh power bank ($69.99), Bluetooth speaker ($99.99), and wireless router / 1TB hard drive ($219.99), with a mobile projector released a year later ($549.99).
None of the products individually were very good. The Bluetooth speaker lacked NFC, was underpowered, and had lower sound quality compared to standalone speakers at half the price. The router was limited to 10/100 Mbit, had no LTE connection option, the drive was never offered in larger capacities, and the power bank was most useful when used to power the other stacked devices. Together, for what it was, the stack was largely overpriced.
That said, the idea itself is really cool, and could be worth a second look if a second generation product addressing these shortcomings was released.
Cybiko was an ambitious project by AABYY co-founder David Yang. It was a hybrid PDA and handheld game system, complete with a full keyboard, and wireless mesh networking with a maximum communication range of 300 meters, according to the Centre for Computing History. The system was reasonably open to homebrew software, with official SDKs available from Cybiko, as well as a Logo interpreter, allowing software to be written on the Cybiko itself. Cybiko Inc. released hundreds of free user-loadable apps and games, though no paid app distribution system, or official third-party app store existed. The original Cybiko was released in April 2000, with the successor Cybiko Xtreme released in 2001.
Cybiko enjoyed moderate success, selling more than 500,000 units by the end of 2000. However, the utility of a game system without a proper D-Pad made it unsuited to certain types of games. Similarly, the greyscale screen made it less appealing compared to the preexisting Game Boy Color, and the Game Boy Advance, which debuted in June 2001. By 2003, the hardware and software divisions split, and the company folded.
One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO-1
The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project’s first laptop, the XO, was intended to bring educational computing to developing countries, with a price of $100 per unit. The product was never going to replace a standard computer, and was only available for the general public for two weeks as part of a “Give One Get One” project in 2007. It had a unique screen with a reflective monochrome mode for low-power use in sunlight, and supported 802.11s mesh networking, allowing other devices to connect to the internet if one system within range was connected.
Practically reaching the $100 price point was a challenge, and the initiative faced competition in developing countries from Intel’s Classmate PC. The consumer market eventually opted for the Asus EeePC, a line of netbooks, which lasted from 2007 to 2013.
Jolla, the Finnish company behind the partially open source Sailfish OS, had an immense amount of difficulty actually shipping their crowdfunded tablet. Despite raising more than $2.5 million USD, issues with the manufacturing subcontractor in China resulted in only about 1,000 tablets being shipped, despite receiving more than 20,000 orders for the device.
On paper, the Jolla Tablet was a $189 competitor to the iPad Mini, powered by a quad-core Intel Z3735F and paired with 2GB RAM, with a 7.85 inch 2048×1536 display. Jolla has tried to position Sailfish OS as a third pillar in the mobile market, though it maintains some compatibility with Android apps through the use of the Alien Dalvik runtime.
The GScube was a hardware renderer intended for studios to produce “e-cinema and real-time digital content in the broadband era,” according to Gamespot’s contemporary coverage. The GScube had 16 graphics units running in parallel, based on the Graphics Synthesizer hardware, which powered the PlayStation 2. The GScube was apparently used for render prototyping of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (pictured), though neither the GScube or that film were successful.
The last of Apple’s enterprise, rack-mountable computing hardware was discontinued in November 2010. Likewise, OS X Server ceased to exist as a separate product shortly thereafter, with Apple opting to sell the Server app in the App Store instead. Interestingly, Apple did not use Xserve hardware to operate their internal services, prior to it being discontinued.
tThe Mac Mini has essentially supplanted Xserve, leading to odd circumstances like Mac Mini colocation services.
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