Tech reincarnations: 5 dud products that inspired later hits
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Sony eVilla (2001) | Google Chromebook (2010)
Many failed tech products often have features that were incorporated in newer devices or next generation replacements. Here are five products and their modern, successful, counterparts.
The eVilla is one of the least probable computers to actually exist. All of the components are moderately weird—it has a portrait-oriented Trinitron display, a 266 MHz Geode processor, and runs BeOS for Internet Appliances with Opera 4.0. Altogether, it’s 31.5 pounds of computer for $500. The eVilla did not fare well in the market, leading Sony to discontinue it after two months, pull it from retail channels, and offer a full refund for the system and dial-up subscription which accompanied it.
A decade later, laptops which only run a web browser became an actually desirable market, with Google’s Cr-48 starting the Chromebook line in 2010. Google’s own Chromebook Pixel line (pictured) commands a premium price at $1300, compared to the $200-$400 price point of most Chromebook hardware. Chrome OS devices now extend to the Chromebox desktop replacement, Chromebase all-in-one, and miniature Chromestick system.
NeXTcube (1990) | Apple Power Mac G4 Cube (2000)
The NeXTcube was the second iteration of the computer hardware sold by Steve Jobs’ NeXT Inc., which catered to the needs of higher education and business markets. Powered by a Motorola 68040, and with an MSRP of $10,000, approximately 50,000 cubes were sold. The NeXTcube ran the Unix-like NeXTSTEP operating system, which became the basis of Mac OS X.
The spiritual successor of the NeXTcube was the Power Mac G4 cube. While it was much more affordable at an introductory price of $1799, it suffered disappointing sales and was discontinued after a year. Reports at the time raised concerns about cracks in the polycarbonate case of the G4 Cube, though the company insists they are mold lines.
Gateway Destination (1996) | Microsoft Surface Hub (2016)
Gateway (then Gateway 2000) sought new ground in selling computers by bundling a 31u201d Mitsubishi monitor with a PC that contains a TV capture card. The intensely 1990s promotional video explains the appeal of turning a personal computer into a living room computer, complete with infrared wireless keyboard and trackball remote. At introduction, the Destination had an introductory price of $3500 (with optional factory upgrades raising the price to $4700), though two years later, Gateway shrunk the screen to 27u201d and dropped the introductory price to $2000.
This is a slightly hasty comparison, as the Surface Hub is targeted toward enterprise users, but the idea of combining Windows with a comically large display is finally coming into its own with Microsoft’s 84u201d 3840×2140 (3:2) display with a computer attached. With a 100-point multitouch display, the Surface Hub may bring the multi-user collaboration to Windows that the Gateway Destination sought to do. Although it was announced in January 2014, shipment has been delayed, with ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley indicating that the first units should ship to enterprise customers in January 2016.
IBM T220/T221 (2001) | iMac with Retina 5K Display (2014)
The IBM T220 series, and the handful of rebadged monitors based on this design, such as the ViewSonic VP2290b (pictured), are the earliest large HiDPI displays to be produced. The T220 series are, as the name implies, 22.2u201d with a resolution of 3840×2400 and an aspect ratio of 16:10, making it slightly taller than modern 4K 16:9 displays (WQUXGA). The T221 was introduced in November 2001 with some internal changes at $17,999, though was lowered to $8,399 in March 2002. The production facility was sold to Sony in 2005, ending production of this monitor.
Of note, hardware and software support for this series is somewhat challenging. Early revisions used an LFH-60 connector with a Matrox G200 MMS video card to drive the display, though later revisions include converter boxes for use with DVI.
There isn’t a u201ctrueu201d replacement for the T220, as there are no other WQUXGA monitors at all. EIZO makes a 4096×2160 (17:9) display which is almost the same thing, but costs $31,809 (it is intended for the medical imaging market). The only truly larger monitor is found embedded in the 5K Retina iMac, starting at $1799, which is a bargain even compared to the T220. It received an 8.5 Editors’ Rating from ZDNet, though there is also a caution about costly upgrades. At press time, the fully loaded iMac 5K was $4099.
Google Nexus Q (2012) | Google Chromecast (2013)
Google’s media streaming bowling ball was unveiled at Google I/O 2012, with conference attendees receiving a free unit. The Q required the use of an Android phone or tablet, and only supported streaming from Google services, leaving reviewers wondering what it is actually for. Google offered preorders of the Q for $300, but users who pre-ordered received it for free, as the device was quietly discontinued.
A year later, Google introduced the diminutive Chromecast streamer for only $35. It still requires an external device for use, though it is compatible with iOS and Android devices, as well as Chromebooks and computers running the Chrome browser. A 2015 revision was released, keeping the same $35 price tag, and adding a separate Chromecast Audio model for streaming to audio devices.