While the history of mobile computing is littered with dozens of failed devices, we picked through the cream of the crop of products which legitimately launched but horribly underperformed in the marketplace, resulting in their cancellation.
One of the most hyped startups of the early 1990s and considered to be one of the earliest mobile device duds, the $4,995 Momenta was an black and white MS-DOS-based portable personal computer and an early forerunner of today's tablet computers. The machine featured a detachable keyboard and a touchscreen pen interface. After burning through over $40 million in cash, laying off most of its employees, Momenta shut its doors within 10 months of releasing its first product in August of 1992.
The AT&T EO Personal Communicator was released in 1993 and was similar in design and form factor to Apple's Newton MessagePad that was shipping around the same time. The Newton was a mobile dud by today's volume unit sales standards, but had a cult following and managed to live on for several years before being killed off by Steve Jobs during his triumphant return to the company in 1999, so it didn't make our shortlist.
The EO, despite having a number of innovative features, such as sporting an optional cellular modem, PenPoint's Go pen-based operating system (which AT&T purchased for $40-$50 million) and a transflective monochrome display, did not fare nearly as well as the Apple Newton, which cost around $700.
Everyone in the industry thought that the portable device was ridiculously overpriced at $3,000. A year after the device's release, in July of 1994, AT&T ceased development and marketing of the EO.
The Sharp Zaurus SL Series is a bit of an odd device to show up on this list because while it was certainly a massive flop in the United States, only selling an estimated 10,000-20,000 units max before the product ceased marketing in North America, it had a number of innovations that made it a very much a "Before its time" product.
The SL Series, which was introduced in April of 2002, was the first Linux-based handheld computer to be marketed by a large consumer electronics manufacturer. It was also the first mass-marketed ARM-based Linux handheld with C++ and Java applications, paving the way for Android smartphones and tablets as well as Palm and HP's webOS. The Zaurus SL was also first Linux handheld product to use the Debian/Familiar/IPKG software packaging format which is still used in Android devices today.
Sporting a 206Mhz StrongARM processor, 65,000 color QVGA display with a slide out keyboard and sporting the Qtopia touchscreen GUI as well as a CompactFlash slot for storage and device expansion, the Zaurus handheld computer was arguably much more powerful and versatile than the Palm OS-based PDAs it was competing with at the time.
Despite the Zaurus's innovations, reviewers and early adopters had issues with the device it because the sync software for email and contacts management was weak and buggy and had limited application support, which which was critical because the Zaurus's PalmOS competitors did sync so well and had a huge developer following. After about two years struggling in the US and North American market, Sharp exited the US market entirely, reserving future models strictly for Japan.
The Audrey was the first major QNX-based consumer device to be marketed as such to the general public. Launched in the year 2000, it was intended to be the first product in a series of "Ergo" devices. The VGA color touchscreen and pen-based Audrey featured PIM and web browsing capabilities as well as "Push" content and was a bizarre mashup between a high tech docking station for 3COM Palm OS devices and a tablet computer.
It was thought at the time that 3COM would eventually replace Palm OS with QNX, much as the QNX-based BlackBerry PlayBook is thought of as the trial run for BlackBerry smartphones. Unfortunately, the device never caught on with consumers and only after seven and a half months on the market, in June 2001, the Audrey was cancelled, and Palm was completely spun off from 3COM as an independent company, which was eventually acquired by HP in 2010.
Introduced as a family of low-end feature smartphones through Verizon Wireless in April of 2010, the KIN was a $1B project that underwent several years of development at Microsoft as an outgrowth of the Danger Incorporated acquisition. Designed by Sharp Electronics, the devices were targeted at a young demographic for its heavy social networking, media playback and cloud storage integration features.
Dogged by internal political issues at Microsoft, poor reviews and horrible sales, Microsoft pulled the phones from from market only two months after its introduction, causing huge embarrassment for the the software giant.
Founded in 2000, the company started out with something of a bad footing and a vaporware reputation -- even after announcing their first product years earlier, OQO didn't actually ship their Model 01 until the fall of 2004.
OQO made true handheld PCs, literally full-blown Windows XP and Windows 7 x86-based computers with slide-out keyboards you could hold in the palm of your hand -- the device weighed under 400 grams, making them smaller and lighter than even a contemporary iPad or a 7" tablet computer.
Unlike other companies on this list, OQO actually managed to stay in business for nine years and introduce three successive products into the market, but the company was never able to produce and sell many of their systems due to their high prices ($1000+ per device) and high return rates. The company ceased operations in 2009.
Started originally in 2008 as a partnership between Singapore-based technology design firm Fusion Garage and technology journalist Michael Arrington, the CrunchPad tablet computer was plagued by a dodgy business relationship, numerous design delays and cost overruns.
Highly anticipated as the result of the $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm Inc. in 2010, HP's flagship WebOS-based tablet was finally released to the public on the questionable July 4th holiday weekend of 2011, over a year after the release of Apple's highly-successful first-generation iPad and only a few months after the release of the second-generation version of the popular tablet.
Although praised for its innovative WebOS multi-tasking user interface and integrated social networking functionality already built into the operating system, the $499 16GB TouchPad, which sold for the same price as Apple's 16GB iPad 2 only had a dearth of applications and terrible retail presence when compared with its main competitor, which had hundreds of thousands of apps and a formidable channel and retail presence.
The TouchPad was also thicker than Apple's currently shipping product, lacked a rear-facing camera and had an inferior battery life, and was slammed by critics for its sluggishness and numerous software bugs. While HP eventually released a patch to address performance and stability issues just over a month later, the product lingered in the channel with virtually no sell-through in retail.
HP's largest retail partner, Best Buy, only sold about 10 percent of its total inventory, and demanded that the devices be returned to the company. In a last-ditch attempt to move inventory, HP reduced the price of the TouchPad $100, down to $399.
But it was too late. Eventually, on August 19, only 45 days after its release, and during its 3rd-quarter earnings call, HP's CEO, Leo Apotheker announced that not only that it would be discontinuing the TouchPad, but it would be shutting down all of its device operations for WebOS and would seek a partner to license the software, in addition to announcing its intention of exiting the PC manufacturing business entirely.
HP has been in the process of liquidating remaining TouchPad devices in the channel selling for $99-$140.00, an inglorious end to what is probably going to go down as one of the biggest flops in computing history
The PlayBook isn't dead yet, but things aren't looking too good for Research In Motion's tablet computer. Sprint has cancelled its 4G model, and similar announcements are expected soon from Verizon and other wireless companies partnering with the Canadian smartphone manufacturer.
Although the PlayBook has a lot going for it with its powerful dual-core hardware, excellent build quality and lightning-fast QNX real time operating system and best-in-class web browser, the product launched without integrated email and PIM functionality, relying entirely on Bluetooth-tethered BlackBerry handsets using a software "Bridge" to provide calendaring, messaging and contacts.
To make matters worse, the $499 device has no major applications or games to speak of and its legacy developer base which wrote all of their applications in Java, have little or no interest in porting their software to Adobe AIR, the primary software development environment for the PlayBook.
While a beta of a native C++ SDK has recently been released, no major applications by third parties have yet to be released using this environment into the PlayBook's App World. RIM has also demoed Android and Java functionality along with the elusive native PIM/email software, but has not yet committed to a release date for any of these enhancements. Without major applications, the PlayBook is pretty much an expensive paperweight.
While the PlayBook sell-through is said to be better than HP's TouchPad, it is thought to lag very far behind that of the iPad and even its Android competitors. RIM's stock is at an all time low, and recent industry reports indicate that the company's smartphone share has plummeted to only about 11 percent of the market for consumers in the United States.
Unless fortunes improve soon for the 7" tablet and RIM's QNX OS, it could very well result in the downfall of the entire company -- which indeed would make the PlayBook the worst mobile device failure in history.