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Inside the Museum of Failure: Microsoft's Kin to Apple's Pippin, the world's greatest flops

Coke 2, Bic's 'she-pen', and Nokia's 'taco phone' N-gage probably shouldn't have been released, but they shouldn't be forgotten either.
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By Liam Tung, Contributor on
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1 of 9 Liam Tung/ZDNet

Dr Samuel West: We need to accept failure

Some products should never have been made, but flops like Coke 2, Bic's 'she-pen', and Nokia's N-gage still hold valuable lessons for innovators. To remind people of their value, organizational psychologist Dr Samuel West, has opened the Museum of Failure in the Helsingborg, Sweden.

"The point of the museum is to show how important failure is for success when it comes to innovation. We need to accept failure," West tells ZDNet.

European innovators haven't accepted failure in the way Silicon Valley has, but West notes that Silicon Valley firms often forget his second message about failure.

"Silicon Valley has the right attitude when it comes to innovation and not stigmatizing failure. Unfortunately, even Silicon Valley companies are horrible when it comes to learning from their failures, so they make the same mistakes over and over again."

This point seems pertinent to startups experimenting with consumers' appetite for connected sex toys and talking dolls without thinking about security and privacy.

The Museum of Failure includes the Trump: The Game; Harley-Davidson Hot Road eau de toilette; Bic for Her; Coke 2; and a Swedish bike among a collection of 60 product flops. It's also filled with tech flops, from the Apple Newton to Microsoft's Zen phone.

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2 of 9 Sofie Lindberg

France's MiniTel succeeded, but not Sweden's Teleguide

After France's success with its pre-internet Minitel data service in the 1980s, Sweden's then national carrier, Televerket, today known as Telia, teamed up with IBM and Esselte to launch the Teleguide.

About 10,000 units were produced, but it was canned after Televerket realized that its losses would increase with every unit sold. The project cost the three companies kr2bn ($230m). It also arrived as the internet was taking hold in Sweden.

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3 of 9 Sofie Lindberg

Lego Technic and fiber-optic line: no cost control

In the late 1990s Lego was in deep financial trouble. One of the product lines that captured the period at the firm were its fiber-optic kits.

A few years ago, Lego Designer Mark Stafford explained on Reddit that the firm had no clue about costs and margins on certain sets.

"The most shocking finding was about sets that included the Lego micro-motor and fiber-optic kits," wrote Stafford. "In both cases it cost Lego more to source these parts then the whole set was being sold for."

Besides hidden loss-leaders, the kicker was that Lego had recently replaced designers who'd been with the company since the 1970s with 30 top design graduates who, it transpired, knew nothing about Lego building. The number of parts during this period doubled, creating logistics and inventory problems.

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4 of 9 Samuel West

Microsoft's Kin phone with slide-out keyboard

Microsoft released the Kin in 2010 and allowed it to survive just two months before pulling it and preventing it from reaching Europe.

The phone for social-media junkies was criticized for missing features and costing more than better phones already on the market.

"It was a disaster," says West.

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5 of 9 Sofie Lindberg

Amazon's Fire phone

Amazon's failed Fire phone needs little introduction, being such as recent failure. Echo, which didn't get the same grand unveiling as the Fire, continues to do well in the growing market for connected home devices.

"The killer was the Amazon 'buy button' so you could scan stuff in stores and buy it in Amazon. People hated the idea of being owned by Amazon. But you can't sell a smartphone where you can't use Google Maps," says West.

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6 of 9 Sofie Lindberg

Apple Newton, Apple Pippin

The Museum of Failure has two great Apple flops that were quickly sentenced to death on Steve Jobs' return to Apple in 1997: the Apple Newton and Apple Pippin.

The Apple Pippin had impressive hardware but was too expensive. The Apple Newton PDA was developed under John Sculley and launched in 1992. Jobs believed it had good technology but culled it to narrow Apple's focus and would eventually launch a mobile computing device with his own vision.

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7 of 9 Samuel West

Olivetti Envision PC with Windows 95

Olivetti, known for its typewriters, released this curiosity in 1995, hoping a VCR design would be less intimidating to consumers.

At the time, PC makers, including Packard Bell, wanted the PC to become a staple of the living the room alongside the TV.

The Envision featured an advanced mode with Windows 95, and a simple mode for playing media on CDs. The buggy hardware only survived for a year before being pulled due to poor sales.

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8 of 9 Samuel West

Twitter-dedicated Peek device

Did anyone really need a dedicated Twitter device? This flop arrived a year after the first iPhone. It was ridiculed by more tech-savvy users, but its predecessor, a dedicated email device, did receive some positive reviews for its simplicity.

As CNET noted of the Twitter device, the screen couldn't even display Twitter's full 140-character messages on the home screen. Peek killed the email service in 2012.

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9 of 9 Liam Tung/ZDNet

Roland 303: the most expensive item on display

The Roland 303 Synth cost West $3,000 to buy today, but was $400 when it was released in the early 1980s. It was a flop as a bass guitar synthesizer but shined in the house-music scene of the 1980s.

"It was impossible to use. The manual was way more complex than the synth. And now it's iconic. There's no modern pop song that doesn't have a 303 sound in it," says West.

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