Posted by Neil Bennett 18 September 2013
The 5 crappest tech products of all time
Here at TechAdvisor we usually take poor products very seriously indeed. It's our mission to prevent these products coming into your possession and you from wasting your money on them – and to point you in the direction of much better choices by highlighting the best phones, tablets, apps and other bits of tech that are a pleasure to use.
But not today. Here five members of the TechAdvisor team have come together to celebrate the worst pieces of tech product design that we've seen across the years – though of course by 'celebrate' I mean 'rip into with glee'.
These are the products that were/are more conceptually flawed than one of Michael Gove's plans for 'transforming' schools, more poorly fashioned that your average Happy Meal toy, or were just uglier than a blobfish. Or they were just plain stupid.
Let us know if you agree with our choices – and your own favourite crap products – in the comments below.
Worst product ever: King of Key
King of Key arrived in the offices of our publisher IDG the same week I did in 1999 – and its sheer brilliantly hilarious awfulness has stayed with me ever since. It manages to be crap in so many ways, it's almost a field guide for newbie reviewers on what makes a product terrible: its concept is ludicrous, its construction is tacky and it's pretending to be something it's not.
The £80 King of Key was the laptop equivalent of a gold tooth from a West Ham dentist. It's a replacement for the then-cutting-edge Apple Powerbook G3's 'Home' key that's gold and has a diamond in the middle of it – a diamond that will bring you luck apparently *cough* bullshit *cough*. The gold turned out to be flaky paint, and the 24-carat diamond – which was accompanied by an authenticity certificate (below) – was valued by a nearby Hatton Wall jeweller as being worth less than a tenner.
Unfortunately the luck brought by the King of Key didn't rub off on the company who decided this is really what British Mac owners needed to own – MyGate went bust in 2001. Century Corporation, the Japanese company who made King of Key, went on to produce an iMac stand called 'Dance with i' that it promoted with the immortal words: "can be handled easily – even by a lady!!". I don't even know where to start...
Worst new product: the Apple iPhone 5c case
One of the worst tech products I've ever seen is Apple's new iPhone 5c case. The first time I ever saw it this was my reaction: "That is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen."
My opinion hasn't changed in the week since it was first unveiled. What was Apple thinking? For one, many of the colour combinations are ghastly. But that's not even the worst part. Thanks to its holey nature, the iPhone 5c case allows the word 'iPhone' to show through from the back of the iPhone 5c itself.
Except it doesn't, not entirely. All you get is "hon" or "non". From a company that prides itself on its design, this is more than a simple oversight.
Apple has photoshopped the rest of the regulatory text from the back of the iPhone out in its promotional material, but it's there in real life, making the real thing even worse. Plus, apparently, the iPhone 5c case is a dirt magnet, so not only is it ugly when you first buy it – it gets uglier as time goes on.
We're not alone in our opinion of Apple's iPhone 5c case. We've already seen the design compared to Crocs shoes, Connect Four, Daleks, a cheese grater and a washing basket – none of which are natural sources of design inspiration.
Worst attempt to combine two products: Sony Vaio Mouse Talk
Of all ill-conceived tech products, the Sony Mouse Talk is certainly one of the more memorable. It was launched back in the glory days of VoIP (that’s Skype to you and me) when USB-connected “internet” phones were all the rage.
Instead of using your desktop speakers and a microphone connected to your PC’s sound card, you could pretend you were on a real, wired phone. Never mind that the call quality (as it was back in 2006) made it sound like the person on the other end was close to drowning a swimming pool.
The Mouse Talk, however, took things a step too far, by combining a VoIP handset with a mouse. One minute you could be clicking around in Windows, the next on call with a relative in Australia.
On paper, the VN-CX1/B sounded reasonably good. Sony said it would “control desk clutter while adding a touch of style and ingenuity to your workspace”.
But ingenious it was not, since the Mouse Talk could only perform one of its functions at a time. When on a call your mouse would be out of action, leaving you unable to check a website or look up a phone number to pass on the information to your caller.
Either that or you had to lean your head sideways with your ear almost touching the desk and attempt to use the mouse by feel alone.
Just as a smartphone with a built-in shaver would be a retail disaster, the Mouse Talk quietly disappeared from PC World’s shelves. In fact, a shaver-smartphone would probably be more popular…
Worst way to surf the Web: DataWind PocketSurfer2
Picture the scene: it's mid-2007, and the internet is primarily a desktop affair. Plenty of people are still on dial-up, and even those with home broadband tend to be tied to a desktop via ethernet cables. And even getting a web connection to your home was a complicated and expensive business. Tech-savy mobile communicators tend to carry BlackBerries, and the mobile internet consists of scratching around for football scores and cinema listings via [shudders] WAP.
The PocketSurfer2 offered a solution to these problems. A phone without the ability to make phonecalls, it was a mobile cellular internet device. A smartphone-sized pocket book with a qwerty keyboard that proported to offer the full internet on the go, as well as a dedicated email device. Websites were crunched through a special caching process that meant they required very little data to be pulled down. Better yet there were no contracts entered into, DataWind said. You simply paid a one-off fee, and accepted adverts when you booted and shut down your PocketSurfer2.
In a world in which the mobile internet seemed positively futuristic, it was an impressive pitch, so what went wrong? Well for one thing the device failed to live up to expectation. I had one for a year and it was replaced – free of charge, I grant you – no fewer than three times. The third time it fell to pieces I chucked it in a drawer and forgot about it. I might have persisted, but there was another problem: in order for cellular connectivity to be free forever DataWind needed sufficient users of the devices to make the advertising model work. And, well, it didn't have them. So in order to keep pocket surfing I needed to shell out for a subscription.
Frankly, the experience simply wasn't worth it. Anyone who used a PocketSurfer2 rapidly came to the conclusion that whatever it was - and it *was* a decent emailer - it was nothing like the full internet. What it was might have been enough, however, were it not for the timing issue. Because the PocketSurfer2 launched just after the iPhone.
We forget now just how big a deal was the iPhone, so let me remind you. It may not have added much to the market in terms of pure technology, but the iPhone offered a great web browsing experience in a desirable, touchscreen device. If it ever could have, now a clunky device with a physical keyboard could not compete. And although it limped on for a year or two, the PocketSurfer2 was finished.
Most consistent worst products: The Apple Mouse
Not everything Apple makes is insanely great. In fact some are insanely bad. Ignoring iPod Socks – a curious, coloured knitwear product that they somehow hid from Steve Jobs every time he visited an Apple Store – and the G4 Cube, Apple Hi-Fi and Rockr iTunes phone, we must turn the spotlight of bad tech on something the company helped make ubiquitous despite creating some monsters of its own: the computer mouse.
While Apple was first to market with a mouse, it never caught up with other mouse makers who realised the tool’s potential. Yes, it took Apple 25 years to make a better mouse than Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft. Oh, the shame.
Despite overwhelming user demand Apple stubbornly refused to offer any more than one button on its mice, until 2005’s disastrous, dirt-collecting Mighty Mouse. Apple’s best mouse – the current Magic Mouse – still has just the one button.
The first Apple mouse looked like a guitarist’s effects foot pedal. Another resembled a shoe stretcher, and the iMac’s infamous Hockey Puck Mouse… well, let’s not go there.