The Top Six Doomed Technologies

May 22, 2009

There’s no doubt that we’re living in the golden age of technology. In an era where innovation occurs at an exponential rate, and the buzz around culture’s latest and greatest can quickly become a deafening roar, it can be difficult to discern the cream from the crap. But some technologies just aren’t long for this world -- be it through fatal flaws or simply the process of evolution. Either way, these six technologies have been headed to the recycling bin since day one.

6. The Kindle


Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Kindle is an e-book reader sold by Amazon which allows you to buy digital books from Amazon, and read them then. So to clarify: I’m supposed to give Amazon almost $500 for a device which can then be used to buy digital books from Amazon?  What a sweet deal! I’ve been looking for another device to add to my daily bag ‘o tech gear, which will now include a MP3 player, a laptop, a cell phone…and a Kindle!

Or, I could just spend less than half of that on a 3G iPhone, then grab the Stanza program from the iTunes App Store (which is free) and start downloading digital books straight to my phone -- all while basically eliminating the need for those other devices in the process. Or, even more ironically, I could just get the Kindle app for the iPhone.

I mean, for five hundred bones, I could buy a pretty decent laptop or netbook which has about ten trillion times more functionality than a Kindle – including the ability to, you know, download and display text. And, at ten bucks a pop, the e-books aren’t really a bargain, either.

You really have to wonder what Amazon is thinking with this thing.

5. Satellite Radio


Source: Lee Celano/Getty Images

Satellite radio services have been around since the early part of this decade, starting with two major players, XM Radio and Sirius. With the steady decline in the quality of programming in the terrestrial radio sphere for the last several decades,  the concept of satellite sounds awesome: hundreds of channels, with CD-quality sound, no censorship, and options that touch on nearly every popular genre today. But satellite radio faces two major obstacles.

First, it's not free, and when you try to combine "radio" and "subscription fee" into the same sentence, in causes most people's minds to reel. Honestly, that's probably a legitimate reaction -- radio service has been free since radio broadcasting starts, so it's going to be a tough sell to convince people they should suddenly start paying the listen to music in their cars, regardless of the quality of service.

Secondly, MP3 players, and specifically Apple's iPod, began to pick up major steam around the same time, not only offering people whatever music they wanted in their car (be it through an AUX jack or a tape adaptor, etc), but with an iPod, you can listen to what you want, where you want, whenever you want. When all is said and done, satellite radio is still a one way conversation.

Not surprisingly, satellite radio has had some trouble gaining traction, and as result, XM Radio and Sirius decided to merge last year, after getting permission from their overlords at the Federal Communications Commission. Unfortunately, that really wasn't enough. Since satellite radio basically put all its chips into the automotive market, the recent economic downturn, as well as the resulting obliteration of auto sales, have many now considering the nation's only satellite radio broadcaster, who is already over $3 billion in debt, to be utterly doomed

Well, look at the bright side: That clunky little receiver will make a great paper weight.

4. 3D Television


Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

So, last year, you'd finally saved up money and courage required, and you went out and you dropped an absurd amount of cash on a new HDTV. Well, the television manufactures would like to thank you by announcing it's already obsolete. That's right, companies like Mitsubishi, Sony, and Panasonic are convinced that you'll be so enamored by the idea of donning some goofy looking 3D glasses (make sure you've got enough for the whole family!) when you plop down to watch American Idol that you'll run right out and replace that "last gen" HDTV with a "3D Ready" one that supports these new standards.

Though content is limited (how many 3D DVDs have you seen for sale recently?) and the expense is high, the prospect of shelling out extra dough to literally give myself a headache is hard to resist. And speaking of content -- not only do old movies have to be remastered frame by frame to utilize this 3D technology, but only content shot specifically for 3D actually looks right.

Though the tech has been around for literally decades now, there's a reason why 3D technology has never really gotten a foothold outside of amusement park rides: It's still really nothing more than a novelty.

3. Video Games on Demand


Source: OnLive

In recent years, online gaming has seen a massive shift from gaming PCs and onto consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This is due in part to the fact that once you've bought a console, there's usually no need to upgrade it down the road in order to play the newest games, as they're designed around the hardware you already have. This isn't the case with PC gaming, and die hard PC gamers have to upgrade their machines regularly in order to keep the newest titles running in top form, at a massive expense of both time and money.

New services like OnLive seek to create a solution to this problem in the form of streaming, video-games-on-demand. Their idea is that the player wouldn't own an expensive, cutting edge PC or a console -- they'd simply plug into On Live's servers and all the hardware-intensive number crunching would be done on the other side of the scene. The player would see awesome graphics and cutting edge gameplay, and a farm of computers in a building somewhere would do all the heavy lifting for him. It's a great idea, in concept, but it is hopelessly flawed.

The biggest and most obvious problem is latency. Latency is basically the amount of time it takes a piece of data to go from one machine to another and back. The more latency there is, the more "lag" is seen during gameplay. As it's experienced now, lag only occurs when you're playing online and, for instance, you shoot someone, but the hit doesn't register, or takes a second or two to do so. Now imagine if that sort of frustration were applied to every single button you pressed or movement you made with the controller.

Quite frankly, any lag on a controller level is too much lag, and with services like these wholly dependent on the quality of a user's connection to the internet to deliver a lag-free experience (which is unlikely, given the general quality of internet service in the United States), that little box is almost certainly destined for the bone yard when the service pulls the plug a few years from now.

2. Blu-ray


Source: Fry Design Ltd/Getty Images

Sony's Blu-ray high definition disc format fought long and hard to defeat HD-DVD to become the victor in the most recent format wars. They eventually emerged victorious when Toshiba finally threw in the towel in February of 2008, not long after a sizable chunk of Hollywood studios decided to back the other horse. But did Sony really win the format war?

On November 19th of last year, Microsoft released the newest version of their Xbox Live service, dubbed NXE. Along with various new game-related features, a major deal with Netflix had been struck which allowed Xbox Live users who also had Netflix memberships to stream movies (including HD films) directly from Netflix's servers to their consoles. With an install base of over 12 million consoles in the United States alone, the concept of high definition streamed movies became a reality for literally millions of households literally overnight.

Even Sony themselves have realized that the trend toward digital downloads and streaming is inevitable. And with sites like Hulu, YouTube, and Veoh streaming full episodes of TV shows for free, it looks like the eventual winner in the format war might not be a format at all.

1. Hybrid Cars


Source: Junko Kimura/Getty Images

Ever since we Americans found ourselves at the business end of a mounting energy crisis and a rapidly deteriorating environment, hybrid-drive vehicles have become quite en vogue. And like many things in modern society, once something gains a certain level of traction in the public eye, its popularity often snowballs into something resembling a controlled hysteria, and people tend to ignore the fine print and focus on the money shot (see current mortgage loan debacle).

Of course, the final act is typically an implosion of said trend, and a subsequent trail of dead left in its wake (see current state of the global economy). In that regard, hybrid cars, or rather the hybrid technology driving them, has some fatal flaws in its design which all but assures their demise in the not-so-distant future.

Contrary to popular belief, hybrids are actually fairly inefficient vehicles, partially due to the amount of weight added by the batteries and electric motor. This point is clearly illustrated by this fuel consumption comparison test between a Prius and a BMW M3.

So, as a manufacture, how do you get your consumers to think they’re saving gas? You guilt them into it by using a huge readout on the dashboard that indicates when the car is using the electric motor and when it’s relying on the gasoline engine, thereby conditioning drivers to drive as sedately as possible. If you were ever wondering why hybrid drivers are the slowest people on the road, this is why.

And while hybrids are associated with environmental crusading in pop culture, they actually leave a larger carbon footprint than many conventional vehicles like due to several factors unique to hybrid vehicles.

First and foremost in hybrids' environmental impact are the batteries that store the electricity to power the hybrid drive system. Most hybrids use a nickel metal hydride system, which requires nickel mining, which is often done in open cast mines with all the pollution that comes along with excavating large holes in the ground.  These mining sites are left in such a state that they are typically declared dead zones after the nickel has been harvested and the mining has moved elsewhere.

Oh yeah, and what of those batteries when they no longer hold a charge after 100,000 miles or so? They don’t simply turn into pixie dust. Recycling them costs a chunk of change, so expect to see lovely piles of depleted hybrid batteries oozing battery acid in a landfill near you in the not-too-distant future. And let's not even get started on all the energy wasted from shipping various special components all over the world.

Not to helping the situation is the fact that hybrid sales are down by nearly half from this time last year, and with the hilariously bad reviews they're getting, and actual green alternatives already on the road and stealing the spotlight, hybrids will quickly start to show their stripes as the marketing experiment and stop-gap measure they were always intended to be.