15 Backfired Inventions That Were Ahead of Their Time

Many unsuccessful products have ended up in the graveyard of technology. Do you remember the Apple Newton? Or the Zune by Microsoft? What do you think of Amazon’s Fire Phone?

In Silicon Valley, the concept of “failing fast” is considered a good thing. Sometimes, even failing slowly can lead to unexpected advantages. Innovative products sometimes fail, but they can also pave the way for improved ideas that succeed in the future. This is a list of things that didn’t go as planned, but they ended up leading to success or could potentially lead to something groundbreaking in the future. That’s why we’ve called these products the most successful failures in technology. They can still teach us something about technology and how people want to use it, like an experiment that didn’t go as planned.

The TIME technology team had a thorough discussion about this list, which ranks the items in order of influence. What did we forget to include?

The Most Successful Technology Failures


TiVo was one of the first Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) to be released. It was so successful that it became a verb. Even today, TiVo continues to produce some of the best set-top boxes available. However, the company is included in this list because it chose to be cooperative instead of asserting its dominance.

15 Backfired Inventions That Were Ahead of Their Time

For example, instead of taking legal action when cable companies introduced their own DVRs, TiVo chose to wait and see if they could negotiate an agreement, since they depended on the TV providers. Instead of promoting the superiority of TiVo boxes over cable DVRs, the company decided to tone down its groundbreaking commercial-skipping features.

And in the end, when TiVo decided to file a lawsuit, it was already too late because cable company DVRs had become very popular. TiVo successfully won all of its patent infringement cases, which resulted in the company receiving $1.6 billion. This money has helped the company continue operating up until now. However, if many consumers believe that TiVo went out of business, can it truly be considered a victory in the end? Perhaps, we can at least acknowledge its role in popularising DVRs.

Virtual Boy

The Virtual Boy, a game system released by Nintendo in 1995, was very uncomfortable to use. The experience was not virtual, but rather a simple tabletop version of what people often see when they wear 3D glasses at the movies. However, Gunpei Yokoi’s mistake as a creator was important in one way: It made people start thinking about virtual reality long before actual virtual headsets like the Oculus Rift were invented.

The Daily

The Daily was a digital-first newspaper backed by News Corp. It was launched with a lot of excitement and attention after the original iPad was revealed by Apple. The newspaper had eye-catching graphics, embedded videos, and innovative ways for readers to engage with the stories. However, the e-paper needed a paid subscription that was set up through the iTunes Store. The revenue was divided with Apple, but this model was not successful in the long run. Although The Daily closed down in less than two years, many media outlets are still considering mobile devices as the future. However, making a profit from mobile remains a challenge.


In the past, MapQuest used to be one of the top choices for getting driving directions before starting a road trip. Although it still exists, it is no longer as popular as it used to be. Google Maps, Apple Maps, and other GPS services on smartphones have made printed driving directions unnecessary. However, for many users, this service was their first experience of getting driving directions from the Internet. This eventually led to the development of the much-improved services that we now enjoy.


Apple and Samsung made the smartwatch popular, but Pebble was the first to do it. The original Pebble watch became the most-funded product on Kickstarter, raising over $10 million in 2012. The company attracted many developers who created hundreds of third-party apps and watch faces.

However, Pebble couldn’t survive for long in the smartwatch market because it was too small, especially after big tech companies joined the competition. In December 2016, Pebble announced that it would sell its technology and other assets to Fitbit. However, some of Pebble’s early ideas can still be seen in today’s popular smartwatches.

QR Codes

QR codes are a really helpful idea. Barcode-like symbols can be scanned by smartphone users to get more information about real-world objects, such as movie posters or museum exhibits. What is the idea? Scanning a code is simpler than typing a long and difficult URL into a mobile Internet browser.

15 Backfired Inventions That Were Ahead of Their Time

Although QR codes are still popular in other countries, they never became widely used in the United States. This could be because QR codes are often considered unattractive and disruptive. But the concept of using our smartphones to scan real-world objects is still present. Pinterest has recently launched Lens, an app that examines physical items to assist you in finding similar products available for purchase online.

Motorola ROKR E1

Apple’s iPhone made the concept of a phone that can also be used as a music player very popular. However, this was not the first time the company had attempted to create a phone focused on music. The ROKR E1 was a phone released in 2005 in collaboration with Motorola. It was the first phone to come with Apple’s iTunes music software already installed. However, when the device arrived, it was mostly not working properly. Critics complained that the software was slow and the phone had very little storage space. However, it predicted a brighter future where our phones can instantly play almost any song we want.


Sega’s last console, which had a spiral design and candy-like buttons, was a powerful video game system that buyers didn’t realise they wanted until five years too early. The console was released in Japan in November 1998 and in North America in 1999. It offered the ability to play arcade games at home and had a built-in modem for online multiplayer, which was a first for consoles. It also had controllers with second screens, which was something Nintendo’s DS handhelds would later do. The Dreamcast was not able to attract gamers who were captivated by the marketing hype surrounding the next-gen Sony and Nintendo systems. As a result, it has become an example of how to fail in the industry, but still make a big impact before exiting.

Google Glass

Google Glass, the smart glasses introduced by Google in 2012, generated a lot of excitement. Glass had a very exciting launch, with a flashy demo showing skydivers using the device and even a feature in Vogue. It was one of the most hyped gadget launches ever. However, Google discontinued the product in 2015, although it is still being used in some professional applications.

What happened? The headset was not widely adopted due to its expensive price of $1,500 and concerns about privacy. Glass made it simple to secretly record videos, leading some bars, restaurants, and movie theatres to prohibit the device (and created the term “glasshole”). Although Glass did not succeed, it provided important insights into wearable technology. Specifically, it means that people generally do not appreciate being recorded without their awareness or consent.


During a time when it seemed like magic to be able to get answers to questions by typing them into a computer, Altavista was very successful. It was established in 1995 and paved the way for Google, which has become an essential part of how we find information. The term “googling” is now commonly used in our everyday language.

15 Backfired Inventions That Were Ahead of Their Time

What caused Altavista to fail? It seems like nobody knew how to handle it, so it was ignored and not taken care of properly. Over the years, AltaVista changed ownership multiple times. It was originally owned by Digital Equipment, which was later bought by Compaq in 1998. Then, it was acquired by CMGI in the following year. In 2003, Overture bought AltaVista, and later that year, Yahoo acquired Overture. Yahoo shut down AltaVista in 2013, 10 years after it was officially killed. Google is still the most popular search engine.


According to TIME, MySpace was a popular website in 2006 where people could become famous on the internet and start careers in music and film. It definitely made the basic idea of social media and online profiles more popular.

However, Facebook surpassed this former leader of social media around 2009. What happened? After NewsCorp bought MySpace’s parent company for $580 million in 2005, some people believe that the bureaucratic complications that followed were to blame. Facebook has 1.86 billion monthly active users. It learned from MySpace’s downfall and quickly adapted to changing user preferences. Facebook also acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 to stay ahead of potential competitors.


Today, it is becoming increasingly evident that electric cars will play a significant role in our future of transportation. Tesla, a new and innovative electric car company, sold more than 76,000 vehicles in 2016. However, it was General Motors, a long-standing company in Detroit, that introduced the first electric vehicle that was produced in large quantities and made available to the public.

The GM EV-1, which was available from 1996 to 1999, was very popular among the few customers who were able to lease one. (The vehicles were not sold, but instead were only leased. Additionally, less than 2,500 of them were produced). However, GM ultimately made the decision that electric vehicles were too specialised and controversially ended the programme, sending most EV-1s to be destroyed. The recent rise in popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) shows that there is a demand for these cars. Even General Motors (GM) is reentering the market with its Chevy Bolt.

Palm Pilot

The original Palm Pilot PDA was the first popular product that allowed us to carry our digital lives with us. It sold one million units in its first year, so it can’t be considered a failure. In 1997, Microsoft invested $150 to help Apple, and the rest is history with the creation of iPods and iPhones.

It is a big disappointment that Palm was not successful in turning its initial success in mobile computing into a dominant position in the smartphone industry. In 2010, HP acquired Palm. However, Palm has since become a brand that is not doing well. They keep making handheld devices that don’t sell well and don’t bring any new advancements. Right now, TCL is the owner of the company, and they also own BlackBerry.


Before the iPhone, there was a popular device called the BlackBerry. Its dedicated users lovingly called it the “CrackBerry.” These popular devices were the first smartphones for many users. They could connect to the Internet, send and receive email, and chat with others using the company’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service. And they were everywhere: Research in Motion, which was known as BlackBerry at that time, sold over 50 million of the devices in 2011.

However, that turned out to be the best point in the company’s history. RIM was not able to keep up with the changing trends. They insisted on using their traditional physical keyboard instead of switching to a full touchscreen like the iPhone, which became very popular. In 2016, BlackBerry was only selling around 4 million devices each year. BlackBerry is not as successful as it used to be, but their devices played a big role in the development of the powerful smartphones we use today.


Napster deserves credit for popularising online file sharing, although it’s possible that another platform would have achieved the same result. Napster became extremely popular at the start of the 21st century and played a big role in replacing CDs with digital music. It was hard to believe that you could store your entire music collection on a hard drive before Napster came along.

What is not widely known is that the service also helped popularise some important technical blueprints during the middle ages of the Internet. The story of its determined young founder, Shawn Fanning, certainly had an impact on the careers of many startup founders who came after him. Napster’s biggest advantage was its ability to freely share all kinds of content, even copyrighted songs and albums. However, this eventually became its downfall, as it had to change to a subscription-based system. Unfortunately, this change led to Napster going bankrupt.

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