Top 5 Gadget Flops

Creating a new piece of technology requires years of research, painstaking development, numerous product designs and a great deal of testing. Vast teams of engineers with boundless experience work tirelessly to produce the latest gadget that aims to revolutionise the way we go about our daily lives. However, not every product is a success, with even the most esteemed tech aficionados getting it wrong. So for your viewing pleasure, here is a run-down of the five most futile and fruitless gadgets ever:

Apple-Newton

1. Apple Newton MessagePad

A vision of the future? Ahead of its time? Or just a terrible product? Apple’s Newton MessagePad has been heralded by some as the initial inspiration for the iPad, however this early tablet variant ultimately failed to secure any notable success.

The Newton received a great deal of ridicule for its handwriting recognition feature. The technology had to learn the user’s handwriting over a long period of time and struggled to detect common dictionary words. An episode of The Simpsons even made light of this infamous shortcoming.

Too big to be carried around in the user’s pocket but lacking the computing power for serious work, the Newton struggled to find a niche in the market. Apple’s ambitious promises and optimistic marketing campaign couldn’t attract consumers either.

Sony-MiniDisc

2. Sony MiniDisc

In theory, the MiniDisc player had the potential to be magnificent – a compact data storage device with the ability to play high quality audio. Unfortunately for Sony, its arrival came too late to make an impact on the CD market and then suffered from the emergence of MP3 players towards the end of the nineties.

Despite popularity in Japan, a high price point meant MiniDisc players were out of reach for a vital teenage market. What’s more, the major record labels did not give support to a format introduced by music industry rivals Sony.

Virtual-Boy

3. Nintendo Virtual Boy

Promoted as the first video game console capable of producing 3D graphics, the Nintendo Virtual Boy promised a virtual reality experience. However in the real world, the head-mounted display delivered basic depth-of-field imaging and in some cases, nauseating side effects.

The monochromatic display and awkward ergonomic design left gamers with dizziness and headaches. It’s hefty price tag left consumers feeling sick to the stomach as well.

Some critics praised the consoles novelty, while others felt the Virtual Boy was a gimmick without much substance.

Nokia-NGage

4. Nokia N-Gage

A mobile phone lacking coherent design for day-to-day use combined with a portable games console devoid of any immersive visual stimulation, the Nokia N-Gage was doomed from the start. The phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ seems most appropriate here.

Humorously described as a ‘taco’ by several commentators, Nokia’s poor design also required users to remove the battery to insert a game. The keyboard layout was difficult for entering text and even worse when it came to interacting with a poor selection of content.

Sony-BetaMax

5. Sony Betamax

One of the greatest consumer electronics companies of our time, yet Sony manages another product flop with its ill-fated Betamax video cassette player. Once again, Sony was the victim of its own success, as it chose not to license the technology to other manufacturers, believing it could conquer the market alone.

Even though the format was released a year earlier than JVC’s VHS alternative, the longer recording times of its rival saw Beta lose an established film studio and home video market share.

Nintendo Wii U review of reviews

The Nintendo Wii was like a firework of its generation of consoles – it burned incredibly brightly and shot up fast and then kind of fell away. Opening up the casual gaming market (the same market that has been such a boon to smartphones) was in many ways a genius move, but certain casual gamer-centric decisions like making the Wii an underpowered, family friendly standard definition console alientated a lot of “hardcore” gamers. The casual nature of casual gaming left a lot of Wiis gathering an awful amount of dust.

Fast-forward six years and the all new Wii U is hitting the shops. Nintendo used to be kings of the console so will their bigger, faster, better offering have enough to wow the crowds back?

Wii-U

Kyle Orland over at Ars Technica is pleased that the Wii U addresses one of the major failings of the Wii.

One thing is clear, at least—the HD graphics on the Wii U are at least on par with those of current HD systems. I loaded up the opening cut scene for Mass Effect 3 simultaneously on both my Xbox 360 and the Wii U, switching TV inputs to compare the rendering between them. If there was any difference in the quality, I couldn’t make it out.

The Wii’s detractors would often complain about the system’s underpowered hardward – making it somehow less of a gaming machine than the XBox or PS3. Nintendo have finally caught up – with the previous generation of console.

I’m willing to believe the Wii U is more powerful than the older HD consoles though, primarily because the system is also pushing a lag-free wireless image to the Wii U GamePad while it generates those HDTV graphics. Sometimes that touchscreen image is just a mirror of what’s happening on the TV, but often it’s a totally different viewpoint of the same scene, or a different scene entirely. I’d have to imagine ignoring the touchscreen altogether might actually give developers more horsepower to spend on the image being pushed to the TV

GamePad

One of the most innovative things about the Wii was the Wii-Mote a motion-based gaming system that was wildly popular and copied by both Sony and Microsoft. After 6 years of resting on Wii-mote laurels, David Piece at the Verge notes that Nintendo is bringing something new to the table with the GamePad.

The GamePad is huge, about 10 inches long and fairly thick and wide as well. Fortunately it only weighs about a pound, and thanks to ridges underneath your fingers in the back is quite comfortable to hold as long as it’s in both hands — it’s a little awkward in one hand, especially when you hold it in portrait mode. It’s made of black plastic, and is glossy on the front and matte on the back. The glossy part is incredibly fingerprint- and smudge-prone, just like the console, and Nintendo might have been better off using the matte material everywhere. The whole thing feels a little cheap and flimsy (a common occurrence with Nintendo consoles) though it’s plenty sturdy in use. The build quality is one of many sacrifices Nintendo seems to make in the name of creating a lighter, smaller GamePad. Most tradeoffs I could live with, but not the battery, which insisted on dying after only about three hours of gameplay — Nintendo obviously sacrificed battery size to keep the GamePad light, and it overshot the balance a bit. I had to have the GamePad’s charger, which includes yet another huge brick, accessible at all times when I was playing, because as you’ll see there’s basically no Wii U without the GamePad.

Back at Ars Technica Kyle Orland has issues with the launch titles.

But if the Wii U is capable of generating graphics more detailed than those of other current systems, the launch games I’ve seen so far don’t do a great job showing that off. First-party titles like New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land capture the company’s signature bright, cartoony style, but they come across as high-definition versions of games that would have been possible on the original Wii.

However T3 have some kind words about some of the titles.

The Wii U’s launch line-up is strong, covering everything from triple-A big-hitters to cheaper indie downloads, single-player adventures to multiplayer feasts. Nintendo Land – A great intro to the Wii U’s inputs a la Wii Sports, this comes bundled free in most packages. Includes 12 meaty mini-games themed round Nintendo classics from Donkey Kong to Zelda. New Super Mario Bros U – Sure, it’s a 2D platformer (Galaxy will have to wait), but the breadth of its multi-terrained world is stunning and collaborative multiplayer engaging.

Wii-U-GamePad

Consoles stopped being gaming machines a long time ago and the orginal XBox media centre hack was (at least for me) a revalation. So how does the Wii U fit into this new media hub landscape?

Although the deluxe Wii U shipps with Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube apps all preinstalled, Cnet uncovered a major failing.

Unfortunately, one section where the Wii U majorly fails — compared with other consoles — is media playback. Truth is, there is none. Even with all of its USB ports and SD slot, users cannot play their own media on the console. Throw this into the missed opportunity category.

So what’s the verdict? Techrader manage to sum it up the best.

For Nintendo fans looking to finally enter the HD era, the Wii U may seem like a beacon of light in an endless downpour – and if you’re coming from the Wii, it will be quite impressive, indeed. Not only are the publisher’s own properties sleeker than ever before, but third-parties can finally deliver the great games they’ve been making for other systems in recent years. But gamers who already have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 may struggle to see much of the appeal for now. Many of the Wii U games are lightly enhanced ports, with just a few noteworthy originals. And the online interface and streaming media options aren’t quite as polished or robust as what’s seen elsewhere. It’s difficult to point to a brilliant, system-selling game that justifies a new console purchase. There’s great fun to be had on the Wii U right away, but we struggle to call it an essential purchase for those still enjoying games on other platforms.

Nintendo at E3: Wii U and endless unanswered questions

Nintendo has just finished its E3 press conference and as many had predicted they did show off their new console which has been named Wii U – but in true Nintendo fashion they did their way by only showing off the revolutionary controller and not the actual console itself. It was more like a half unveil with the actual console being shown off properly sometime in the future.

Nintendo-E3

Quite why Nintendo thought it would be a good idea not to show the actual console is puzzling. Either they wanted the controller to take centre stage or they haven’t actually got a console. Were betting on a bit of both. It’s almost as if they forgot to show off the console for us it was one of the most bizarre console unveiling in E3 history.

They did have some small wafer thin box next the screen in some of the videos on show, but they didn’t show it off physically or go into detail about it. Today it was all about the controller, not the box that powers it.
The Wii U has what Nintendo and others are calling the most advanced controllers ever. It looks like a small 8-inch tablet device with DS-like screen and traditional Xbox/Playstation controls all baked into one rather impressive looking controller.

Nintendo showed off how you can play games on a normal HDTV using the controller like you would any other consoles. And how can play games on both your HD TV and on the 6.5-inch on the controller at the same time or just on the 6.5-inch on it’s own.

They then went on to show innovative ways on how future games could use the second screen. One eye catching example was the new controller laying on the ground showing a golf ball in a bunker on the screen. The user was the stood over the controller with the original Wii remote and nunchuk and the game on the HDTV in front of the player. It looked mighty impressive. All at the same time seamlessly with no lag or latency.

Nintendo went on to promise that all the controllers from Wii would be backwards compatible; so you’ll be able to use your Wii Fit Board, Wii remote and nunchuck for the new console.

The tech demos showed off new types of gameplay you’d usually expect to find on the DSI and 3DS on the new console. Players can use the touchscreen with your fingers or Nintendo Stylus a la DSI or 3DS on the controller, which then appeared on your TV seamlessly with no latency. One such example was painting on Art Academy on the new controller then appearing in real time in high-def on your TV.

They promised that the controller would have gyroscope, accelerometers, front facing camera and microphone. The console and controller would have internet browsing as well as video chat all through the controller and TV.

What didn’t say anything about is how long does the controller last on battery, does it even run on batteries or have they created all-new power source? Most worrying was the lack of price or release date during the press conference.

They went on to announce a new partnership with EA, which will see all of its massive gaming franchises coming to the new console including BF3, Madden and FIFA. There will be full online gaming for all the titles, as well as exclusive support of the second screen capabilities. This was shown off with Madden, where all plays were handled on the screen on the controller leaving the TV for the actual gameplay.

We’re slightly concerned that there wasn’t any mention of the actual console. Call us old fashioned but how can we make a judgment on the console if we can’t even see it. We have no idea how powerful it is, what media will the games come on? Is it Full HD? Even little things like how many controllers can play together. Most of all is how much is this very impressive new controller going to be? What storage solutions will be offered? All of this was not mentioned during the press conference.

Nintendo always do things a little different, but for consumers to take the new console serious we need to see some bricks and mortar. Today’s announcement has left more questions than answers. There’s no chance that you’ll seeing this console anytime soon. They haven’t even got a console from the looks of it. They’ve got a controller. All be it a very nice one. So we need to be patient and see what they come up with. The controller looks incredible. But it looks like it is going to cost an arm and a leg. Then you have to buy the yet to be seen console. Were slightly worried. But Nintendo has a lot to still show off. When. That is the million-dollar question. Nobody knows.

Although they didn’t say any of this Nintendo during the event – the new console will run in full HD, via HDMI, but the touchscreen isn’t HD. The console has internal Flash memory which can be augmented with “SD Card or USB solutions”. It will play optical disks and downloadable content, and will be backwards-compatible with Wii software. And it will launch some time between 1 April and 31 December 2012.

It will be the oddest console ever, and possibly the best, too. Or it may turn out to be a complete cul-de-sac. But one thing is for sure: it won’t just be another generic games console.

Batman: Arkham City, an Assassin’s Creed game, Dirt, Ghost Recon Online, Tekken, Metro Last Light,Aliens Colonial Marines, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, and Darksiders II all got a mention as coming to the Wii U. Yes!

The most adventurous gadgets (2010 edition)

Plenty of firms make evolutionary products – they take something and make it slightly better. Most of the time, it’s dull. Revolutionary products, however, merge humans and technology in new, perturbing, and sometimes ridiculous ways. One need only look at the Tweetle – the twittering kettle.

Looxcie

We see a lot of gadgets, and below is my list of outstanding contributions to the furthering of human and technological relations:

Notion Ink Adam

The little known Indian developer Notion Ink captured my heart back in January. It was originally defined by its Pixel Qi display – an LCD screen that turns into an eInk-rival at the flip of a switch. After another year of development, it’s ready to hit our stores as a more powerful, more useful version of the iPad. With 3G, Skype (with video calling), a 10ish hour battery life, two cameras, powerful media playback and a eInk-like screen, this could be the tablet to end all other mobile devices. It could be the One. It could be everything the iPad wasn’t.

LiveView

LiveView – or future versions – have the potential to end the wristwatch. Mounted on your wrist, it provides you with wireless access to your smartphone’s functions. An awesome idea with a slightly flawed execution. Hopefully, there will be evolution to this revolution.

Looxcie

The Looxcie lets you record 30 seconds into the past. No, it’s not some kind of unrealistic Deja Vu time-viewer. It simply records all the time, and when you push a button it saves the previous 30 seconds. A bit heavy, slightly gawky and with just too small a memory and too short a battery life. Next year, maybe?

BlackPad

Another tablet that isn’t the iPad. The reason that the BlackPad makes the list is due to its innovative, ingrained smartphone integration. It uses the best features of your Blackberry and combines them with the form and power of a tablet. It’s a whole lot more interesting than Apple’s product, which just multiplied the size of the iPhone and subtracted its camera.

Nintendo 3DS

The first 3D handheld was announced. It may not be out yet, but it’ll hopefully send a stark message to everyone else in the 3D market: we want the third dimension without glasses. Hurry up.

Movement wars: the future of gaming

With the dust settling on last months E3 we thought we would look into our magic ball, and answer the main underlying question. Who will win the “movement wars.” The big three are looking to the casual market and are staking their future on new-fangled movement controls.

Motion-Gaming

We’re going to wade through the PR rhetoric to give you a real taste of what to expect in the coming months.

All three console giants had a impressive E3 with major announcements on new hardware and games that will be ready in time for Christmas (hopefully) and we’ve dubbed it the “movement wars”.

Microsoft splashed the cash, with their Cirque De Soleil show, which tried to capture the imagination of the gaming fraternity, with a fancy stage show to show off the magic of Kinect. Sadly it left a sour taste in our mouth.

The Pre-E3 event came across more than a little bit stage-managed. After all if Kinect is a natural, visceral and fun experience, why would it be necessary to have actors on stage – trying to interpret how fun it is? If it’s that good, the stage show wasn’t necessary to convey this. Normal people having fun would have captured this so much better.

Many of the sceptics were still left with many unanswered questions, is there lag? How much will all this movement fun cost? Is it just for my Mum & Dad? And sadly we still can’t answer these.

We’ve trawled all four corners of the Internet to try determine the press reaction and we’ve read some interesting thoughts. One this is for sure, Microsoft can’t just aim at the causal market and forget about the people who actually own the Xbox at the moment, who in general are the hardcore variety.

Microsoft has certainly taken the biggest risk with their controller-free ethos. I for one am totally convinced. And really keen to try it out and hope it lives up to the massive hype. And If Microsoft sticks to Kinect Arcade games, that won’t cost the world, they could be onto a winner. And they’re best at micro transactions. After announcing that we spend over a billion dollars over Xbox Live content every year.

Nintendo were the first console to target the casual gamers and have had movement controls for a while now. So they left their big E3 announcement to the new 3DS – quite clearly the most technologically advanced handheld that they have ever created and it stole the show.

After all 3D images without glasses, is a man on the moon moment for Nintendo. Especially in light of their shunning of HD gaming with the Wii. I have no doubt that the new 3DS will be the must have gadget this Christmas, if it is out by them. Nintendo have cornered the casual market and that’s a given.

But the question to ask is the casual market worth more than the hardcore one? Obviously Microsoft think it is and have staked a big bet that they can corner both markets – even if they’re poles apart.

Sony made fun of both Nintendo and Microsoft event with cheap shots at their future plans – Sony feel that realism through Move and 3D is the future. But with their Move controller they have cynically copied the Wii remote and this is obvious to any gamer, casual or hardcore.

At least Microsoft and Nintendo are trying to push the boundaries of technology and hardware. Sony have just re-hashed the wand and 3D – marketing as the future of gaming, but it’s common knowledge that 3D is just the same as what we were getting in the early 90?s. 80?s styled glasses in all.

One thing to take from E3 is are the game companies really giving us what we want? Nintendo certainly are – they have stuck to the fun casual market since day 1 and they must be applauded for this. But Sony and Microsoft have been scrapping over the hardcore market for the last 3 years with neither able to call a victory.

So it would seem that they are both looking to steal Nintendo’s monopoly of the casual gamers. However it just looks a little late and cynical.

We will know more in the next 6 months, but the lines have been draw in the sand and the “movement wars” are going to be the most exciting time to be a gamers and that can’t be a bad thing. Who do you think will come out tops? Leave us your thoughts below…

Nintendo 3DS: Review round up and hands-on

Nintendo-3DS

The 3DS, successor to Nintendo’s uber-popular DS handheld console, has been much anticipated and long awaited among bloggers, gamers and tech obsessives everywhere. Finally, at the E3 conference last week, a few lucky journalists were able to get up close and personal with the device.

Almost as soon as the 3DS been unveiled by Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata, the blogosphere was awash with seemingly universal praise for the gadget. Keith Stuart at the Guardian was certainly impressed: “It works beautifully,” he gushed. “Nintendo is almost certain to have used an off-the-shelf lenticular screen technology, already seen in several mobile phones and laptops… Rich colours, a robust 3D experience and some intriguing games, this was my moment of the E3 experience so far.”

The Telegraph were quick to highlight the device’s impressive capabilities, (although Nintendo have yet to confirm the actual specifications): “Improving the hardware specifications of Nintendo’s best-selling DS handheld, the new 3DS gets improved graphics, a slide pad controller for more intuitive control and an internal gyroscope and motion sensor – like Apple’s iPhone. A slider at the side of the device lets users choose the intensity of the 3D display, from an extreme ‘in your face’ experience to a more subtle effect.”

The graphics were an obvious point of interest for many bloggers. Nintendo has long hinted that the gadget would boast crystal clear 3D graphics, without the need those silly 3D glasses, but have they managed to deliver? Wired thinks so, hailing the device as “unbelievable”. Chris Kohler wrote on their website: “It never feels like it’s straining your eyes and you don’t get any of that ghosting (when you can see a faint double image) you sometimes see at the movies. It’s was certainly the cleanest, clearest 3D we saw on the show floor, better than any of the 3D Sony Bravia sets we played PS3 games on.”

The picture-perfect graphics will also make gameplay much more satisfying, according to Mike Jackson at Techradar.com: “[The 3D graphics] made it easier to make acute judgments in the games. Flying through hoops or under bridges felt easier to accomplish just because you’re armed with depth perception like in real life.”

Amid the near-constant stream of kudos however, Michael Sawh at T3 noted a potential flaw: “The one slight let-down of 3DS is that nothing actually ‘jumps out’ of the screen in your direct vision. This is much more about what’s going on in the background.”

Suffice to say he wasn’t too disappointed though, as he then went on to claim: “Nintendo may have just created the most important piece of entertainment technology in decades.”

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long out to discover if this is true, but with no official release date (although a pre-Christmas roll-out seems likely) and no details on price (rumours range from £125 to £300), we’ll just have to twiddle our thumbs and be patient.

Nintendo 3DS Hands on (by Shem Pennant)

Nintendo were kind enough to invite Latest Gadgets to a top secret location in London town to have a hands on play with a prototype of their hot new handheld the 3DS.

Unfortunately they didn’t have a fully working unit, so no one was able to fully confirm any hardware specifications, release dates or prices. It was more an opportunity for us to hold units, watch units and go wow.

Hands on with Nintendo 3DS

Fortunately there is a lot to be wowed by. The glasses-free 3D works well with the 3DS screen and can adjusted (or switched off completely) by a little slider on the side – which may or may not be there in the finished model.

There are two cameras in the back that enable you to take 3D images. Whilst I wasn’t blown away by the quality of the images I took, it was a fun little feature and I’m sure if you are snapping something a little more interesting than a room filled with surly technology journalists you could probably get some decent images.

There was also a trailer for a 3D movie which you could play back on the device (although how you got them on there in the first place was “unconfirmed”.

I saw unplayable 3D demos for Kid Icarus, Mario Kart and Metal Gear Solid, all of which looked pretty impressive – the 3D seemed to benefit Mario Kart the most. There was also a playable demo for Nintendogs which showed off some of the 3DS’s face recognition abilities. As I moved the unit to my face a small puppy ran at me and licked my cheek. Tilting my head left or right caused the puppy to mimic my actions. All pretty kawaiii.

In addition, there were some playable demos of Wii titles on display. Kirby’s Epic Yarn was a cute looking platform game, where everything was made from wool and Metroid: Other M had an immersive soundtrack and storyline. There was some sort of dancing game, where lots of Nintendo staff were happily bopping to Vampire Weekend but I quickly ran past to get to Goldeneye, which was a remake of the N64 classic (Pistols, Complex, License to Kill = ultimate test of skill) – right down to the ability to play OddJob and annoy your opponents.

Unfortunately, everything was TBA (Soon, we’ll rid the world of T.B.A.!) but hopefully should be out in stores later in the year.

Nintendo DSi XL: One month to go

It’s just one calendar month until the supersized Nintendo DSi XL hits UK stores, so what better time to take a look at the new system? Priced at £159.99 – that’s not far off the RRP of a Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360 Elite by the way – the DSi XL features dual screens a whopping 93 per cent larger than those on a Nintendo DSi and sports a wider viewing angle than that available on previous consoles. Of course the DSi XL isn’t the only device of late to have gone the macro route of course – you only have to look at the recently announced iPad to see that the ‘bigger is better’ mantra is back in vogue – so why have Nintendo decided to go large?

Well, Nintendo seem confident in their belief that solo players will buy the system to enjoy gaming on a larger scale, while couples and families will splash out in order to take advantage of the wider viewing angle and gather around their system to enjoy puzzle games such as Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box together. Maybe Nintendo will be proved right, goodness knows they’ve been proven right before, but surely if family play is what they’re after then a better alternative would have been a connection to allow the DS and DSi to be hooked up to the household television.

At least the DSi XL remains portable, albeit at 161 x 91.4 x 21.2 mm at a size which no longer comfortably slots into the average trouser pocket. It also comes equipped with the DSi’s standard issue web browser, ability to play AAC encoded music files, two 0.3 megapixel cameras and connectivity to Nintendo’s DSi Ware online store via wi-fi. A new edition of sorts, and certainly another benefit of the resize, is the addition of a larger stylus for interacting with the touch screen. DS Lite stalwarts will no doubt have experienced what can only be lovingly referred to as ‘Stylus claw’ after long stints and a more comfortable stylus should provide some welcome relief to long-term sufferers.

So, is the Nintendo DSi XL an essential first day purchase? For existing DSi owners the lack of any improvements other than the larger screens and stylus might suggest not. For those yet to upgrade to the DSi from previous models, the extra function on top of the increased screen size might just tip the balance – better get saving those pennies for the 5 March release date.