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We all want to be innovators, to introduce a product that revolutionizes an industry. But history shows that product pioneers often get left in the dust.Remember the Palm Pilot from 1997? The PJB-100 from 1998? Apple killed and improved both products. Just like Facebook killed Friendster and World of Warcraft now overshadows EverQuest.
Some of these paved the way for better products. Others, like the 1898 Lohner-Porsche Mixte-Hybrid, were just way ahead of their time.
18-year-old genius Ferdinand Porsche designed the 1898 Lohner-Porsche Mixte-Hybrid for the Lohner Coach company. Unfortunately its lead-acid batteries weighed more than a Prius, and the automobile maxed out at 60 miles per hour. Lohner canceled production after selling only 300 in eight years.
The Tucker Corporation introduced seatbelts, disc brakes, fuel injection and other features years ahead of the competition
Preston Tucker packed the 1948 Tucker Sedan with a directional third headlight, rear-mounted engine, seat belts and a rollover protection bar, with plans to add disc brakes, fuel injection and other features. It was designed to be the most aerodynamic car in the world.
Following bad publicity and an SEC investigation for fraud -- later acquitted -- however, the Tucker Corporation folded after one year. Many have speculated that the Big Three was behind the smear campaign. Only 50 cars were ever produced.
Bar codes were originally conceived by Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland in 1948. Their system relied upon light reading a set of concentric circles, but computers weren't advanced enough at the time to make their idea practical.
It was 25 years later, 1973, when IBM introduced the universal product code, which has since become the bar code standard.
Introduced in 1975, Betamax tapes had a quality comparable to today's DVDs. Sony signed distribution and production deals with Toshiba, Pioneer, Murphy, Aiwa Sears, RadioShack and other companies.
Two years later JVC introduced VHS, a lower quality but cheaper video tape. VHS tapes could also play videos that were twice and eventually four times as long.
JVC won the fierce format war that followed, and by 1988 Sony was producing its own VHS machine.
Home console gaming was becoming an increasingly bigger deal in the early 90s, and Fujitsu released the FM Towns Marty for the Japanese market in 1993. Its 32-bit capabilities meant that users would be able to play more demanding games with better graphics, but interest never took off.
The system was expensive and the game library was a bit limited. The manufacturer cancelled production, and this led to a saying in Japanese business culture called 'Marty's Law,' which loosely translates to 'if you don't keep offering something to sell, you can't increase sales.'
In 1981, the Xerox Star made waves by introducing a computer with a mouse, Ethernet networking, and a graphic user interface with icons and folders. It was quietly phased out around 1988.
Apple and Xerox quickly reappropriated the idea of the GUI, implemented their own ideas, and took them to the market. The Star couldn't hold up with its prohibitive cost and required accessories, which could easily total $50,000.
Hypercard didn't necessarily fail, but it was well ahead of its time for 1987.
It was a piece of software that let users put information on 'cards' and click around to different cards by way of 'buttons.' In a way, it let users create a tiny internet that lived on their own computers. Robert Caillau drew upon extensive Hypercard experience while collaborating with Tim Berners-Lee to create the World Wide Web.
The MiniDisc was released in 1992. It was discontinued in 1999.
The MiniDisc was incredible because it got people thinking about portable music in a new way -- suddenly it was hugely practical with decent battery life and small size.
But when CD-R technology became practical and affordable on a consumer level, Sony had to struggle to keep up, and it proved to be too much. MiniDiscs slowly disappeared from store shelves by 2000.
The Apple Newton was a primitive PDA (personal digital assistant) that came out in 1993. Apple killed it in 1998.
The device was a huge commercial failure, but you can see the germs of ideas that grew into the contemporary smartphone. It was a personal planner with note taking and handwriting recognition capabilities. Common complaints were that it was too large and too expensive, although a small community of people still use their Apple Newtons to this day.
This is a distant but clear relative of the iPhone.
In 1997, Palm was so hot that Palm Pilot used to be the generic term for a PDA. Now Palm exists only as a subsidiary of HP.
Palm's decisive failure was skimping on innovation when its biggest growth market -- smartphones -- was starting to explode a couple of years ago.
Palm's Treo was one of the first major smartphones with a colour touchscreen and web browser. But competitors made their phones slimmer and more powerful, and Palm couldn't keep up. Then Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, and the Treo was done.
In 1998, the PJB-100 was the first hard-drive based personal music player, beating the iPod to market by three years.
Several variations and attempts to improve on the form came out soon after, such as the Archos Jukebox and the Creative NOMAD. While the iPod shook things up with more capacity and smaller size, this is the device that laid the foundation.
EverQuest brought the idea of massively multiplayer online roleplaying to mainstream attention and took a leading hold over the market. It had over 450,000 subscribers, and was the subject of news items and even academic research.
The trouble was that EverQuest was too time-consuming for the regular gamer. Taking the game seriously was something of a major life decision, and it was one that most people weren't willing to make.
EverQuest is still active today, but it's success is quite unremarkable in comparison to similar games like World of Warcraft.
Friendster was an exciting internet property when it was founded in 2002. It beat MySpace by a full year, let alone Facebook. But now it's irrelevant, almost a joke. Nowadays, it's the butt of Web 1.0 jokes, but despite what you may have heard, Friendster still exists today.
The first thing most people remember about Friendster is that it was impossibly slow once it got popular. It couldn't scale with all of its success. This provided a lot of incentive to its users to check out MySpace and Facebook when they came on the scene. Now Facebook dominates.
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