We've seen some pretty incredible products released in 2009, from the iPhone 3Gs and blistering-fast videocards to the timely release of Windows 7. Unfortunately, there have also been a number of exciting technologies that didn't make it out this year, despite widespread hype and high expectations. We've taken it upon ourselves to call out the worst offenders. Read on for our list of the ten most notable technologies that got prematurely announced, delayed, or outright cancelled in 2009.
First, let's get the obvious one out of the way.
The brainchild of TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, the Crunchpad has been the source of will-it-or-won’t-it release speculation since the project was announced in mid-2008.
Whether there was a demand or not for the Crunchpad, a tablet device meant for surfing the web from the couch, was always up in the air. With sub-netbook internals and likely to cost more than $300, some questioned whether anyone would find the Crunchpad worth their cash. Others wondered if a full-size device without a keyboard could survive in the modern world of social web-apps.
But now, there’s no more speculation about the Crunchpad, except of the “what the hell just happened” variety. On November 30th, just two weeks after insisting that the project was alive and well, Arrington announced that the CrunchPad had exploded on the launchpad. According to him, Fusion Garage, TechCrunch’s partner in the endeavor, essentially decided to claim the product as their own. He says:
“Bizarrely, we were being notified that we were no longer involved with the project. Our project. Chandra said that based on pressure from his shareholders he had decided to move forward and sell the device directly through Fusion Garage, without our involvement.
"Err, what? This is the equivalent of Foxconn, who build the iPhone, notifying Apple a couple of days before launch that they’d be moving ahead and selling the iPhone directly without any involvement from Apple.”
Of course, a screwjob of these epic proportions will necessarily result in a lengthy legal battle, and the CrunchPad will never see the light of day. Arrington said it best himself:
“I’m enraged, embarrassed, and just…sad. The CrunchPad is now in the DeadPool.”
2010 forecast: No chance.
Ah, WiMAX, the perennially-promised wide-range wireless broadband. Theoretically able to power 6Mbps downloads to mobile devices and Wi-fi hotspots anywhere within its coverage area, WiMAX has been trumpeted as the Next Big Thing in wireless for years.
So where is it? Well, it’s coming along, one city at a time. It’s still far from a wide-spread rollout, though, which means for most people WiMAX is out of reach. Sprint’s still dumping billions of dollars into the project though, and the list of cities on the docket for 2010 is promising (hooray San Francisco!). So even though this one is still vaporware for now, we’ve got high hopes for the future.
2010 forecast: Decent, if you live in a major metropolitan area.
PC gaming is dead! And console gaming? Also dead!
That's the kind of hyperbole that was buzzing around the internet when OnLive was announced early this year at the Game Developer's Conference. Its idea of cloud gaming wasn't just conceptual; OnLive had playable demos on the show floor, and promised a beta by the summer. Summer came and went, and it wasn't until September that OnLive began taking sign-ups for a closed beta.
But now, at the end of 2009, we haven't heard anything new from the company. OnLive's success will depend largely on the location of its data centers and the continued expansion of broadband services, so it's not unreasonble that they still have a ways to go before being ready for primetime. AT&T and Warner Bros. have contributed a significant amount of investment into the service, so we don't think it'll go away, either. But until we actually get to play with OnLive outside of a controlled environment, color us skeptical that PC and console gaming will go the way of the Dodo.
2010 forecast: There are a lot of reputations on the line (as well as money), so we don’t see OnLive going public until it’s bug-free and polished. We’re hoping for a public beta by summer.
6. Consumer electric cars
It’s almost 2010 already, and transportation technology just isn’t where we thought it was going to be by now. Jetpacks? Nope. Flying cars? No way. Hoverboards? Nuh-uh. Electric cars? Not yet.
Now, we’ll admit that those first three are a little unreasonable. All things considered, The Jetsons simply turned out to be a poor predictor of what life here in the future would be like. But really, where are the electric cars? There’s the Chevy Volt, which looks fairly promising, but which won’t hit your local dealership until late 2010 at the very earliest. There’s also the Tesla Roadster, of course, which kicks all kinds of ass and has actually been shipping cars (at least 700 so far!). But, with a 6-figure pricetag, it’s way out of reach of most of us peons.
At least there’s hope that practical electric cars aren’t too far off. Check out Shai Agassi’s TED talk for one example of how an all-electric future might look.
2010 forecast: Not too bad. The Volt is schedule to launch in late 2010, but given the car’s history of delays, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it get pushed into 2011.
7. iPhone Tethering
In November, 2008 at the Web 2.0 Summit, the president of AT&T’s cell phone division said something exciting. Soon, he said, customers would be able to tether their iPhones to laptops or netbooks, using them as a mobile, 3G modem. Everyone was pretty excited. Then seven months passed, with no news about tethering.
The silence was broken at WWDC back in June, with news that the new iPhone OS 3.0 software would include official support for MMS messaging and tethering. Except, not from AT&T. The largest carrier of the iPhone needed more time to prepare for the features, and we were told that they would be coming soon.
MMS support for the iPhone was rolled out on September 2009, and although it took a bit longer than people originally expected, at least they actually got around to releasing it. But tethering? You guessed it: still MIA. And with recent communications from AT&T on the issue cryptic and vague, it’s starting to look like tethering on the iPhone is going to remain vaporware for the foreseeable future.
2010 forecast: It’s possible, but don’t hold your breath.
5. Duke Nukem Fore--wha?
Surprise! After over 12 years of development, 3D Realms shut down its offices in May, ending Duke Nukem Forever's reign as the quintessential example of vaporware. So what game is next in line to take the crown? Here are our picks for the three top contenders.
Remedy's moody psychological thriller was announced at E3 in 2005 as a flagship title for Microsoft Game Studios and one of the premiere DirectX10 game. Since then, the Max Payne Developer has periodically released new screenshots and video, but haven't actually demoed the game in public. Worse yet, the PC version was announced to be on hold in mid-2009, even though the developers claim the core game is essentially finished. As of today, Alan Wake does not have a confirmed release date.
2010 forecast: Since Remedy claims that the game is “done,” we’ll probably see some form of it released next year. But don’t hold your breath for the PC version, which Microsoft may not release.
Half Life 2: Episode 3
Aside from Telltale's Sam and Max and Monkey Island games, episodic gaming hasn't made a good name for itself. Half-Life: Episode 2--bundled with Valve's Orange Box--ended with a dramatic cliffhanger, but Valve has kept mum about the promised follow-up for the past two years. Episode 3 will likely be the conclusion of the Half-Life 2 saga, though Valve will have to significantly step up its game to get gamers interested in the story after all this time. The Source engine as it appeared in Episode 2 is severely dated, and the improvements made to it for Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 may not apply to the visual style and gameplay of the Half-Life series. Still, considering the success of Left 4 Dead, the privately-owned Valve must have the funds to continue Episode 3's development, even if it's not their top priority.
2010 forecast: 50-50. It’s unlikely that Valve will cancel the project, and assuming Half-Life 3 is already in the works, Valve would be foolish to announce it without having finished Episode 3.
Giving Blizzard a hard time for delaying a game is sort of like hating on a wild dear for eating the flowers off all the plants in your yard. Sure, it sucks, but that’s just sort of what they do. Nevertheless, Diablo 3 is going to go down in the history books as an especially bad example of Blizzard’s luxurious dev cycles. First announced in 2008 and in development since 2005, Diablo 3’s been tempting us for quite some time now. Unfortunately, Blizzard has made it official that the hack n’ slash isn’t going to be arrive until 2011, at the earliest, meaning at least three years between announcement and delivery. It’s gotten so bad, even Blizzard recognizes that it’s a problem.
We don’t doubt that Diablo 3 is going to be released someday, and it’ll probably suck up all of our free time whenever it is. But for now, it’s vapor.
2010 forecast: A snowball’s chance in Hell.
4. Comcast Bandwidth Meter
Last year, Comcast announced a 250GB bandwidth cap for all of its residential customers. Even though the cap reportedly only affects 1% of all Comcast customers, users were nonetheless outraged by this change in policy. To assuage the concerns of highly-active downloaders, Comcast promised to offer a bandwidth meter that would track usage to help customers work around the cap.
It's taken them one full year to fulfill that promise, as Comcast has only just began a limited launch of its data metering service for subscribers in Portland, Oregon. But at this point, do users even care?
2010 forecast: We're cautiously optimistic. Comcast’s pilot program in Oregon shows that they’ve made progress in launching the service. But we’re still not confident that the metering service will roll out nationwide anytime soon.
3. Apple tablet
image credit: Gizmodo
Have you heard about the upcoming Apple tablet? Everything about the device, from the size of the screen to the feature list to the release date, is shrouded in mystery. Aside from a few cryptic comments from folks who may or may not be in the know, there is precisely zero real information on this topic.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped everyone from the New York Times to the National Enquirer from waxing rhapsodic on the prospects of the “ultimate touchscreen computer” at the first hint of a large flash memory order from anywhere near Cupertino. Yes, we get it. Apple changed the world with the iPhone. Yes, even though no one really liked tablet computing the first time it was new and exciting—in 2003—we acknowledge that Apple could change the world again.
2010 forecast: Can we just have a moratorium on all Apple tablet coverage until after Apple announces it, at WWDC in March?
2. USB 3.0 Devices
We've already told you everything you need to know about USB 3.0. The spec has been finalized, and we've had hands-on time with the first chip controllers, motherboards and even add-in adapters with USB 3.0 ports. But where the heck are the actual USB 3.0 products? Companies like Buffalo and Point Grey have touted SuperSpeed hard drives and webcams in press releases, these products seem to only exist on paper or in prototype form.
There's no doubt that USB 3.0 will roll out and replace USB 2.0 at some point. But 2009 just wasn't the year for it to happen.
2010 forecast: Looking good. We expect to see a few USB 3.0 devices at next month’s CES.
1. iPhone killer
We love the iPhone, but we love competition even more. While it’s impossible to deny that the iPhone bests Windows Mobile and Blackberry to earn its place atop the smartphone heap, we were hoping to see some real competition emerge for the pocket-sized wonder in 2009—if for no other reason than to push Apple to speed its own pace of innovation. Alas, we were disappointed.
While both the Pre and the second wave of Android phones—most notably the Droid—shipped in 2009, none of them ended up being the hoped-for iPhone killer. Despite the Pre’s high-end features—like a wireless induction charger—the lack of third-party apps hurt its adoption rate so much that Sprint dropped the price on hardware a mere two months after launch. Android, while a promising, has yet to ship with hardware that truly lets Google’s open source phone OS shine. We were excited about the Droid, but a bad keyboard and some silly design choices changed our minds.
2010 forecast: If we’re handicapping the race for the iPhone killer, we’d put our money on a HTC Android phone, but until then, we’ll stick with the iPhone.
Honorable Mention: Higgs Boson Particle
The so-called god particle remains as elusive as ever. After a year of delays, the world's largest machine was finally put to work, generating the first particle collisions in the highly-anticipated attempt to create evidence of the Holy Grail of particle physics. Scientists put the odds of actually detecting the Higgs Boson at between 50% and 90%, so there's not even a guarantee that the experiment will be a success. And the odds of the Large Hadron Collider destroying the world? Non-zero, which has led some bold physicists to postulate that the problems plaguing the LHC are a symptom of the self-correcting universe preserving itself from destruction. Time-traveling birds? Yes please!
2010 forecast: Slim, if the future has anything to say about it.