The Biggest CES Flops of All Time

A list of the tradeshow's biggest technology fails

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is the world's largest consumer technology conference. From the CD-ROM to the Nintendo Entertainment System to HDTV, many revolutionary innovations made a splash at past CES shows. These innovations, on the other hand, missed the mark, earning infamy instead of fame.

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Magnaxbox LaserDisc player with disc slot open

Marcin Wichary / Flickr

The LaserDisc, which would eventually come to the United States under the name DiscoVision, first arrived at CES 1974 as a prototype. The standard challenged other early video formats, such as VHS, in a growing home entertainment market. It positioned itself as a superior format for video and audio quality, delivering 440 lines of vertical resolution against 240 lines for VHS.

The LaserDisc standard struggled from the start. Four years passed between 1974 when CES showcased the prototypes and 1978 when it first became commercially available in the United States. That delay put the standard behind VHS, which already had a foothold. LaserDisc was also heavier and bulkier than VHS.

While LaserDisc was a flop at CES, it saw more success in Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, among other markets, where LaserDisc releases were frequent until the arrival of DVDs.

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Atari 1200XL

Atari 1200XL home computer viewed from above

Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons

Atari followed the success of its much-loved Atari 400 and 800 with the 1200XL. It expanded memory to 64K, had a vastly superior keyboard, and boasted a refined design that integrated the functions of seven separate boards into a single mainboard.

However, Atari missed the mark on pricing. The company announced the 1200XL at CES 1983 for $1000. By the time it hit retail, Atari had lowered the price to $899. That was far more than the Atari 800's price and much more than the Commodore 64, which made waves at CES 1982 thanks to its meager price of $595.

Consumers passed up the more expensive Atari for its competition, and the company discontinued the 1200XL by the end of 1983.

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Apple Newton

Original Apple Newton viewed from the front

Felix Winkelnkemper / Wikimedia Commons

John Sculley, CEO of Apple Computers, took the stage at the Chicago CES of 1992 to show off the Newton, a bold new personal assistant. It was, in many respects, an attempt to make an iPad with early 1990s technology. It had a portable, slate-like, battery-powered form factor, but it settled for a non-touch, black-and-white display, chunky bezels, and a minimal processor.

The initial reception was positive. Once owners had a chance to buy and use the Newton, however, its problems became apparent. The Newton's handwriting recognition was awful, which defeated the point of having a portable device for jotting down notes. Its buggy release became part of pop culture when a 1993 episode of The Simpsons parodied the device.

Newton struggled for several years. Apple even licensed the OS to other companies, so you'll find Newton devices from Motorola, Siemens, and Sharp. Still, it never had much chance after the failure of its debut.

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Apple Pippin

Apple Pippin home gaming console from the front

Apple struggled to keep consumers interested in the Mac throughout the mid-90s, as many users turned to new Windows-powered PCs. One potential answer to the PC threat was Apple's Pippin, a game console that also provided an Internet web browser.

The Pippin arrived at CES 1996 to mostly positive reception. Tim Barjarin of Creative Strategies, speaking to The Computer Chronicles, said, "[...] that kind of hybrid device has potential, and is actually one we think could propel Apple into a whole new level of computer users."

It was not to be. The idea, originally pitched to Apple by Japanese game developer Bandai, and engineered by Bandai, had a troubled launch. Apple licensed its brand to Bandai but then did little to market the Pippin. The Pippin was also expensive at $599, more than most game consoles sold at the time. The console was quickly withdrawn from the market, selling about 40,000 units in total.

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Adrien Brody and Jodi Sally talking at HD-DVD booth, CES 2007

Lee Celano / WireImage for Brodeur Worldwide

New media and connectivity standards often fight at CES, jabbing at competitors in hopes of industry acceptance. These fights usually resolve before consumers have a chance to make a choice. HD-DVD was an exception, and it left many consumers with movies and media at a dead end.

Though not revealed at CES 2006, the show set the battlefield for a warbetween HD-DVD and its competitor, Blu-Ray. Toshiba showed off the first HD-DVD drives while Microsoft announced it would sell an add-on HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360 game console. Sony, Samsung, and Pioneer opposed Blu-Ray with numerous new players and movie industry partnerships.

It all came to a dramatic conclusion at CES 2008. Warner Brothers, the last major studio with a neutral stance in the conflict, suddenly announced complete and exclusive support of the Blu-Ray standard just before the show. The HD-DVD group had to cancel its CES conference just two days before it was scheduled, abruptly putting an end to the format war.

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Microsoft Windows Vista

Microsoft booth at CES 2009

Ben Franske / Wikimedia Commons

Windows had a good run at the start of the new century. Microsoft had successfully claimed the PC industry for itself. Now, it was time for Microsoft to push forward with a new vision of tomorrow's operating system. Windows Vista was that vision.

Vista wasn't the first or last iffy version of Windows to arrive at CES, but it leaps on top of the flop pile for a single reason. It was named "Best of Show" in computers and hardware by CNET, the official media partner of CES 2007.

Windows Vista hit general release just a few weeks after winning that award, and reception immediately turned sour. Vista was panned as buggy, slow, unattractive, and largely unnecessary, as its key improvements weren't evident to most users.

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Palm Pre

Palm Pre smartphone shown from the front

Ярослав2017 / Wikimedia Commons

CES 2009 had a lot of mobile innovation, but nothing generated more buzz than the Palm Pre smartphone. Built as Palm's answer to the iPhone, the Palm Pre had a slider design to retain a physical keyboard while also offering a 3.1-inch touchscreen.

The Palm Pre received excellent press at CES 2009, and it would become Spirit's best-selling phone up to that point. Palm had no time to take a victory lap, however. Users started to report problems with the slider mechanism, which could wiggle when touched and proved fragile in drops. Palm's exclusivity deal with Sprint also limited the Pre's popularity.

Today, experts see the Palm Pre as the final nail in the company's coffin. Palm was purchased by HP the following year, and most of its remaining products were re-branded as HP Palm devices. TCL now owns the Palm brand.

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BlackBerry Playbook

BlackBerry Playbook tablet viewed from the front

Abehn / Wikimedia Commons

BlackBerry's PlayBook, which arrived at CES 2011, mimicked the story of the Palm Pre. Pitched as an alternative to Apple's iPad, the PlayBook's key feature was a unique OS built to allow easy multitasking, a notorious weak point of early iPads. The PlayBook was also smaller and more portable than the iPad, thanks to its 7-inch display.

The reaction was positive at CES 2011, and the PlayBook shipped more units than expected on launch, but demand screeched to a halt. BlackBerry's tablet had a big problem; it wasn't an iOS or Android device. It lacked the app selection found on those established platforms.

BlackBerry announced in June 2013 that the PlayBook wouldn't receive its BlackBerry 10 operating system, and the tablet slowly disappeared from store shelves. BlackBerry, unlike Palm, remains an independent company today, but its annual sales are a mere 5 percent of the company's 2011 peak.

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3D Television

3DTV displaying sports at CES booth

ETC@USC / Wikimedia Commons

3D television isn't a recent invention, but 2010 was the year television manufacturers finally made a coordinated effort to push 3D TV as a viable consumer technology. All the major players in televisions, including Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Vizio, showed new sets with 3D support at CES 2010.

The effort had initial success. 3D television made a great show-floor demo, leading to positive early coverage. Problems arrived slowly. Most televisions with 3D were expensive, and the quality of the 3D experience could vary wildly. It also only worked with movies or TV specifically mastered for 3D, which limited the library.

The industry heavily pushed 3D TV at CES 2011 and CES 2012. Manufacturers refined the feature, and television supporting it lowered in price. Yet, the limited library remained an obstacle, and the idea never caught on with consumers. 3D TV was pushed out of the spotlight by the arrival of new 4K televisions at CES 2013, and televisions with 3D support largely vanished by 2017.

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Quibi logo

Announced at CES 2020 to extreme fanfare, including front-page stories on consumer tech publications like The Verge and Techcrunch, Quibi aimed to revolutionize streaming. The idea was simple and, at a glance, has its genius. Instead of making shows for a TV audience, which many people would then watch on a tiny screen, Quibi would put mobile viewers first.

The idea came with a big catch. Quibi would be subscription-only, charging $4.99 with ads or $7.99 without them. The subscription immediately set up red flags at CES 2020. The price raised an obvious question. Why pay $5 to $8 a month for an unproven streaming service you can only enjoy on a smartphone?

Quibi's launch failed to answer that question. Nearly a million people signed up for a free trial, but that dwindled to just 72,000 subscribers, forcing the company to announce its closure on October 21, 2020.

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