The annals of tech history are littered with gadgets that arrived DOA at retail, but some of the most promising devices were actually concepts that never even made it out the door. So as a tribute to all the innovative teasers and promising tech demos that just didn’t quite have what it takes to make it to store shelves, here’s a list of the coolest concept gadgets that never went on sale.
The Super NES CD-ROM (aka the Nintendo Playstation)
While the Super NES CD-ROM was originally supposed to be a collaboration between Nintendo and Sony when it was first revealed back at CES 1991, any plans to actually make the thing quickly dissolved after Sony discovered that Nintendo was also in talks with Sony rival Philips to help produce its hybrid cartridge/disc-based console. And while around 200-300 Super NES CD-ROM prototypes were produced, only a handful of those prototypes have been spotted since then, with one lucky model having sold at auction last year for a cool $US360,000 ($484,884).
After breaking up with Nintendo, Sony took the idea for a disc-based console and turned it into the original PlayStation, which went on to change the console gaming landscape forever.
The Fujitsu Lifebook Concept
While the idea of a small computing unit that fits into a larger shell to become a laptop, a camera, or even a phone doesn’t sound as outlandish as it once did, the Fujitsu Lifebook concept was one of the most tantalising visions of future tech, especially way back when it was first envisioned in 2012.
Originally designed by Prashant Chandra as a submission to a design contest held by Fujitsu, the Lifebook concept may have never even made it as far as becoming a prototype, but it was clearly an idea ahead of its time. The Lifebook was designed around the principle of “shared hardware” that combined components spread across a tablet, phone, camera, and laptop to create an entire ecosystem the reduced redundant parts like multiple hard drives and camera sensors.
Sadly, due to the decreasing cost of many components and the complexity of creating multiple devices that had to rely on one another to function, it seems the Lifebook concept never got past the drawing board.
Polaroid GL20 Sunglass Camera
Way before Google Glass was a thing, Polaroid teamed up with pop megastar Lady Gaga to design the GL20 sunglass camera. First announced at CES 2011, the GL20 was inspired by custom sunglasses Lady Gaga had previous made to wear during concerts and featured a built-in camera and two outward facing 1.5-inch OLED displays. Unfortunately for a gadget that was billed as the first pair of sunglasses to include a built-in camera, you could only transfer files to and from the glasses manually via USB or send them directly to one of Polaroid’s instant printers via Bluetooth.
And while at the time Lady Gaga was one of the most unassailable pop stars on the planet, even after serving as Polaroid’s creative director for more than a year, it seems even the queen of bad romance couldn’t get Polaroid to release the GL20 for real. That last we heard about the GL20 sunglasses came in a statement from Polaroid to Imaging Resource saying: “We will share additional details once more information becomes available.” Sigh.
It’s not often that Apple swings and misses, but after teasing a revolutionary multi-device wireless charging mat back in the fall of 2017, Apple’s AirPower is still nowhere to be seen.
While AirPower had the noble goal of being able to charge multiple devices at once — iPhones, AirPods, and the Apple Watch — without users needing to worry about hitting the sweet spot on a charging coil, it seems Apple’s engineers simply couldn’t figure out a way to make AirPower a reality while still meeting the company’s demanding standards. In 2019, Apple finally admitted defeat.
Google Project Ara
One of the most ambitious concepts on this list, Google’s Project Ara was an attempt to bring the upgradability and reparability that you get from desktop PCs to the phone world, via the use of little interchangeable modules. The idea was simple: If someone wanted to upgrade a phone component like a camera or even an entire display, they could simply replace that individual component instead of being forced to buy a whole new device.
Each phone was based around a modular “shell” with multiple attachment points for all sorts of modules, ranging from standard equipment like batteries and CPUs to more specialised modules like air quality sensors. Unfortunately, while Google got as far as scheduling large-scale tests and even setting a retail launch schedule, Project Ara was cancelled in 2016 before a single unit ever made it to stores.
Razer Project Valerie
All of Razer’s concepts throughout the years could almost make up an entire slideshow on their own, but Project Valerie seemed like the one that was the closest thing to become a real product. Honestly, who hasn’t used a laptop and found themselves wishing for just a bit of extra screen real estate?
Razer made a laptop with not one, but three 17.3-inch 4K displays, where two of the screens would fold out from the sides to create a massive mobile gaming notebook with a whopping 12K total resolution. And despite the whole setup being a bit delicate, Razer made a handful of working prototypes that had no problem pumping out a few rounds in Battlefield 1. Seriously, check out our video from CES 2017. Project Valerie never went on sale, but there’s a chance one or two models may still be out there somewhere in the wild — two of Razer’s original prototypes were stolen from Razer’s booth during the show.
Tesla Battery Swapping Station
To help range anxiety, Tesla showed off an innovative battery swapping system back in 2013 that would switch out a Tesla’s entire battery pack and replace it with a fully charged unit, allowing Tesla owners to completely recharge their EVs in a matter of minutes.
Unfortunately, while the demo was quite impressive, it was ultimately somewhat impractical, with Tesla opting to simply increase charging speeds via its network of Superchargers than try to take on the challenge of moving and servicing thousands or millions of batteries located at charging stations throughout the country.
We’ve all been there. After a big meal makes a belt feel a bit too tight, sometimes you just gotta loosen it up a bit. But instead of doing it yourself, why not let a smart belt do it for you? Well, that’s exactly what Belty was supposed to do.
Sporting an electric motor that could connect to your smartphone, Belty was actually more sophisticated than it sounded. It could loosen your belt anytime you sat down to help increase comfort, and could adjust to your preferred tightness (or looseness) to prevent from cutting off your circulation while still keeping your pants up. However, even for a relatively simple smart device, it seems Belty was just not ready for the world.
There have been multiple attempts to create friendly little rolling companions throughout the years (remember LG’s rolling bot?), but Samsung’s Ballie seemed like the best of the bunch. Sadly, this one never came out.
Ballie made its original surprise debut at CES 2020, and with the global pandemic that followed shortly after the show, Ballie seemed like the perfect companion to cheer people up while they quarantined inside. Ballie was even touted as a plaything for bored pets, while also doubling as a roaming security cam. But more than a year and a half later, Ballie is still MIA, and at this point, it feels like it won’t ever come out.
Looking like the people carriers from straight out of Wall-E, the S-Pod felt like Segway’s chance to reclaim it position as the tastemaker for science fiction-inspired rideables. Instead of relying on you to lean backward and forward like the original Segway, the S-Pod was controlled using a simple joystick, though as we found out, even that isn’t always easy to use.
The S-Pod was initially supposed to come out in Q3 2020 before expanding to more markets in 2021. But as we sit here today, we still haven’t heard of a single model being delivered. There’s still a chance Segway could make good on its demo, but forgive us for doubting the future prospects of this ambitious little two-wheeler.
Honorable Mention – Microsoft Courier
While the Microsoft Courier may not have technically been a concept gadget since it was mainly discussed via leaks and rumours until years later, we now know that Microsoft’s dreams of building a dual-screen tablet with stylus support were real back in 2009.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the Courier never came out, as it was essentially taking the best of what Palm and Apple were doing at the time, and then doubling it, which is no small feat. The Courier was poised to be one part PDA and one part super-powered smartphone years before Samsung released the original Galaxy Note. And if Microsoft had actually found a way to make the Courier happen, it might have been one the few gadgets you can call a real game changer. However, even though the Courier never materialised, its spirit eventually paved the way for a new generation of gadgets like Microsoft’s Surface Duo, so in a way, the Courier’s legacy lives on after all.