3 Stupid Computer Inventions That Never Took Off

Jessica Cam Wong 15-03-2012

stupid computer techA stroke of genius can lead to ideas that may or may not work out when they hit consumers. iPods, Twitter, RSS, and so on, are some ideas that have flourished favorably in today’s world. They started with the same, if not bigger, risks than any other inventions. But their ideas, combined with great execution and perhaps good advertising, resulted in success stories and lie today in your apartment, without you having to think twice about its usefulness.


Some other creations didn’t have such lucky paths. Perhaps their concepts were flawed. Maybe their execution lacked momentum, or the audience it was intended for didn’t care for it, to the dismay of the creators. The timing of the creation also matters. Some inventions may just be too advanced (or too simplistic) for society at the moment, but could prosper later (or earlier). Let’s look at three inventions that unfortunately didn’t take off.

Microsoft Bob (1995)

stupid computer tech

Remember Clippy from Microsoft Office? It was probably the least favorite office assistant for many users back in the day as it attempted to help them when it discerned what task they were trying to accomplish. I didn’t mind it so much, but if so many users were annoyed by its constant appearance, imagine an assistant that tries to help you with using the entire Windows operating system. Here’s a video showing how Microsoft Bob works.
According to the Wikipedia entry, Microsoft Bob aimed to help you navigate through many different software applications, including word processors, all by showing you the features in the inside of a house. Each room would have furniture and icons, representing programs. As a user, you could add, remove or move furniture to your liking. Each object would have an associated program with it. For example, clicking on a clock would launch the calendar application, while clicking on a pen and paper opened a very simple word processor.

Now, I’m not saying Microsoft Bob was completely stupid. Its purpose was certainly a valid one: to provide a very user-friendly and intuitive way to guide new users through the operating system and its applications. However, the program looked like a game for kids when it targeted adults. It also got heavily criticized by several magazines and blogs, and Microsoft discontinued the product in 1995, the same year it was released.

DigitalConvergence CueCat (1999)

dumb computer tech


The CueCat was a barcode scanner in the shape of cat  (plugged to a computer) that users could whip out when looking, say, at a magazine and for some reason, couldn’t type an URL from the magazine in their computers. I guess that was great for people with desktops that had a mouse but could use another peripheral shaped as a cat to complete the animal peripheral collection, but instead of having it to move the cursor on the screen, this cat-shaped device could scan URLs and such.

While the device sounds just like a predecessor to our QR code What Are QR Codes? Digitize Your World & Back Again Read More -scanning, wireless smartphones, the CueCat raised concerns because it was collecting user data into a database that could match barcodes and user name or address. According to Wikipedia, some hackers were able to block the data sent to DigitalConvergence’s databases, basically,  “declawing” the CueCat, augmenting privacy concerns. Investors in the CueCat eventually lost more than $100 million so it’s fair to say it failed commercially.

There seem to be a few CueCats still on the market, on Amazon even, though the reviews aren’t consistent. Reviews for barcode-scanning devices vary across the board. Some users think even QR codes today aren’t always secure Are QR Codes Just A Fad? [Opinion] I remember the first time I encountered a QR code. I didn’t have a smartphone yet, so my reaction was "Hey, what’s this weird block of pixels?" It was only when I purchased my first... Read More , but others still find plenty of uses for such barcode-scanning ideas 7 Great Uses For QR Codes & How To Generate Your Own For Free Quick response codes, or QR codes for short, have been used for a few years now to provide rapid access to URLs, messages or contact information. Marketing and advertising departments love QR codes, as with... Read More .

Wink Glasses (2009)

stupid computer tech


Do you spend too much time gaming and forget to perform some basic biological processes? These USB-powered spectacles might be a good fit for you (keyword here is “might”). They fog up to give you a friendly reminder when you forget to blink for more than 5 seconds. Simple, right? Maybe for hardcore gamers, but not so much in price since these glasses were projected to go for $430 according to CNET.

Since these were released fairly recently, they haven’t made much of an impact to call them a success or flop. It’s more of a novelty gadget that I just cannot see anyone using. Gamers, do you have a different opinion? Let me know in the comments.

There are probably plenty of other gadgets that flopped (or were close to) besides these. Do you know of any? Let us know in the comments section below.

Image credit: Impress, Oops Key Image via Shutterstock


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  1. Paul
    March 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    The former owner of my house left a cue cat, but no instructions on how to use it. Placed it on a shelf in the basement. Now I know what to do with it once I need to scan bar codes.

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      April 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

      Ariel suggested below that you can use it to collect book titles for your personal library.

  2. Ariel
    March 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I have the cuecat, because I have a pretty big personal library that I keep logged on I find it pretty useful for that purpose, but I still don't use it that often. It's just a nerdy little Librarian thing to me. I did have to declaw it, as well, because it wasn't working properly, but I'm not using it evilly.

    • Robin
      March 16, 2012 at 9:44 am

      Ditto. I got my cuecat for librarything and am rather sad this quirky little scanner didn't have more popular appeal.

      • Jessica Cam Wong
        April 2, 2012 at 7:38 pm

        I think using it to collect titles for your personal library is a great time-saving idea, but are there any other uses?

        I feel like a gadget that only does one thing becomes obsolete very quickly for today's users.

        • Jessica Cam Wong
          April 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm

          I also think that the fact that it's attached to a computer (so it's not accessible on the go) limits the CueCat's uses. Smartphones have the same scanning feature (at least for my Android phone) so perhaps that's another reason the CueCat didn't pick up.

  3. mcsey
    March 15, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    The Cue Cat may have a flop as a product, but after the hacks, it was free barcode scanners for everyone for a while. I've still got several, and the local library still uses one for its checkout scanner on books.

  4. James
    March 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Really? And leave out the god-awful non right clicking mouse insisted on by almighty Steve?!

  5. Schvenn
    March 15, 2012 at 6:23 am

     The  IBM PCjr (1984) which had blank keys. (Okay, it's not an invention, but a poor execution.)

    I can't find the reference anymore, but I remember watching a video with a keyboard that had keys that rolled, rather than pressing straight down.
    I thought it was the PCjr, but I may be wrong.
    I was unable to find any references to that device any longer.

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      April 2, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Wow, blank keys and keys that rolled. I can't really blame the designers of those features though because they may have blindly believed in those features at the time. The features may seem obsolete or silly today, but I'll give the authors credit for innovation attempt, at least for the keys that rolled.