While such iconic tech gadgets from the 1980s as boomboxes, camcorders, and VCRs continue to be romanticized by those who grew up in the decade, several fantastic tech inventions also failed to catch on. Although some were gimmicky novelties that deserved to go away, others included some of the most innovative and ambitious tech devices from the 1980s that should have been much more popular than they were.
From cool automobile gadgets and video tech to bizarre banking cards and audio devices, it’s a real wonder why some of the most exciting tech inventions of the 1980s never took off.
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s knew someone who owned a LaserDisc player but rarely had one themselves. Promising higher-quality video and audio than the more affordable VHS competitor, LaserDiscs function like modern CD-ROMs and DVDs and should have been the industry standard for home video entertainment.
However, according to a TV news report from WGRZ TV Buffalo, the main reasons why LaserDiscs failed to take off in North America during the ’80s was because LaserDisc players were very expensive and were unable to record TV programs from home. By the time DVDs were introduced in the ’90s, LaserDiscs became a distant thing of the past and now look like ancient relics.
Gull-Wing Car Doors
While some may be familiar with the product due to the Back to the Future trilogy, it’s a real shame that the awesome design of the Gull-Wing Doors seen on Dr. Emmett Brown’s time-traveling Delorean never took off as expected during the ’80s. Proving to be far more fashionable than functional, there were too many safety concerns with the high-flying car doors that made them fall out of favor.
Gull-Wing Doors caught on during the ’80s thanks to the now-iconic Delorean DMC-12 made famous by the landmark 1985 film. However, according to Hotcars.com, the main reason they didn’t stick around was that the “restricted emergency access in the event of the car rolling over into its side, or worse, onto its roof, there is the possibility that the driver will be stuck in the cabin.” The inability to transport items on the roof also played a factor.
Valuable tech company General Motors introduced the world to the automaker’s first solar car in 1987, the GM Sunraycer, which won the first solar car race in America by using 8,000 solar cells to crank out 1,500 watts to allow the car to reach a max speed of 68 mph (per CNet.). Essentially the prototype for the modern EV, it’s strange that environmentally conscious-minded consumers in the ’80s let it fall by the wayside.
Alas, the unaffordable price of building the Sunraycer cost roughly $2 million (per CNet), which made it nearly impossible for ordinary consumers to buy en masse. But given how far EV technology and how affordable solar energy has become in the decades since, the GM Sunraycer was a pioneering eco-friendly tech creation far ahead of its time that should have been appreciated more when it was around.
Tomy Omnibot 2000
Considering how universal iRobots and home-cleaning electronics are nowadays, it’s a wonder why the awesome R2-D2-like Tomy Omnibot 2000 didn’t catch on more in the 1980s. Unlike most toy robots at the time, the advanced Omnibot 2000 came with a cassette tape player embedded in the chest of the device that could record and play back sound. It also had an alarm clock, remote control, and electronic arms that could carry a revolving cup tray.
Alas, most tech experts of the day attribute the Omnibot’s failure to take off to the 1983 video game crash, which severely hurt the growing home electronics market. The robot also cost upward of $600 (via Forbes), which was a steep ask in the ’80s. However, considering the popularity of R2-D2, Johnny 5, RoboCop, and the like, the toy should have been more popular.
Music Speaker Vest
Given how popular portable speakers have become nowadays, it’s odd that the 1985 tech novelty, known as the Music Vest and Stereo Sound Speaker, didn’t take off. Marketed as an alternative way to listen to music while driving without using unsafe headphones, the latter enabled consumers to plug their portable stereo into the vest and enjoy the tunes of their choosing.
The Music Speaker Vest went further by adding a water-resistant version designed for every type of remote activity, not just driving. Yet despite its affordable price of $35, most tech experts believe the tech gadget failed to resonate because of the Walkman’s popularity, a revolutionary ’80s tech product still in use today that the Speaker Vest couldn’t compete with in the long run.
In the 70s, Atari was the face of the video game industry. All that changed in 1982 with the much-anticipated release of E.T. The Extraterrestrial, a game that was rushed to market after being developed in 5 weeks (per Gamespot) and so badly reviewed that 700,000 unsold video game cartridges were buried in New Mexico (per Snopes). This directly led to the video game crash of 1983 and all but sealed the Atari 2600’s fate.
According to The Ultimate History of Video Games Revisited, Atari lost $536 million in 1983 due to the poor sales of the game and by the time Nintendo launched in 1985, the Atari 2600 was a thing of the past. Through no fault of its own, the console would have been more popular if not for E.T.
Atari CX77 Touch Tablet
Nowadays, touchscreen tablets are a dime a dozen. But in 1984, Atari attempted to revolutionize cutting-edge technology with the CX77 Touch Tablet, a futuristic device that should have been a household item, especially given how “users can paint pictures and draw diagrams” (per Info World).
Much like the similarly-designed KoalaPad, the Atari CX77 Touch Tablet was “too far ahead of its time to be genuinely useful” and really only allowed users to “make very basic shapes, and it wasn’t easy to save or transfer those shapes, so others could enjoy your shape-making skills (per Gizmodo.com).
Psion Organiser (PDA)
Introduced in 1984 as the world’s first pocket computer, the Psion Organiser was a revolutionary portable computing gadget akin to the Personal Digital Assistant. Equipped with a clock, calculator, 6×6 keypad, flat-file database, electronic diary, and other cool futuristic features, the old-school tech device should have been much hotter in the mid-’80s.
Unfortunately, the main reason The Organiser I failed to become more popular is that it did not have an operating system, which ultimately limited its functionality. Between the lack of an OS and a high price ($199 CAD – according to Byte magazine), consumers simply weren’t ready for personal portable computing just yet.
Vibrating Sauna Entertainment System
The most outlandish tech item to make the grade, Vibrosaun International introduced a device in 1988 that fused a home entertainment system with a massage chair and air-conditioner all wrapped in a pink vibrating sauna pod. According to Allthingsinteresting.com, the Vibrating Suana was “meant to simulate the effects of exercise.”
As hard as it is to believe, such an awesome tech gadget didn’t resonate among the masses, as the vibrating sauna entertainment center cost a near $6,000 per unit and did so poorly that Vibrosaun International dissolved its company in 1990 (via Open Corporates).
The Private Eye
Another ’80s gadget that should have been more popular was The Private Eye from Reflection Technology, a head-mounted display that, according to Deutsches Museum (via Google), uses “a vibrating mirror scans a column of 280 LEDs across the user’s eye, and the LEDs turn on and off rapidly to form each pixel of the screen.” For gamers alone, this should have been a much hotter item.
Instead, head-mounted display technology would take decades to develop, especially in the gaming industry. One of the main reasons The Private Eye failed to land was the nausea caused by most gaming headsets at the time, which hurt its reputation before it caught on. Nowadays, VR headsets prove that Reflection Technology was on the right track in 1989.
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