Vaporware 2008: Crushing Disappointments, False Promises and Plain Old BS

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The Wired’s 11th annual Vaporware Awards are the annual roundup of the tech industry’s biggest, brashest and most baffling unfulfilled promises.

Wired staff selected from readers’ submissions the top 10 products that were supposed to ship in 2008 but ended up delayed, derailed or otherwise rendered in absentia. Hardware, software, games and vehicles were all fair game. Beta releases count, but as in years past, we gave Gmail a pass — it’s branded “beta,” but it’s widely used by millions. Like “Google” and “Twitter,” “Gmail” has even become a verb.

A surprisingly high percentage of last year’s winners actually shipped this year (Chinese Democracy, the Tesla Roadster and the world’s most expensive and useless keyboard among them), clearing the decks for a whole new stack of suckage.

So here it is: Vaporware 2008. Prepare to taste the waste.

10. Sony PlayStation Home

Sony’s virtual world for PlayStation 3 users, Home, earns a top slot, even though the service finally launched as an open beta in early December. But beta ain’t shrinkwrapped — so it’s fair game.

Home was originally announced in March 2007, but was repeatedly sidelined. And now that it’s kinda here, it’s woefully incomplete. Promised features like video sharing are absent, Sony has removed voice chat until further notice, and users from different countries can’t interact with one another — a major problem for an international platform.

Home doesn’t even succeed as a Second Life rip-off, owing to the fact that there simply isn’t much to do. You can walk around in the mall and spend real money on virtual clothes branded with advertisements, or you can hang out at the bowling alley and play crappy video games. That’s about it. Even the avatar creation system is incredibly scaled-down.

Sony keeps promising Home will get more features later, relying on the “it’s only a beta” line whenever somebody points out that it is a completely useless piece of crap that no one would ever use.

“There is of course no place like Home,” quipped reader Bob Krupinski.

9. Myka

A set-top box with a built-in BitTorrent client, the Myka had the Pirate Bay crowd salivating when it was first announced in March. And rightly so when you consider a tiny box with HDMI connections, H.264 and Blu-ray support, embedded Linux, a 160GB hard drive and the ability to suck all of Hollywood’s top hits directly from the file-sharing networks, no purchase required.

But the pirate’s dream appliance remains a pipe dream, and it looks likely to stay that way. As reader Chris Lindley points out, Myka’s website is still taking pre-orders, even though the user forums are overrun with spam and requests for refunds.

Even if it eventually arrives, the Myka’s missed the boat. Any potential customers have already picked up the like-minded HD set-top box from Popcorn Hour, or they just bought Apple TVs and installed Boxee.

8. Hero’s Journey

Duke Nukem had better watch his back. This graphical MMOG — made by Simutronics, the people behind cult fave MUDs like Gemstone IV and DragonRealms — has been in the works for almost a decade. Hero’s Journey‘s promise of an open game world that responds to player decisions earned raves at the gaming trade show E3. That is, it earned raves at E3 2005. The official FAQ claims that the game is “actively in production and does not have a set release date.”

The hold-up seems to be that development focus has shifted from the game itself to its engine, HeroEngine, which Simutronics has licensed out. Bioware is using it to power its upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic.

As reader Kuro suggests, “If Old Republic gets released before Hero’s Journey, that will probably be the final nail in the game’s vaporware coffin.”

7. ZAP-X

With all eyes on climate change, roller-coaster gas prices and Detroit’s ineffable ineptitude, few technologies more eagerly awaited than a sensible electric car.

At an estimated $60,000, Zap’s ZAP-X EV SUV may not be all that affordable, but it’s an important step towards an alt fuel future. The all-electric SUV promises a 350-mile range, 644 horsepower, a top speed of 155mph — the power of a Porsche Cayenne at around half the price, and only costing around a penny per mile to drive.

Originally promised for 2008, the ZAP-X’s arrival has been pushed back to 2010. But even experts question Zap’s ability to pump out an electric with such sexy specs before the end of the decade.

“This is vaporware,” Aaron Bragman, an auto industry analyst at Global Insight, told earlier this year. “I’d take it with a grain of salt.”

6. Microvision Pico projector

It’s a tiny projector for your mobile phone — a super-small projection module that can be embedded in phones, laptops, cameras and portable media players. A miniature wonder that lets you show off your boring home videos and pirated DVD rips in stunning high-resolution on the back of the nearest stained white t-shirt.

“Guaranteed to make you sick of looking at other people’s crappy quality family photo albums,” says reader Grady Root.

But while Microvision generated lots of buzz for its tiny “Pico P” laser light device at CES in January 2008, it hasn’t yet shown up.

So far, all we’ve seen are hyped-up reviews of prototypes. Meanwhile, other companies, including Toshiba, have managed to ship their own pico projectors this year.

Microvision has since partnered with Motorola to build a phone with a built-in projector. Hello Vaporware 2010?

5. Garmin nüvifone

This 3G-enabled handheld will be the first dip into the smartphone fray from the GPS device manufacturer Garmin — if, of course, it ever arrives.

The nüvifone was first announced in January of 2008, boasting a list of features to make map-geeks drool: preloaded world maps, real-time traffic stats, Google Maps and local search. Plus, a built-in camera that automatically geo-tags photos, integration with Google Panaramio photo sharing services and voice-prompted directions. There’s even a feature that pinpoints the place on the map where you last removed the nüvifone from its dashboard mount so you’ll always remember where you parked.

But the promised release date of Q3 2008 came and went, and the nüvifone is now expected during the first half of 2009.

Says disappointed reader Elio Manetti: “I don’t believe anymore it will ever be released.”

The boys and girls in Wired’s Gadget Lab were ready to write off the nüvifone, believing it would never ship, until documents suggesting it is currently being tested by the FCC surfaced on the web.

In the meantime, we’ll stick to our Signal the Frog antenna ball when we want to find our parked car.

4. StarCraft II

If the previewed gameplay videos and cut scenes are any indication, Blizzard Entertainment’s sequel the 1998 sci-fi strategy game StarCraft looks like an epic multi-player frag-fest.

Much like the company’s wildly successful Warcraft III, StarCraft II will let users edit campaigns, create their own maps and modify the game play to their hearts’ content.

Sounds like a doozy, but so far, it’s a snoozy. StarCraft II has been in development since 2003, was teased and demoed throughout 2007, promised in 2008, and now it’s been pushed back until at least 2009.

Reader Ray Keller is fed up with the wait. “I’m stuck watching the videogame elite play on YouTube,” he writes.

Says reader John Epperson: “I’m not the only one who has been waiting for this installment for more than five years!! And I’m not even a Starcraft fanboy!”

Bad enough that Blizzard has a slow, methodical “It’s ready when it’s ready” attitude, the company has now announced the game will be carved up into several pieces that will be sold separately.

So, we wait forever for the game to come out, and then when it finally does, it’ll just be a first installment?! Grrr…

3. Android phones other than the T-Mobile G1

Google’s open-source Android operating system for mobiles is one killer bundle of tech. It has a real web browser, some awesome GPS capabilities, support for touch screens and the flexibility to run on all kinds of hardware.

Which makes the first Android phone, T-Mobile’s G1, that much more of a bummer. An Android phone could be so much more than a clunky iPhone knockoff with a slide-out keyboard. There are nine major handset manufacturers in the Open Handset Alliance, and all of them are committed to bringing out Android phones. So where are they already?

There is one beacon of hope from down under. Australian company Kogan Technologies plans to release the Agora, the world’s first non-G1 Google phone, in January of 2009. We look forward to reading the reviews on our iPhones.

2. Internet Explorer 8

Love it or hate it, Microsoft Internet Explorer commands the lion’s share of the world browser market. Previous versions of the browser were much maligned by the web elite — IE7 is capable but flawed, and IE6 was a gigantic piece of crap — but even the Firefox-using snobs of the blogosphere saw something to look forward to in early builds of Internet Explorer 8.

And continue to look forward they shall. After pegging the browser for a late 2008 ship date, Microsoft has pushed its estimated arrival back into 2009. The browser is currently available as a public beta, and the first release candidate was sent out for private testing in December. The betas look great, but final code is still months away — cold comfort for OEMs and corporations who can’t adopt a new browser until it’s been thoroughly tested and approved.

Meanwhile, older versions of IE continue to instill fear in IT managers and web developers everywhere as new security flaws pop up and new compatibility problems are exposed.

Hurry up, Microsoft. Countless Windows desktops need IE8 badly. Come to their rescue before they all wise up and switch to Firefox.

And the Vaporware 2008 winner is …

1. Duke Nukem Forever

Really, is there anywhere else you expected this to end up?

After some twelve (12!) years in development, we had given up all hope of ever seeing Duke Nukem Forever hit the shelves. We even held a high-level meeting in the Wired newsroom where we agreed to end the agony and, some vague promises to the press about a 2008 release notwithstanding, leave Duke off the Vaporware list this year. Even the best jokes get old eventually.

Says reader Dennis Murphy: “My nominations for DNF got printed in 2001 & 2002. Here we are, 7 years later, and it’s still on the list. How about one more chance? If we don’t see it by 2010, I promise I’ll stop submitting! (Well, at least till my grandkids are born …)”

But then, in May, Jace Hall of scored an on-camera interview with the Dukefathers, George Broussard and Scott Miller of 3-D Realms. At the end of their sit-down, the DNF developers even let him demo an actual, working version of the game.

The resulting hand-held footage of the first-person shooter was all the proof we needed — the game is still inching towards reality. So congrats, Duke. You’re the King of Vaporware once again.

When pressed to explain the delay, Broussard and Miller, aside from blaming “hookers and cocaine,” offer a classic excuse. “There’s a lot of mistakes and lessons we had to learn,” Broussard says. “But most of all, there’s also been a lot of World of Warcraft.”

OK guys, we get it. You love playing games so much, you can’t be bothered to finish building your own. Put down the bong and get it DONE.

Tell you what — we’ll give you one more year.


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