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What is Vaporware? The Greatest Technology You Never Saw

The word "Vaporware" on a trippy background.

With the Consumer Electronics Show in full swing, you’re probably seeing a lot of stories about great new gadgets companies are developing to improve your life. However, many of those products and concepts never make it into your home or even onto store shelves. We call it “vaporware.”

What is Vaporware?

Vaporware is an informal term used by tech industry professionals, journalists, and consumers to describe products that have been announced but never materialize or take a very long time to reach the market. This can happen for various reasons. Sometimes the company misjudges its ability to actually develop a concept into a finished product. Other times it just runs out of money to keep the project going. And occasionally, the company is just lying about its intentions to generate publicity.

In honor of CES 2023, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite pieces of vaporware–no matter the reason for their failure to launch.

Apple W.A.L.T.

A computer with a telephone in it might seem like a trite concept today. But, back in 1993, it was a mind-blowing concept. And Apple partnered with telephone company BellSouth to make it a reality. The resulting prototype featured a touchscreen, caller ID, a fax machine, an address book, customizable ringtones, and online banking access.

All of these features were cutting-edge tech in the early 90s. If Apple had managed to make it a reality, it likely would have been a big hit. And the tech world would look very different today.

Unfortunately, it never made it out of the prototype stage. But, fortunately, it also meant it’s an awful name never entered the tech lexicon long term. W.A.L.T. stands for “Wizzy Active Lifestyle Telephone.” What a “Wizzy Active Lifestyle” entails, we’ll never know. But it’s a safe assumption that Steve Jobs would have never ever have approved that name. That’s okay. We like the iPhone much better.

Google Glass

Google Glass qualifies as vaporware because it still hasn’t reached the general public in the way we thought it would when it was first announced back in 2012. This heads-up display was marketed to the public as a game changer in the way we live. It featured a built-in camera and showed you lots of cool stuff in the glass of the eyepieces.

I actually really wanted one at the time. Glass seemed like a gadget Tony Stark would wear. I even entered Google’s #IfIHadGlass promotion on Twitter to try to get my hands on a prototype (thankfully, that cringy tweet has long since been deleted) in 2013. I’m still waiting for any company to develop a decent heads-up display that’s made for everyday use that isn’t some massive augmented reality headset that you wear like a helmet.

Google eventually shipped 8,000 Glass prototypes to “Glass Explorers” for testing. But, by 2014, it was clear that the heads-up display was in trouble. In February 2015, the New York Times reported that former Apple executive Tony Fadell was redesigning the product, and it wouldn’t be released until it was perfect–apparently meaning never.

However, Google did eventually release the Google Glass Enterprise Edition, but as the name implies, that’s only available to specific businesses for specific purposes. The general public may never see these would-be glasses with a built-in camera and eye-level display. Such a shame.

Palm Foleo

If you’re having trouble remembering what a “subnotebook” is, you’re not alone. That class of device was meant to mean “really small laptop” in the early 2000s and has since dropped out of widespread use—kind of like “netbook.”

The Palm Foleo, a long-forgotten productivity device, could be considered the death knell of the subnotebook product category. Palm announced the Foleo in 2007, and it was meant to be a companion device for the company’s Treo smartphone line. It ran the Linux operating system and featured Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. The subnotebook also had an integrated email client, used the Opera web browser and the Documents to Go office suite. Had it ever reached the market, the Foleo could have been a pretty handy device for on-the-go users in its age.

Unfortunately, it was never to be. Palm was getting slammed in all areas of the consumer electronics market at the time, and the Foleo was canceled just three months after it was announced. The official reason was so that Palm could refocus on its smartphone devices. The company never recovered and was acquired by HP three years later.

Atari 2700

Many people recall the Atari 2600 as their first home gaming console. It sold more than thirty million units throughout its 1977-1992 lifespan. Given its popularity, it’s only natural that Atari would craft a successor – the Atari 2700.

Intended for a 1981 release, the 2700 was meant to be fully backward-compatible with the 2600’s games and accessories (a promise almost all game companies make but never keep). The design for the console was a significant departure from the 2600, featuring a more sleek wedge-shaped form factor rather than the now-classic boxy wood panel look of the 2600.

And, in what would have been a significant innovation, the 2700 would have wireless controllers. The controllers would have worked via radio signals, with an adjustable antenna sticking out of them, making them resemble a walkie-talkie with a dial in the middle instead of a speaker. But Atari couldn’t work out the technology and canceled the system. Atari would later realize wireless controllers as a plug-in accessory to the 2600 in 1983.

Duke Nukem Forever

Duke Nukem Forever holds a distinction in video games for spending a very long time in “development hell.” 3D Realms first announced the game in 1997 as a sequel to the smash hit Duke Nukem 3D, and it was expected that the game would be released before the year 2000. However, the late 90s was a transition period for first-person-shooter gaming engines. And 3D Realms had yet to acquire a license to develop Forever on the Quake II engine, so they began developing it on the aging Quake engine.

It turns out that was a mistake because Epic Games soon unveiled the Unreal Engine, which some programmers considered superior to the Quake II engine. So, in June 1998, 3D Realms announced it would have to start over on Forever using the Unreal Engine but stated that it would not be significantly delayed–just a month to six weeks, the company claimed at the time.

Months ended up being years, and Duke Nukem Forever began missing deadlines, and multiple launch dates were announced and later rescheduled. It got so bad that in 2001, 3D Realms announced that Forever would be released “when it’s done.” It would take another decade and a lawsuit to finally get the game onto waiting players’ consoles. And by all accounts, the game wasn’t worth the wait. Critics widely panned it, and the consensus among video game aficionados is that it’s one of the worst games of all time.

Duke Nukem Forever holds the Guinness world record for the longest development of a video game.

Noveto N1

One of the most recent examples of vaporware is the Noveto N1. This innovative speaker was dubbed the “invisible headphones” by CES goers in 2022. In fact, it was one of our Editor’s Choice Award winners for that year’s show. The N1 used beamforming technology to create sound pockets around a listener’s ears and transmitted sound to those pockets without needing a physical headset. It would have been a game-changer in the world of audio.

Our Editor in Chief had a terrific hands-on experience with the N1 and reported that “it’s everything the company is promising.” Unfortunately, CES 2022 was the last anyone saw of the N1. A few months after the show, the company stopped updating its website and returning emails from its Kickstarter backers.

In March 2022, the company posted an apology to its Kickstarter backers on that website, stating, “We are not satisfied with the current performance of the Noveto N1 product, and are working tirelessly to solve these issues in order to deliver on our promise.” However, in August, the company admitted that “Noveto has encountered a financial distress and initiated insolvency proceedings.” A sad example of what would have been a fantastic product being killed by financial troubles. As of this writing, Noveto’s final fate is uncertain, as its website is still up and running and touting the high praise it got at CES 2022.

Danny Chadwick Danny Chadwick
Danny has been a technology journalist since 2008. He served as senior writer, as well as multimedia and home improvement editor at Top Ten Reviews until 2019. Since then, he has been a freelance contributor to Lifewire and ghostwriter for Fit Small Business. His work has also appeared on Laptop Mag, Tom’s Guide, and business.com. Read Full Bio »