From Nokia's smartwatch to Tesco's Hudl phone, here's the tech we wished made it into shops
As news reaches our ears of a Beats-designed Sonos-style speaker that was cancelled by Apple, we’ve been thinking about other interesting tech products that never quite made it to market.
There’s nothing as tantalising as exciting products that never see the light of day. To those emotionally invested in their potential, these are the ones that got away. The blockbuster devices that would have revolutionised the industry if they’d only been given a chance.
The truth of such aborted products typically falls far short of such ideals, of course, but it would be churlish to complain too much about a little optimistic speculation.
Join us, then, as we wistfully consider what might have been.
Microsoft/Nokia Moonraker smartwatch
Another recent revelation is that Nokia had a Windows-based smartwatch in the works, but that the company’s new Microsoft overlords scrapped it.
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In fact, as it turns out, the Nokia Moonraker was just weeks away from launch when the decision to pull the plug was made. Instead, the house of Windows went with its Microsoft Band idea - essentially a glorified Fitbit.
Details of the Moonraker have emerged online, however, showing off a plasticy device that resembles the Sony SmartWatch 3. Which is hardly the most glowing comparison to be made, it must be said.
The software is perhaps the most interesting thing here, with a ‘Metro’ interface that was clearly styled after Windows Phone, but with a number of sensor-optimised functions to minimise touchscreen fiddling.
It’s debatable whether we needed another smartwatch, but we can’t help wondering whether Microsoft’s clean UI would have finally found its natural home on our wrists.
Tesco Hudl Smartphone
Tesco apparently had an own-branded smartphone in mind for release until fairly recently.
You only really need to look at the two existing Hudl tablets to see why we’d be so interested in a Hudl smartphone. Against all odds, Tesco came along with a really solid little tablet for a scarcely believable price tag.
That was the original Hudl. The Hudl 2 was even better, boasting improvements to its design and specifications without a massive price hike.
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It was around the time of the Hudl 2’s launch late last year that Tesco spoke to us about its smartphone ambitions, confirming that it had scrapped plans to enter the market.
“We just saw the bottom end of the smartphone market dry up. The Chinese manufacturers, they have pretty much got it covered,” Tesco’s Group Digital Officer Michael Comish told TrustedReviews. “So, we were able to say, our customers are being served and that’s not a place we want to compete.”
We can see where they’re coming from, but at the same time, the rise of those Chinese smartphone manufacturers hasn’t resulted in a flood of truly compelling, widely available devices into the UK. We reckon there’s still a market for a solid Tesco Hudl phone.
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the perma-delayed Apple TV set-top-box revamp that reportedly missed its WWDC 2015 announcement slot. No. We’re talking about something far more ambitious here.
One of the juiciest bits of information to emerge from biographer Walter Isaacson’s extensive conversations with Steve Jobs was the last major project the Apple founder was working on.
That project was a fully integrated TV set. According to Isaacson, Jobs “very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant.”
Jobs even told Isaacson that he had “finally cracked it” - the ‘it’ being the elusive issue of an intuitive TV UI design that didn’t relay on perplexing many-buttoned remote controls.
Somewhere along the way, a Jobsless Apple lost its appetite for building a TV - probably thanks to the low-margin nature of the business and continued resistance to an all-in-one solution from the powerful TV studios.
Back in May, it was claimed that Apple had ditched its TV set plans some time last year. As anyone who uses a modern ‘smart’ TV will tell you, that’s a crying shame.
There were 12 long years in between the launch of the Game Boy and its proper successor, the Game Boy Advance. That’s pretty much two console generations.
Nintendo fans in the ’90s had to put up with successive incremental updates of the crusty old original GameBoy technology, which felt somewhat dated even at the time of its 1989 release.
But there was another, more definitive follow-up planned around the time it might have been expected. Around 1995, rumours of a Project Atlantis hit the specialist magazines (remember those?) of the time.
At GDC in 2009, Nintendo designer Masato Kuwahara confirmed that such a GameBoy successor did exist, but never escaped its prototype stage. The GameBoy follow-up was to mirror the portrait form factor of the GameBoy, but would have a much more powerful 32-bit ARM7 CPU.
The trouble was, Project Atlantis was HUGE. Images show a bloated caricature of the original GameBoy that stretched the definition of ‘handheld’ just as it would have stretched any pocket that could hold it.
It’s also been claimed that the Atlantis handheld’s graphics performance wasn’t quite up to scratch.
Whatever. Discerning gamers of a certain age (around 30) will always look back on that time and wonder what they might have been playing on the bus instead of Pokemon had Nintendo got its hardware act together.
HP Pre 3
The HP Pre 3 went one better than any other device on this list in that it did technically see release - though only in the UK (commercially at least), and it was essentially thrown on the scrap heap just a day after it hit shops in August 2011.
We’re still happy to label the HP Pre 3 a cancelled device that left a lingering sense of what might have been, though.
Built on the foundations of the Palm Pre and Palm Pre 2, which were hoovered up in the HP acquisition of 2010, the Pre 3’s real promise could be found in its software. All Pre handsets had at their heart webOS, a brilliantly ahead-of-its-time mobile OS that made a virtue of online connectivity, contact synergy, and card-based multitasking well before they became integral to Android and iOS.
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While Palm itself went the way of the dodo via its HP assimilation, webOS lives on in modern LG TVs - a sure sign of its potential, if hardly the glorious end some would have envisaged for it.
As for the HP Pre 3 itself, well, it was a decent BlackBerry-like slider with a (for the time) great 3.6-inch screen and solid build quality. It’s a phone that could have done really well under different conditions - and perhaps a year or two earlier.
It’s tempting to wonder what might have been if things had gone differently for Palm, and the Pre 3 had been properly supported rather than strangled at birth. Would the modern smartphone market now be a three horse race? We doubt it, but we can dream.