And Another Thing

Technology Innovations That Didn't Make It This Year

Wireless is hot. Handhelds are hot. Exchanges, e-commerce and CRM dominate the headlines. You've heard all about it. By now, you're sick of most of it. You're probably ready to smack the next e-spewing salesman across the face with a three-hole punch.

But, what about the technology you didn't hear about, the ideas that never made it, those secret innovations that never got off the drawing board? I've rummaged through dumpsters. I've dug up the dirt. I've scoured the Internet to find you the biggest flops of 2000 - here are the failed technologies they tried to keep quiet:

Ring-Top PDA: Better than a palmtop, so small you wore it like ring! Investors were all over this one. An IPO was imminent. The ring-top would have been the big story of 2000, had the now-late inventor not absent-mindedly tried to fish the olive out of his martini, while wearing one and gotten fried with 120 volts.

Mainframe by Mail: It worked for Dell, and would have worked for mainframes. Order an S/390 on the Web. Custom configured and shipped the same day! Could have sliced turnaround times. Would have revolutionized the industry. But, the program was cancelled after the first week when three postmen and a FedEx driver wound up with hernias ... legal action is still pending.

Intuitive Intelligence (II): This was to be the next generation of application development. II anticipated the intent of the programmer, using amazingly complex algorithms to fix errors and generate routines. But, most IT shops weren't ready for code that did what programmers really wanted, since a typical II program ran for about six seconds then went home to crack open a beer.

On-Board Office System: I was actually asked to test this: a PC, printer and fax built right into an automobile dashboard. I was all for it, that is until I was caught doing 62 in a 45 mph zone and some over-zealous cop, beta testing the system for the local police, faxed a speeding ticket directly to my car.

Web-Enabled Clothes Iron: Not that bad an idea. Folks need information on garment care. Maybe those dress shirts come out crisper if you know the right temperature and setting. But, rumor has it people never could get used to Internet access from the bottom of an iron - and the touch-screen really ticked them off.

Operator Cam: The NFL had helmet-cam; IT could have had operator cams mounted atop the third-shift operator's head. Management could watch what they do! They could look for mistakes! But, the project failed miserably, especially when most of the video shot the top of a desk, with occasional snoring and a puddle of drool.

B-to-V: Business-to-vendor was going to be the next new wave. Web-based brochures, billing and transactions; everything you wanted from all your favorite IT vendors. Seemed like a can't-miss, until the first vendor went online, then crashed minutes later when their server was flooded with requests for free golf shirts.

Velcro Laptop Holder (VLH): Worn as a belt, Velcro strips firmly keep your laptop from slipping off. Hundreds of thousands were poised to enter the market, until two people wearing VLHs accidentally bumped into each other in an elevator at Comdex, needed to be separated with a crowbar, and had a lot of explaining to do to hotel security.

Voice-Activated Lawn Mower: Started fine. Stopping it was another story.

GPS-Tracked Golf Balls: Never lose a tee shot again. Each ball contained durable, impact-resistant transmitters, allowing you to find it using a cart-mounted satellite system. However, the embedded devices did contribute somewhat to the ball's weight, becoming rather evident when a tour professional solidly hit a 5-iron, sending his GPS-tracked golf ball straight down the fairway about three-and-a-half feet.

Credit-Card-Sized Cell Phone: Would have taken the market by storm. Light. Portable. But, the inventor accidentally slipped the prototype into an ATM machine, and it hasn't been seen since.

Disposable PC: It worked for the camera, didn't it, so why not the PC? It's an ultra-cheap PC, which could be used once, holding data for up to two hours, and then thrown away. It would have been a huge success, until someone mistakenly used these to track results in the State of Florida Presidential election.

Mike Cohn lives in Atlanta, and still hopes to hit it big this year with his IPO: 1-800-eggrolls.com.