When IT Technology Is Too Far Ahead Of Its Time

By 3rd November 2021Blog

Computers, smart devices and IT support services evolve at an alarming rate.

Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, once claimed that the components in a computer system doubled every year, leading to more powerful computers available to end customers at a lower cost in a phenomenon known as “Moore’s Law”.

As well as this, the increase in raw computing power allows for computers to not only complete tasks quicker but also to provide completely new applications and ways of working using a computer, fuelled by the imaginations of engineers and designers.

However, sometimes the ambitions of a great designer can outpace the capabilities of technology of the time, leading to a piece of IT equipment that was meant to change the office failing dramatically to do so.

Here are some cases of when the right technology arrived too soon.

 

Graphical User Interface – Apple Lisa

The Apple Lisa is one of the greatest accomplishments by the first incarnation of Apple Computers, but also simultaneously one of its most damaging failures.

Named after Steve Jobs’ daughter, the Lisa project began in 1978 as an ambitious plan to create a computer with a graphical user interface, a concept that had only been seen on supercomputers up until that point.

Mr Jobs really believed that the future of business would be graphical in nature, but the Lisa cost far too much to make (the six-year development cost the company $150m), was too expensive for its very limited power (It shipped for $9995) and suffered from early reliability issues.

Part of the problem is that the 5MHz processor it used was simply not powerful enough to run the software installed without being incredibly sluggish, which meant that any productivity gained in its simple and fairly inspired interface was lost waiting for documents to load.

Outside of NASA, who relied heavily on it for project management, the Lisa was a failure, but Mr Jobs, after having been ousted from the Lisa team, managed to make the GUI concept work with the initial Macintosh.

However, businesses would stay away from GUI computers in favour of IBM PCs running DOS until the success of Windows 3.0 in 1990.

 

LaserDisc

Whilst the format has an enduring cult following, especially for those who collect old films or remember the game Dragon’s Lair, the LaserDisc almost provided the world with DVDs at a time when the CD was still being prototyped, but just missed the mark.

It provided incredible levels of video and audio quality at a time when VHS was the standard, featured interactivity and extra content, and thus could have become an alternative for displaying presentations and videos.

The problem was practicality. The discs were the size of vinyl records but also considerably heavier, early LD players were exceptionally loud (meaning the only place they had universal success was in already loud arcades), and you could not easily record with them as you could with VHS.

They had enough of an enthusiasts market to stick around until the DVD launched, however.

 

The Apple Newton

Apple has obviously had considerable success and a reputation for innovation, but there was a time in the late 1980s and through the 1990s where Apple could not seem to get anything right despite their intentions, and the Apple Newton was ambitious but also nearly ended Apple.

The Newton platform was incredibly ambitious and would be the first device to be called a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), which was a forerunner to the tablets used in IT today.

However, the huge cost of the unit at launched combined with handwriting recognition that was so bad it would be infamously satirised by The Simpsons.

They also predated Wi-Fi internet, meaning that they lacked the networking capabilities that make modern tablets so useful.

It was so bad that Apple was left weeks from bankruptcy, with Newton’s failure along with the failures of basically everything they sold at the time leading to Apple buying an entire computing company just to get Steve Jobs, who immediately cancelled the Newton as his first act.

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