Whatever happened to…

The internet-connected fridge

it_photo_32405“Imagine this,” Adrian King, president of ICL’s retail system division told the BBC back in 1999. “You’re in the kitchen and notice that you’re running low on eggs. You swipe the carton past the barcode scanner, which makes a note on its personal ‘shopping list’. When you’re ready, you send the list to a nominated supermarket, which can then make up and deliver the order to your home.”

Well, ten years on Adrian, and we’re still imagining. Not because the technology doesn’t exist: ICL/Electrolux, LG and Samsung have internet-enabled fridges, and supermarkets are doing well out of internet shopping. It’s simply a case of over-engineering: why pay when you can create a shopping list with a piece of paper and a fridge magnet?

But the fridge makers haven’t thrown in the kitchen towel. Tesco is considering launching its own Windows 7 “internet appliance”, with touchscreen shopping and barcode scanner later this year.

CD-based home appliances

it_photo_32393In 1991, Philips launched the CD-i platform, at the same time Commodore was punting its Amiga-based CDTV. Both were aimed at the living room, and both promised a brave new world in which CDs would deliver not only music, but video and games as well.

Unfortunately, with a maximum resolution of 352 x 288, video CDs looked no better than a VHS recording and, unlike video tapes, you couldn’t record on them. As games consoles from Sony and Microsoft would later prove, there’s nothing wrong with CD-based games, but Philips wanted CD-i to be seen as a respectable family platform and marketed it with a heavy emphasis on educational games, bypassing the teenage market and effectively guaranteeing its failure. The CDTV, meanwhile, was technically compatible with the large existing base of Amiga software; but with no floppy drive it relied on publishers producing special CD-based versions of their software to service the nascent market. Not surprisingly, few did.

The paperless office

it_photo_32396“We’re on the verge of the paperless office,” proclaimed Bill Gates back in 2005. Hindsight, it seems, has it in for the Microsoft founder. Four years later, and the paperless office has yet to make an appearance. This is probably because Gates’ prediction was born of his rash optimism in another historical dead-end, the UMPC. In Gates’ world, each of us would be outfitted with a tablet computer that would follow us from home to school to office, storing every document we’d ever need, from forms and text books to magazines and newspapers. It’s endearing, but also completely wrong.

The idea of reading an email from a screen is an entirely different proposition to reading a 100-page company report. The advent of E Ink and eBook readers may yet change this, but if anything the paperless office seems even further away now than it did in 2005.

RAM doublers

it_photo_32390Back in the days of DOS, packages such as Connectix RAM Doubler promised to magically increase the amount of usable RAM in your PC. Of course, they couldn’t actually squeeze more bits onto a memory module, but they could help you run more programs at once by managing your RAM more efficiently than MS-DOS alone. In truth, this wasn’t hard, given the Byzantine memory constraints of DOS and the 16-bit versions of Windows that ran on top of it: old-timers still wince to recall the vagaries of “extended” versus “expanded” memory.

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