Vaporware ’06: Return of the King
Pull back the red curtain and dim the lights. It’s the 9th annual presentation of the Wired News Vaporware Awards, our ode to the year’s top technology products promised, hyped and scheduled, but not delivered.
The nominees were chosen by you, our readers, in November. We’ve sifted through the submissions and selected the 10 finalists. The race was tight this year, but we’ve managed to declare a winner. OK, maybe it wasn’t that tight.
A couple of products narrowly escaped the podium of shame, most notably Microsoft Vista and Sony’s PlayStation 3. While Vista has been promised and delayed ad infinitum, the operating system finally shipped to business customers in 2006 (Though home users won’t see it till the end of January 2007). The PlayStation 3 also shipped — just because you weren’t able to get your hands on one doesn’t mean it qualifies as vaporware.
We received stacks of votes for Apple Computer’s iPhone, but that doesn’t count since Apple has never actually promised the iPod/phone combo. Except to maybe the board of directors.
StarCraft: Ghost was also nominated numerous times (it made No. 5 last year), but that’s off the list, too. Blizzard, the keeper of the StarCraft universe, has canceled the game.
How about the final spec for 802.11n, the blazing-fast new Wi-Fi? While many hoped to see it finalized this year, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has been saying not to expect anything until January 2007. No false promises, no Vaporware Award.
Gmail was mentioned a slew of times. Google’s webmail application is still in beta, so it qualifies, but we’ve decided to give Gmail a free pass on this one. We included those beta lovers at Google on last year’s list, but here’s a new vaporware rule: If millions of people are using it every day, even if it’s beta, then it’s not vaporware.
Caveats aside, let’s have a look at this year’s list in reverse order. Here are 2006′s games, apps, gadgets and machines with delivery schedules less reliable than a moonshine-drunk postman on Sunday.
10. Optimus-103 Keyboard
Last year, we noted that the Optimus Keyboard — an infinitely configurable input device with a tiny display screen on each key — would be a strong candidate for this year’s list because it was promised in 2006. Well, guess what — it never arrived, so the Optimus earns a spot for the first time.
Art Lebedev Studios, creator of the Optimus, is now promising the OS-independent keyboard in 2007. The studio also has a touch-sensitive device called the Upravlator that’s supposed to ship next year. We’ll reserve two slots on the 2007 list — just to be safe.
"This is almost as vapor as it gets," reader Stav writes. "From some nice-looking concept photos of a ‘truly next-gen keyboard,’ it’s been delayed ever since announced. And the feature list just keeps getting cut, the latest cut being color keys in the first version."
9. Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl
Here’s a great idea for a first-person shooter: Chernobyl undergoes a second meltdown, causing all the plants and animals in the surrounding ‘burbs to mutate and start attacking people. You’re a scavenger who makes a living infiltrating the "Zone" to gather artifacts and specimens for sale on the black market.
The game made waves in a 2001 preview when first-person shooter addicts were blown away by Stalker’s "X-Ray" graphics engine and realistic physics. Kiev-based CGS Game World promised the game for Windows users in late 2003. So far, no sign of it. A note pointing to an early 2007 release was posted on the game’s English-language website in June.
Wired News reader J.K. Star is convinced that Stalker’s innovative game play has grown stale. "By the time this game comes out, all of its ‘revolutionary’ features will have already shown up in every game out there."
"The host of the fan site linked off the main page has a nice ‘Sod Off’ message to the developers due to lack of updates," says Steve Fellows.
And a reader named Chris echoed the frustration of many of his fellow gamers. "Looks like one amazing game … but when the fuck is it coming?"
8. The "IPod Killer"
Every time we hear about a new portable audio device, it’s touted as the magic bullet that will end the iPod’s reign once and for all.
Oh, you mean that thing? The one with the ugly design and clunky user interface? Does it at least work with iTunes?
Microsoft’s Zune was supposed to do the trick, but it’s sitting on the shelves (even the SanDisk Sansa is selling better than Zune) while the kids are all enjoying their freshly unwrapped, shiny new iPods.
Note to everyone: It’s a White Wire World. Get over it.
7. Gran Turismo 4 Mobile
7. Gran Turismo 4 Mobile
The PSP faithful are downright steamed about this one. This oft-delayed car-racing title for Sony’s PlayStation Portable is now slated for an "early 2007" release.
Wired News games blogger Chris Kohler tells us: "It’s not even so much the fact that it’s vaporware as the sheer hubris of the whole thing. It was one of the first PSP titles shown, and in fact it was the best thing PSP had going for it at E3 2004. They even showed the box and disc art as if it was already in manufacture. But it was later found out that it was basically just a mock-up video and that they aren’t even actively working on it."
For added humor, read Kohler’s interview with Gran Turismo series producer Kazunori Yamauchi on the Game|Life blog.
6. Airbus A380
The future of commercial air travel is here — it just hasn’t gotten off the ground yet.
The French-built "superjumbo" Airbus A380 is the largest passenger jet in the world. The quad-engine, double-decker beast is capable of carrying 555 people 8,000 nautical miles in the standard, three-class configuration — that’s 30 more people than the reigning SUV-with-wings champion, the Boeing 747-400. The A380 can carry more than 850 passengers if everyone’s flying economy class. Rather scant on legroom, we’d imagine.
Test flights have been promising, but the complexities involved in making such a huge vehicle safe and sturdy have caused it to be delayed numerous times. The plane was first promised by Airbus in early 2006. Then, blaming wiring problems, the company announced it was pushing the schedule back — first to late 2006, then early 2007. A third delay, announced this summer, means that the first deliveries of the Airbus A380 are expected in October 2007.
With a track record like that, you can expect the jet to make next year’s list, too.
5. SED Televisions
These next-gen flat-panel displays are supposed to marry the slim profile of LCD televisions with the brightness, clarity and response times of traditional CRTs. Surface conduction electron emitter display technology uses a separate electron gun for every subpixel on the display screen, setting the stage for some eye-popping HD.
At CES 06, Toshiba showed off its SED panels and said they would arrive in time for the holiday shopping season. Then, in October, Toshiba said we’d have to wait until July 2007.
A reader named Eos is getting impatient. "C’mon, Toshiba, my 28-inch 4:3 CRT needs to go into retirement. I am sooooo close to buying a 1080p LCD TV, but I am holding out in case SED arrives and immediately makes it obsolete."
Either way, we can’t wait to see what Gears of War looks like on one of these puppies.
The hype surrounding the new game from The Sims creator Will Wright is deafening. In Wright’s Spore, which is being developed by Maxis, the player guides a species through the grand process of evolution — from a single-cell organism to star-hopping superbeings. Everything the user creates will be compiled into a giant database and shared among all the game’s online players. Wright himself calls it "an awe-inspiring global view of reality, almost like a drug-induced epiphany with a computer."
Wright demonstrated the game at the E3 conference in May 2005, setting off a firestorm of anticipation. At the show, Wright told Wired News Spore would arrive in 2006. No dice. More recently, the Sim master said the game is slated for the second half of 2007.
A reader named Goo is wondering what’s taking so long: "Where’s Spore? It looked quite ready almost a year ago."
"I have been waiting and waiting for something to bring out a next-generation feel to The Sims," says Brian Thedell. "As it stands now, Viva Piñata is more engaging than the latest Sims. I’ve been reduced to playing the movies sim (The Sims Superstar), for God’s sake."
3. Skype for Symbian
VOIP on a mobile phone? Nothing looks more promising than Skype on Symbian. Mobile gear enthusiasts have been waiting on the edges of their seats for this development, and once Skype software arrives on the popular mobile operating system, handsets from Nokia and Sony Ericsson will be able to use VOIP chat and make SkypeOut calls.
Word that Skype was working on the technology leaked in 2004. Screenshots popped up on blogs in February 2006, confirming that the software was near completion. We’ve been waiting for it ever since.
"What happened to Skype for Symbian?" asks Cliff Campbell. "I bought a Nokia N80 based on the Wi-Fi connection and the release of Skype for Symbian."
Irish McIrish says: "We’ve been hearing about it for well over a year now, but still nothing! All I wanna do is make phone calls on my mobile phone…. Oh, wait."
2. TiVoToGo for Mac
Got a show on your TiVo you want to watch on your computer or a mobile device? Great! Just fire up TiVoToGo and take Grey’s Anatomy with you on your commute. Oh, you’re a Mac user? Nevermind.
This software update — which would enable Mac users to easily transfer recordings from the set-top box to a laptop, an iPod or a DVD — was promised by mid-2006, but it still has yet to materialize. Windows users have no problems, but Mac users are stuck using third-party workarounds.
As reader David Randall points out, "For years, TiVo said it was ‘working on it,’ but new features have come and gone and still nothing."
TiVo made our list last year (No. 10) for its failure to produce an HD set-top box and TiVoToGo for Mac. The high-def boxes arrived this year, but Mac users are still waiting for their own version of the content-transfer suite.
Another honorable TiVo mention from reader Dave B.: "TiVo as Comcast’s DVR software. It was announced to happen about a year and a half ago, and that it would be replacing Comcast’s existing, far from good DVR. Then … nothing."
1. Duke Nukem Forever
We’ve got a new winner this year!
Just kidding. 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem Forever, originally demoed in 1997, has spent nearly a decade in development. Rumor has it the fourth installment in the first-person shooter series has undergone multiple redesigns in this nine-plus years. There are even rumors the game will be ported to the Xbox 360 or souped up for Windows Vista Ultimate users. But really, after all this time, can you believe any of that?
Meanwhile, the grinning visage of Duke Nukem has practically become the official mascot of the Vaporware Awards. Sir Duke topped the Vaporware list in 2001 and 2002 after placing second in 2000. In 2003, we gave it the Lifetime Achievement Award in hopes we’d be able to stop writing about it.
But the readers brought Duke back in 2005, and he was voted King of Vaporware again in 2006. That’s right — two years in a row, three years after being retired from the list.
And yet 3D Realms claims it’s still working on Duke Nukem Forever. We asked CEO Scott Miller to give us an update on the game’s progress.
"Thanks to the overwhelming success of Prey (our latest IP, and another game that took 10 years to release), we have been afforded another five relaxing years on the making of DNF," he says.
The company still has a message on its website saying that the game will be released "when it’s done."
Wired News readers are less than willing to believe the hype.
Chris G. suggests: "’Forever’ is the operative word … or how about ‘never’?"
Steve: "I really wanted to play that one … back in ’97."
Squid Master says, "I might as well just start making my own version."
But nobody sums it up better than Bob Mime, who gives the reason behind his vote: "Duke. Just because it wouldn’t be a Vaporware list without him."
Our thoughts exactly.