by Adam Benjamin | August 8, 2013 9:57 am
Technology has come a long way from the massive, room-sized computers of the 1960s.
Not every development turns out to be a winner, though. Consumers are treated to some creative failures as a natural part of technology’s evolution. Sometimes, a new piece of tech is too far behind the times to sell; other times, it’s too far ahead to catch on (R.I.P., Sega Dreamcast).
Storage formats are particularly susceptible to this change. As technology becomes more powerful, they require new innovations to take advantage of improved capabilities. Remember the floppy disk — or better yet, punch cards? They served their purpose at the time, but as technology evolved, new storage formats popped up to take their places.
Here are four storage formats that never quite took off:
Let’s start with the obvious one.
Every time a new format competition breaks out (HD DVD vs. Blu-ray, etc.), it gets compared to the VHS vs. Betamax war from the ’70s and ’80s. Betamax was a format developed by Sony (SNE), and enjoyed a lack of competition until JVC came out with VHS in 1976 and started the format war.
The battle raged for more than a decade, with each format offering longer and longer recording times, until Sony finally relented in 1988 by producing its own VHS player.
Of course, that all became irrelevant when DVDs rolled around by the new millennium.
And heck … those barely lasted a decade before Blu-ray came in and threatened to change everything again.
If you thought DVDs had too much capacity and were much too small, LaserDisc was the format for you.
In today’s micro/nano world, the foot-wide discs look comically large. But when the format was first introduced more than 30 years ago, it looked like the future. (It was like records, but for video!)
But despite all its futuristic appeal, the format never really took hold.
Part of the problem was size: Each side of a LaserDisc could only hold 60 minutes of video, which meant movies longer than two hours required multiple discs and interrupting the viewing experience at least twice (the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would have required three discs).
While the format didn’t officially “die” until 2009, DVDs had delivered the death blow long before then.
In the early ’90s, cassette tapes were gasping for their final breaths, which meant companies like Sony were busy trying to create a successor.
The Sony MiniDisc looked like the technological love-child of CDs and floppy discs — a 3-inch optical disc housed inside a transparent rectangular case. Despite the smaller size, the format was still able to hold up to 80 minutes of music.
But the MiniDisc never really overcame the ubiquity of the CD, at least in American markets. Despite its lack of success, the format proved remarkably resilient in the face of CDs and MP3s — Sony shipped the last players in March of this year.
In addition to having the coolest-sounding name of these failed formats, bubble memory also was the most promising.
The format stored single bits of data in tiny circles, which allowed for denser data storage than traditional methods. Bubble memory boasted superior access time compared to disk or drum memory, and the bubbles were essentially immune to the normal wear that plagued other storage types.
But like every other entry on this list, the potential of bubble memory was wiped out by a faster-moving format — in this case, semiconductors and flash memory. The format didn’t even make it to the ’90s.
Though ultimately unsuccessful, bubble memory was a creative little piece of engineering.
Adam Benjamin is an Assistant Editor of InvestorPlace. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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