Skip to content

The Unpredictability of the Consumer Electronic Show: 5 CES Product Launches that Didn't Cut it, but Led to Global Sensations

The Consumer Electronics Show, CES, the annual shoo-in for the most alluring and cutting-edge products in the world of consumer technology has recently closed its doors after another spectacular exhibition.  In the last 50 years it has witnessed the unveiling of truly life changing technology including the first VHS video recorder, the compact disk, Playstation and even flying cars.


For the last 25 years, Enigma has been lucky enough to walk the halls at CES and support their clients with some truly unique experiential activations. The immersive designs and innovations on display at these sorts of events are sometimes awe inspiring (see our takeaways from ADIPEC 2023), and while not every product goes on to have a glorious life of success, many did show us the shape of things to come.

Now that CES 2024 has closed its doors, let's take a look back at five of the biggest CES flops that ended up spawning even more exciting, dynamic and successful products. 

Atari 1200XL at CES 1983

5. Atari 1200XL, CES 1983

Among baby boomers, whose childhood was not punctuated by Atari’s fabulous home Space Invaders and Pong games? Emboldened by its success in the home electronics market, 1983 saw the American games technology company premier its Atari 1200XL, with an expanded memory of 64k (imagine that!), a hugely superior keyboard and a streamlined design that incorporated seven boards into one mainboard. 

So what went wrong? An ambitious pricing strategy?  At $1,000 per unit, it was substantially north of the Atari 800 – and into the stratosphere compared to the Commodore 64, launched at CES 1982 for just $595. Consumers were simply not prepared to pay almost double for the admittedly superior 1200XL. It was discontinued before the year was out…however the genie was out of the bottle and the home gaming market was here to stay. Gaming analysts Newszoo have calculated that the Global Gaming Market in 2023 was worth an eye watering $184 Billion dollars

HD DVD at CES 2008

4. HD-DVD, CES 2008

In our current physical to digital, AI-saturated tech landscape, battles between platforms and tech standards are frequent at expos like CES. CES 2006 had its own war waging between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, with Toshiba and Microsoft both supporting HD-DVD and Sony, Samsung and Pioneer championing new formats and movie studio backing.

Then in a surprise move just before CES 2008, Warner Brothers, the last studio to show its hand, announced 100% exclusive backing of Blu-Ray. HD-DVD – it was “Game Over, Player One”... But let’s be frank here, when was the last time you put a disc in any form of player? iPhones and Android devices made media players redundant a decade ago. HD smartphones are now commonplace and combined with 5G connectivity, it's like having a multiplex in your pocket.  

RELATED: Here Be Dragons: Enigma’s WB Interactive Entertainment Experience at E3

Microsoft Vista at CES 2007

3. Microsoft Vista, CES 2007

It had been a good war for Microsoft since the turn of the century, since when it had virtually dominated the home PC market. It unveiled its new operating system, Microsoft Vista, and this was named ‘Best of Show’ by CNET, CES 2007’s official media partner.

But pride comes before a fall. On general release, the public voted with their feet. Vista was seen as bug-ridden, aesthetically unpleasing and pointless, since its benefits were not apparent to general users. Hasta la Vista, baby…

Microsoft wasn’t too rattled, though. By taking the lead in a number of key strategic sectors (particularly in AI), by early January 2024 Microsoft's stock closed 0.5% higher than ever before, giving it a market valuation of $2.859 trillion. Yup, read that again. In fact, it rose as much as 2% during that trading session and the company was briefly worth $2.903 trillion. That is a helluva Vista eh!

Apple Newton at CES 1992

2. Apple Newton, CES 1992

This should have been a doozy. The Newton was a stylish slate that would be your personal assistant, and initially, trade and media loved it - until its deficits became apparent. Its handwriting recognition software was not fit for purpose, meaning jotting down passing thoughts became pointless…

So much so that it was even ridiculed on a 1993 episode of 'The Simpsons.' Which, we suppose, is an accolade. But in true and expected Apple fashion the company never gave up on the concept of a portable, wireless personal communication and productivity device. And they were right to keep the faith. In 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that they had sold over 500 million iPads. And that was three years ago.

3D TV at CES 2011

1. 3D Television, CES 2011

It sounds great, right? Your favourite movies in 3D – what could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything, in short. After great reception, the problems started. Manufacturers were slow to ship. They were prohibitively expensive. The 3D experience was varied, to put it mildly. And it only worked with movies specifically mastered for 3D, limiting the library horrendously.

The death throe came with relatively affordable 4K flatscreens at CES 2013, and by 2017 one was left wondering if 3D television had just been something they had dreamed.  Fortunately if you do want to enjoy a 3D, immersive multimedia experience now you don’t have to strap a TV onto your face! The Metaverse anybody???

CES is proof that some ideas simply come before their time. It’s well worthwhile to keep an eye on what comes out of leading tech industry events like these - whether or not their debuts flop.

For over 30 years Enigma has been putting Brands in Focus. You can take a closer look at our experiential marketing principles here, contact us here, or follow the link below for stats on the effectiveness of in-person events.

READ NEXT: Enigma Walks the Halls at ADIPEC 2023