Vaporware usually refers to computer hardware or software whose manufacture gets announced to the public but is either made available much later or never produced. Note that since the advent of smart vehicles, the term is also used for them.

Vaporware products are usually announced during the world’s most significant tech events, like CES. Companies that wish to hype their upcoming offerings often talk about them in events that are bound to catch the media’s attention, especially in time for Christmas. But due to time or budget constraints, many such wares don’t make it to market as promised. Some never do.


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When Was the Term “Vaporware” Coined?

A Microsoft engineer is credited for coining the term “vaporware” in 1982, using it on the Xenix operating system (OS), which the company never released. The term first appeared in print in an Esther Dyson newsletter in 1983.

Over time, tech writers used vaporware on computing products that took too long to be released. An example would be when InfoWorld editor Stewart Alsop used it to give Bill Gates the Golden Vaporware Award for the much-delayed release of the first version of Windows in 1985.

How Do Vaporware Come About?

In many cases, vaporware come about because their manufacturers don’t want to lose out to competitors. Developers thus strive to be the first to introduce products even if they don’t exist yet.

In some cases, however, the media hype surrounding tech currently in development gives birth to vaporware through miscommunication. The prospect of witnessing the release of the next big thing and scooping competitors can lead to such an incident.

Throughout the years, we’ve seen several vaporware emerge. We named some of the most popular below.

1. Ovation

Ovation Technologies announced the development of an integrated software package that includes word processing, spreadsheet, database management, and communication capabilities in 1983. Set to compete with WordStar, WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, and Lotus 1-2-3, the suite never came to fruition, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 1984.

2. Apple W.A.L.T. and VideoPad

In 1991, Apple announced the upcoming launch of its first portable communications device—the Wizzy Active Lifestyle Telephone (W.A.L.T.). It was supposed to be a tablet that doubled as a personal digital assistant (PDA), but it was never released.

The company announced the VideoPad during the 1995 MacWorld Expo a few years later. It was a three-in-one portable device—a cell phone, PDA, and videophone combo. It, too, failed the prototype stage and was never released.

3. Silicon Film EFS-1

During the Digital Imaging Marketing Association (DIMA) show in February 1998, Imagek announced the EFS-1. It hoped to replace a 35mm film cartridge designed for any camera, enabling photographers to take digital pictures using their existing, non-digital cameras in the next few months. The release didn’t push through until after the company changed its name to Silicon Film and announced the EPS10-SF, then ceased to operate.

4. Infinium Phantom

In a January 2003 press release, Infinium Labs announced the Phantom, designed to “outperform the Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2, and GameCube,” with a November launch. True to its name, no such product was released.

5. Palm Foleo

Palm Computing founder Jeff Hawkins announced the Palm Foleo—a Linux-based subnotebook designed to synchronize with a smartphone so business travelers could work on documents and emails without cramping their thumbs—on 30 May 2007. After only three months, the company pulled the plug on its manufacture.

The following timeline shows how the five vaporware cited above never saw the light of day and why, including company bankruptcy, faulty design, engineering challenges, failure to comply with standards, several feature overlaps with existing products, and legal issues.

what is vaporware

What Products Were Considered Vaporware but Launched Eventually?

In some cases, products once thought to be vaporware or no-shows actually came to be but years after their promised launch dates. They have since become known as “surfaced vaporware.” The following list features a few of them.

1. 3G

The technology was considered vaporware in the early 2000s, but we have all been enjoying its and its descendants (i.e., 4G and 5G) benefits since 2007.

2. Bluetooth

It took around six years for the technology to gain mainstream adoption since it was announced in 1994. As such, it made Wired’s yearly vaporware rankings even in 2000.

3. Windows Vista

Codenamed “Longhorn,” the OS’s development began in May 2001 and was delayed several times. It was finally released in 2006 but without many of the features initially promised.

4. Mac OS X

Introduced as far back as 1984, Mac OS X was finally shipped in 2001, replacing multiple abandoned OS attempts, including Copland and Taligent. It is the predecessor of what we now know as “macOS.”

5. Lockitron

Apigy promised Lockitron—a Bluetooth- and Internet-enabled door lock—as early as March 2013. After raising more than US$1.5 million worth of pre-orders via crowdfunding, the device continued to be nonexistent until 2016. Thousands of the devices were delivered before the company ceased production.

While we never see most vaporware come to life, some actually do, just years after they were promised.

Key Takeaways

  • Vaporware refers to computing hardware or software whose manufacture gets announced to the public but is made available much later or never produced.
  • Some of the most popular vaporware of all time are W.A.L.T. and VideoPad, EFS-1, Palm Foleo, Phantom, and Ovation’s OS.
  • Some products, such as 3G, Bluetooth, Windows Vista, Mac OS X, and Lockitron, that were once considered no-shows, actually came to life.

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