In the latest episode of Stories of Tech Failure, host Bill “Engineer Guy” Hammack examines the PicturePhone, a product ahead of its time by several decades that only attracted 71 customers and ended up costing Bell System half a billion dollars. While the device was revolutionary, the huge $160 monthly fee (around $1,000 in today’s money) for the phone and service drove away would-be customers. Hammack insists that the phone should be seen as not simply a failure, but as an innovative precursor to the Internet.
The truly interesting aspect isn’t the failure. The PicturePhone had all of the failings of any new invention: attracting users and producing enough to lower the cost. More fascinating is how close the PicturePhone came to being the internet