Stories of Tech Failure Examines the PicturePhone, An Innovative Video Chatting Device Introduced in 1964

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