CEDs: Like Vinyl for Video, but more expensive
The CED (or capacitance electronics disc) was a disc that could create pictures with the grooves in its surface, like a video/audio form of the vinyl record. It was expensive to produce, however, and just like vinyl it could degrade after being played too many times. The reader was physically touching the disc to read it. CED tech was also extremely sensitive to dust, even more so than vinyl records. It took a specialized caddy to store these things just to keep contaminants out! Consumers may have thought the idea was great, but the upfront cost was just too much for the average Joe, especially since more affordable media types were already nearby on the horizon (like VHS tapes).
CEDs were being produced even as the manufacturer said they’d cancel them. This understandably led to a dip in profits while manufacturing was still happening, and nobody wanted to pick it back up. CEDs are a fine idea, but much like the eight-track, they were somewhat expensive to make and not very widely demanded.
Optical Cards: Like a CD-ROM, But Worse
The Optical card briefly appeared as an alternative to CD-ROMs (ROM here stands for Read-Only Memory). It’s very cool in theory – it can only be written on once, it’s flexible, and it’s sturdy! It could make a perfect ID card as it usually had a capacity of several megabytes, perfect for storing info to access right away. However, you don’t see much of them today. Why? Optical cards seem like a perfect solution for a number of things.
It’s difficult to find a solid answer online, but my theory is that it did stuff that other products already did.
By the time it came out, it was easier to just scan a code linked to files in the computer than it was to manufacture a card with that unchanging data inside of it. For example: a barcode. There’s a reason barcodes win out over things like RFIDs for inexpensive(!) goods – adding in all that tech is just not worth the price when the computer can also do the trick by itself. Do you invest in 500 small cards with electronics inside and a machine to read them, or 500 plastic business cards with a barcode, and a machine to read them? One’s going to be much cheaper.
Besides, magnetic stripe cards were already on the market, and machines could already read them. It was a short jump to include more info on the card that everybody already had a machine for, so magnetic cards dominated over opticals.
The other part of it (which information online will verify) was that storage was getting cheap! So cheap that optical cards fell out of use for other forms of storage, too. Like in cameras, where Canon released their first optical card. SD cards could hold more than even CDs, so an optical card had no chance in the race. That’s not to say optical cards aren’t used at all, but they sit in an intersection that other products can fill with minimum additional effort. Legacy machines, and certain companies use them, but they’re not very popular.
Good theory, niche too small.
Bubble Memory: Like A Magnetic DRAM Chip, but worse
Bubble memory was supposed to be a more compact, sturdier replacement to other memory types. Unfortunately, bubble memory sat at the worst intersection of expensive and power hungry – even if it outperformed DRAM chips, Semi-conductor memory, and hard disks in one field or another, everything else wrong with it dragged it down to become a second-rate competitor. Not to mention, the main producers of bubble memory drives never got manufacturing down to a science, so it was prone to breakage and bugs even when it should have been competitive in each niche, before the others came along.
It got some use because it popped up in the middle of a DRAM chip shortage, and then promptly died back out once DRAM units were back on the shelf alongside other replacements. It was just too fiddly to keep!
Eight-Tracks: Like a cassette, but more niche
If you’re going purely off of the item’s legacy, the eight-track is certainly a legacy item worth mentioning. It’s in this list because other items from the same era survived where the eight-track died. Cassette players in cars are still so widely present that adaptors sell in drugstores, while eight-track adaptors are a specialty item sold online. The last generation of cars to hold eight-track players are largely off the road, while cars with cassette players were still made into the early aughts. Vinyl records are still sold in physical locations, eight-track tapes are not. Compact cassettes are still sometimes featured in teen movies… eight tracks are not. Eight tracks still hold a lot of nostalgia, but the effort to get one playing in this day and age is a massive pain.
It was a great idea, but it was outlived by other media.
ROM Cartridges for Not-Games: Like a floppy disc, but earlier
Once, cartridges were used across the board. Of course they were! They were convenient, and the earliest home computers already had a slot for them! Most people recognize them as video game storage, but they were capable of more than just that. Applications, extra RAM, extra storage – the cartridge, even the ROM-only cartridge, was almost as capable as a USB was, except for capacity.
Nothing really had that much capacity at the time, though. The computers of the time usually held less than a modern cheapo USB’s worth of memory. Other forms of media outstripped it for basic storage, but it reigned supreme for a few more years in videogame media, before floppy discs started taking over there, too.
It’s distant descendant, the CD-ROM, held more data more securely, so the cartridges started to become outdated when optical media became available for purchase. Even video game consoles switched from cartridges to discs.
Sinclair ZX Microdrive: Like mini-USBs, but too early
A teeny-tiny drive with about 200 inches of magnetic tape inside sounded like a piece of spy equipment when it first launched. The Microdrive was especially small for it’s time and capacity, although it tended to wear out quickly. As a result, it still struggled to compete with bigger drives despite its many advantages. Other, similar drives released by competition were in much the same position. The thinner the plastic, the easier it wore out. Smaller devices either had less tape, or thinner tape – most devices chose thinner. It was the best consumer electronics could do at the time.
Magnetic Drums: Like tape, but bigger
Magnetic tape came out before magnetic drum tech did, although both saw use at release. The primary difference is in the reading: magnetic tape is moved in front of a single reader, while the drum spins in front of several fixed readers. In computers, it was replaced by core-memory. In a way, drum memory was the first time hard drives really took shape: hard drives follow many of the same principles, in that the heads stay still while the magnetic (or capacitive) item rotates beneath it, and the machine picks the correct head to see the data it’s looking for. Instead of a stack of discs, it was a single drum, so it’s capacity understandably wasn’t as great as modern drives, even if the idea was there.
Drum memory certainly didn’t fail – the military used it for years! IBM even used it up until the 90s in certain machines. However, its limited storage capacity made it a less popular choice than the also-widely-used tape, and then core-memory, for regular consumers who wanted something smaller.