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The term vapourware describes “computer dreams, feasible concepts, prototypes, or failed products”; in short, items of technology that didn’t make it to market. They may have proved too costly, taken too long, or merely been marketing ploys, but you would be misguided to assume that these phantom computers were without consequence. What they represent, according to design historian Paul Atkinson, is the “agency of ideas” that have driven wider trends in an industry that often struggles to keep up with itself.

Delete: A Design History of Vapourware is a publication charged with scrutinizing such inscrutables. If you hadn’t already noticed, design criticism has a few major blind spots. The more ubiquitous an object, the less likely it seems to be examined, let alone subjected to the sort of prolonged formal scrutiny afforded to the expensive, famous and scarce trappings that few share. Consumer electronics are a case in point: apart from, say, Richard Sapper’s televisions for Brionvega or Mario Bellini’s sound equipment for Yamaha, it is rare that these predominately black or brown boxes fall within the remit of design history. (Accepting the resurgent interest, thanks to Sir Jonathan Ives patronage, in Dieter Rams oeuvre, especially his work for German manufacturer Braun; however, this manifests as a general appreciation of a Ramsian style rather than an acknowledgment of specific objects).


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