Sniff! Sniff! I smell failure. Tech failure. I smell — sniff, sniff — the picture fading at Kodak. BlackBerry fans ready to don black. Acer about to be broken. Motorola's cellphone business filled with static. Digg digging its own grave. Netflix jettisoning its DVD business from the streaming ship. While this picture is admittedly overly grim, I know a little about tech flameouts — I was part of two of them. One was as an owner/founder of E/Town, a one-time competitor with CNET, but which died from a number of ills on Valentine's Day 2001; another was as sports editor (a former life) for WOW!, Compuserve's ill-advised Prodigy-like online family service, in 1996. (More on Prodigy in a bit.) In the meantime, you could fill Arlington many times over with the number of companies that have flopped spectacularly, many way too soon. I'm not going to examine the whys, though one could easily fire off a half dozen common causes for tech company collapses: over-expansion too soon misguided "improvements" or changes founder CEOs ill-equipped to manage a large company an established company unable to adapt to new technologies or too big to compete with agile new competitors a product produced either before its time or too late the loss of a charismatic founder Here are some sad stories of a few of my own "favorite" — used bittersweet — tech flops whose demises I've covered in the past.
Snoopy once sagely observed that "the anticipation far exceeded the actual event." From all indications, the beagle's cynical view is likely to describe the reaction of the digital cognoscenti when the iPhone 5 appears about a month from now. Indications are, iPhone 5 will actually be more an iPhone 4S, a minor upgrade in screen size, antenna and design, with few significant improvements. And probably no 4G. Which means the next iteration of the iPhone, once the technological master of the smart phone universe, is likely to be nowhere near the top of the today's most innovative phones. Yet we'll be treated to the usual Apple hoopla and subsequent huge sales, perhaps huger than any iPhone before it. How huger? An RBC/Changewave survey has found 31 percent of respondents either "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to buy an iPhone 5, five percent more than a similar survey preceding the introduction of the then highly-anticipated iPhone 4 more than a year ago. It seems Apple has discovered an interesting phenomena: iPhone not only doesn't have to be cutting edge, it's better if it isn't.
So let me get this straight. Company A patents a technology. Company S uses this technology. Company A sues Company S for co-opting its patents, and the courts (so far) agree — and Company A is the bad guy? Yes, I'm talking about what happened at IFA last week. Even though I was at IFA, I missed Samsung removing all evidence of the existence of its just-announced Galaxy Tab 7.7 after a Dusseldorf district court granted Apple's injunction like Josef Stalin removed Leon Trotsky (amongst others) from all Soviet history. I was busy touring the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, then wandering around historic Potsdam, thinking all the action at the Messe Berlin fairgrounds was kaput. Oops. Yet, when my compatriot Michael Trei passed along the report of Samsung's embarrassment from my fellow IFA traveler Chris Davies of SlashGear, who obviously stayed on the job over the weekend (show-off), he was flamed by many who called Apple a bully because they saw Apple's multi-touch patents akin to patenting a wave of your hand. Sorry, Apple-haters. Not only are you objectively and demonstrably wrong, you're wrong at the top of your voice. Apple may well be a bully in a host of business dealings (and it is), but multi-touch technology — in fact, ALL simple-looking technology — is a mite more complicated than your dismissive gesture of flipping the bird at Apple.
Many companies show off outlandish technologies at trade shows just to get attention, and I guess I fell victim to the ploy. Maybe you would, too: Sharp showed an 8k4k HDTV — that's an 85-inch, 7680-by-4320-pixel display — 16 times...
Seeing someone drawing on an HDTV — on the actual screen with an actual electronic pen — stopped a lot of IFA show-goers by German LCD maker Hannspree's booth (I cropped out the surrounding rubber-neckers). We were all gawking at woman's face being sketched on the Lounge TV 70, a 70-inch 1920-by-1080-pixel HDTV.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's got the thinnest and lightest 10-inch tablet and notebook PC of them all. According to Toshiba, they now have both.
We thought we'd have to wait years, perhaps a decade, for glasses-free 3D TVs. But Toshiba has created a time warp and announced the first glasses-free 3D, the 55-inch 55ZL2, which the company says will go on sale this December.
Your least favorite piece of housework, after washing the toilet bowl, has got to be ironing. But unless you've got a job interview and your lone suit jacket's been stuffed under your mattress since last Labor Day, there really isn't much to motivate you to drag the iron out to do anything except make a grilled cheese sandwich.
Without Apple's ecosystem, Android tablet makers have to play a spec game. And Samsung, the world's second-leading tablet maker, just raised the spec bar again with the new Samsung Galaxy 7.7, with a 7.67-(to be technical)-inch Super AMOLED screen.
A couple of years back, Samsung unveiled the DualView digital cameras, which had a small front-facing LCD screen to more easily frame and snap self-portraits. The company is in love with the idea, apparently, because Samsung is taking it to the next level with the Multiview.