Tech duds and dudes of 2010
Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, December 18, 2010
Carrying on from where we left off last week, it’s time for more strange tales of things that didn’t go according to plan in the world of tech. Last week was all about two categories – Tablets and phones. This time, the net is cast far wider. Once again, this isn’t about abject failure-just devices, technology, ideas and people that didn’t have it all in sync. Things falling out of favour, categories that haven’t reinvented themselves fast enough and products that haven’t moved with time.
The superstar in the world of computing for the last two years. The reason many unknown brands became household names. The one thing that made portable computing come down from being niche and over expensive to an impulse-purchase second computer. The product that outsold almost all other forms of laptops. And yet, the ground became shaky for the netbook in 2010. And yes, the Tablet is the main reason as they both bump and grind for the same consumer’s wallet. It is difficult today to justify buying a Tablet and a netbook.
The reason to buy either is almost the same. Portability, lightness, affordability and the fact that both are more for consumption of content than creation. Also, both are good for multimedia and entertainment and are not meant for serious work that requires computing power. The reason the Tablet is winning and pulverising the netbook is that it’s new, has a better form factor and is just easier to get started with. Netbooks may well be the greatest casualty of the the Tablet.
This may well be another area where I’ll get flamed, but let me just say it. Digital cameras haven’t kept up with the needs of customers. They’ve been given a really long window to do that – but slowly, that window is closing. For the last five years, people have been predicting the death of the digital camera due to camera phones, but it hasn’t happened. And frankly, that’s because camera phones suck and still suck big time. But this is changing fast. Users are starting to see the need for an optical device that is on and online all the time.
The need to share, upload, and put a picture on Facebook, share it on Twitter, or send it off as an email in real time is big. And convenient. And critical. And your 14.1 megapixel standalone digicam can’t do it. Yes, there are some that are WiFi enabled, but the working and set up is super clunky and the whole idea is more a task and an ordeal than intuitive and automated. Digital camera manufacturers need to get a device that is a no brainer to use, easy to set up and is online and they need to do it now.
And now it’s time for every movie studio and every television display manufacturer to get all hot and bothered with this part. The incredible promise of 3D – the sheer euphoria, the promise of a new land of the third dimension – hasn’t lived up to most of the expectations.
3D in movies is an art, not a technology and very few have got it right. And 3D on a home TV is still difficult to set up and maintain. The lack of 3D content, those glasses and the sheer effort is a bit much right now. But here’s the good part. The very fact that 3D was brought into displays has resulted in the best flat TVs ever. LED and plasma 3D TVs from Samsung, LG, Toshiba and some others are state-of-the art and are works of art. People buy them for the 3D but actually get a television light years ahead in terms of other technology.
Google TV, Opera Connected TV, Net TV, Online TV, you’ve heard it described in many ways, but the objective is the same. Ninety-nine per cent of content consumed by any viewer today is either on TV or on the Internet. Thus merging the two seems like a great idea. Well, yes and no. It’s almost impossible right now. Large TV networks don’t want to give up control, the technology to make them talk to each other isn’t in place, the content merge isn’t compelling and the idea is still very much half baked. In fact, even the best in the industry still aren’t sure how to marry them together and the customer doesn’t really know whether he wants one to intrude into the space of the other. Stalemate.
Social Media Abusers
2010 was all about social media in many ways. The problem was that lots of companies thought 2010 was ONLY about social media in all ways! It was merged, forced, inserted, used and abused into every category under the sun. Shopping sites went social, as did ice cream; weight loss was apparently meant to be amplified to the world; bar hopping was a sharing exercise as was poetry; walking your dog was supposed to be the next big idea in social media as was watching a movie or listening to music. The problem was that not all of us thought the same. There were actually things most people drew a line at sharing. Then there were some misguided efforts where elements of social media were forced onto the user, immediately breaking the rules of of what it all stood for. Google Wave, Google Buzz (to a certain extent), Apple Ping, location sharing and some others were some good examples of things that didn’t work out as well as planned.
These were the people that literally lit up the tech world in 2010. They led by example, built empires, turned dust to diamonds and they did all this by innovation, aggression and a certain degree of devil may care.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook proved that he may have a movie made on him, but your privacy isn’t more important than his valuation and that your personal data is gold in his hands. Eric Schmidt of Google built confidence by asking us to change our names when we came of age and also said that they knew where we are, what we’ve been up to and where we’ve been. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft broadly grinned through a turbulent 2010 with Kin, Windows Phone 7 and not a Tablet in sight. Steve Jobs was, well, Steve Jobs with an amazing product line-up, marketing skills honed to a degree of precision and yet had press conferences and sent personal email replies to customers that must have had Apple’s PR machinery develop ulcers as big as their sales numbers.
This was a year where things looked up. It rose up and away from the dull products that came from a time of recession. New exciting categories were born that were not forced down the throat of a customer. There were big wins and huge sales. More money was poured into innovation and research than ever before. That’s why, remembering a few of the fizzle-outs is important. It’s time to look forward now to 2011. A year most of us believe may well be the best year in technology. And one of the ways to know how well it went would be next year’s list of duds and clunkers. May it be a short one!
Of Copying And Flaming
A strange week indeed. First off was the slightly odd and bizarre situation of a whole column of mine that was published in Brunch last week, being plagiarised lock, stock and barrel. Odd, as the person who lifted it didn’t put in any effort to camouflage the rip off. Words, idea, thought process and content flow was all maintained perfectly. All that was changed was the name of the author.
I truly believe that duplicating a column is only a form of flattery if enough effort is put in to hide that it was ripped off in the first place. Thus, better and more creative efforts must be put in when lifting a piece. It is all ended now, with the column being taken off and an apology that came in, so we’ll leave it at that.
The second excitement was the reaction to the Tech Duds column that was published in Brunch last week. While expected, the sheer number and the brute force of the reactions did take me by surprise. While things were evenly balanced in terms of those that agreed with the piece and those that hated it, the flame levels of those that disagreed were as subtle as the blows of a sledgehammer to the solar plexus. It is impossible for me to take on all the hits, but here’s a quick attempt to address some of the ruffled feathers.
A ‘tech dud’, in my opinion (and as per the idea of that specific column), isn’t a pure failure – those are obvious. A dud is what should have been a bomb, but, for some reason, either whittled out or a negative point of the device wasn’t handled with the care and intelligence it deserved. And I made that amply clear multiple times and through the length and breadth of that column.
Thus, a Nexus One was a great device but Google’s retail and Go-to-Market strategy made it into a dud; the Notion Ink seems to be an exceptional product, but premature hype and unduly long delays in getting the product out has dudded it out; and then, of course, was everyone’s favourite grinding point: the Apple iPhone 4.
his is a device that I have acknowledged to be a great showcase of technology, one that has upped the stakes and the bar, and has many features which others struggle to match up. This has been duly acknowledged in the column too. For me, the handling of the grip-of-death antenna problem and the idea that the consumer didn’t know how to hold the phone, but still being handed out free rubber bumpers at the same time, wasn’t the best way of handling a genuine issue.
At the end, this was my opinion. And I respect the reactions, feedback and opinion from all of you too. That’s what makes the journalism of today so interactive. A lot of you wrote and said that they hoped I would write many more such columns that generate such heat and debate. I plan to do just that :)
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
- From HT Brunch, December 12