Remember how excited everybody was about the Motorola Xoom and Palm Pre?
PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The hype surrounding the most talked-about gadgets at the International Consumer Electronics Show is much like anything else that happens in Las Vegas: It tends to stay there.
Unless you're working at a tech company or cover technology and are in Vegas sampling the wares and meeting people within the industry, CES is just a barrage of announcements touting the next big thing. For a couple of days in the desert, any one product or gadget can become the next big technological advance humankind can't life without. A few weeks later, it can turn into a tech afterthought taking up shelf space retailers wish they could use for more popular products.
Does anyone remember what the big product launches from last CES were? Something to do with a television, perhaps? A 3-D printer? It doesn't matter. Regardless of what companies would have you believe, consumer behavior is shaped less by the big blockbuster item than by the smaller ones at the fringes. A new game console is worth only as much as the game titles and online support that come with it. A smartphone's design will get it only as far as its base of mobile apps can take it.
Basically, unless you're unveiling a game-changing technology such as high-definition television (which debuted at CES in 1998), Blu-ray discs (2003) or, arguably, 3-D television (2009), there's only so much impact a manufacturer can get out of one device. At some point, all the hype just hurts when a product can't live up to expectations.
We took a look back at the past decade of CES and found five products that didn't quite make their way out of the desert:
5. Intel(:INTC) Wireless Display
Sometimes it's not the idea that's bad, but the way it's implemented.
Intel's idea to wirelessly transmit 720p high-definition signals from a laptop to a television screen was not only good when it was introduced at CES in 2010, but should sound awfully familiar to anyone who owns an Apple (:AAPL) TV box today. Unfortunately, it made it into only a select few laptops and required a $99 set-top box to use.
It also never found its way into smart TVs, Roku and Boxee boxes, Blu-ray players or any of the myriad other devices that ended up giving the laptop a pass and bringing online content directly onto living room televisions. Like Apple TV, it's still a pretty efficient way of putting the contents of your laptop's screen onto a television. Unfortunately, as more consumers shift to mobile devices, there's less demand for what's on fading laptops.
4. Nokia(:NOK) Lumia 900
C-Net considered this the best cellphone the 2012 CES had to offer. It loved seeing Nokia returning to the U.S. market after a brief hiatus and teaming up with Microsoft(:MSFT) on a Windows 7 with a swanky design, touchscreen display, strong camera and 4G support.
The smartphone-buying public almost immediately yawned in their faces.
The very clear message sent by smartphone users last year was that if it wasn't an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy product, they didn't want it. Samsung's share of the overall U.S. mobile phone market swelled to nearly 27 last quarter, according to ComScore(:SCOR). Apple came in second at 18.5%. Nokia? It registered in the low single digits somewhere below HTC's shrinking 5.9% share.
Among smartphone users, Nokia's partner Microsoft is faring just as poorly. While Google's Android products hold a 53.7% share of the market and Apple's iPhones clock in at 35%, Microsoft's share is at 3% and falling. Even Research In Motion(:RIMM), whose stodgy BlackBerry smartphones are in desperate need of an update, more than doubles Microsoft's smartphone market share at 7.3%.
3. Motorola Xoom
Not only did reviewers at CES in 2011 think this was the best tablet at the show; they were adamant that it was the best overall product.
This is what happens when you host a consumer electronics show that Apple doesn't attend.
The complimentary drinks must have been flowing pretty freely on the casino floors this year, as there was a nice, rosy hue to all of the compliments thrown at the Xoom's Android Honeycomb OS, dual-core processor, 4G-compatibility and front- and back-facing cameras. Oh, and at 10 inches it could stand toe-to-toe with the competing iPad 2 ... in theory.
In the real world, things proved a bit tougher. As the CES attendees played with its latest toy, Motorola itself split into separate companies. Motorola Mobility, the one with all the gadgets, would get swallowed up by Google(:GOOG) eight months later in a $12.5 billion deal. It's been rumored since that Google would sell off Motorola's more than 17,000 patents or simply open them up to manufacturers to make them as open as its Android OS.
Xoom was caught in the middle and struggled to sell roughly 250,000 units in its first quarter. By July, Motorola was already lowering the Xoom's price by $100 for its Wi-Fi version and by $200 for its 4G model. The Xoom is still hovering around the 1 million mark for total sales. In contrast, the competing iPad 2 hit that mark in its first weekend.
2. Palm Pre
Nearly two years into the iPhone era, Palm's WebOS system, Deck of Cards multitasking, slide-out keyboard, outstanding voice quality and Synergy for contacts, calendars and messages from various sources including Facebook (:FB), Outlook and Gmail all seemed like they could be key to the smartphone's future.
It was a nice dream.
The Palm Pre was the right phone at the wrong time. Its Web search automatically pasted search terms into various engines, the pinching and double-tap zoom was as easy to navigate as the iPhone's and it had Wi-fi, Bluetooth, an airplane mode, Microsoft and Mac compatibility and the voice quality of a landline phone.
Unfortunately, in 2009, the iPhone and BlackBerry were the top smartphones and the Pre tried to be a little bit of both. It fell short in each case. Most of the Pre was left over from old Palm products - PDAs, as they were known in ancient tech times -- and its newest apps bore little resemblance to the iOS and Android offerings of today.
The Pre was supposed to get a shot at redemption in 2010, when Hewlett-Packard(:HPQ) bought Palm for $1.2 billion and seemed destined to create the new Android. By Aug. 18, 2011, or little more than a month after HP released the WebOS-driven TouchPad tablet in the U.S. and one day after the Pre 3 phone's release in Europe, HP stopped making and supporting any WebOS hardware whatsoever. Palm saw its smartphone market share slide from 4% in December 2010 to just about nothing today.
On ComScore's smartphone market share chart, Nokia's Symbian comes in dead last at 0.5% of the market. Somewhere below that are a few holdout open-source WebOS users who just can't let their dream go.
1. Creative Zen Vision: M
This is easily our favorite of the CES flops because we honestly don't understand why outlets such as C-Net and others were touting it so highly in the first place back in 2006.
For one, it was an MP3 player/multimedia device. The Motorola Rokr may have been a terrible precursor to the iPhone, but the phone's iTunes compatibility should have been a sign that something like the iPhone was coming. As it turned out, the tech world only had to wait a year before Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone at Macworld 2007.
Secondly, the iPod had a nearly five-year head start and, a year earlier, incorporated the video support the ZEN Vision: M was attempting to pass off as new. What was it really bringing to the table? An FM tuner? The iPod got along just fine without one until 2009, and then only for one version of the nano. A voice recorder? Apple seemed just fine letting the third-party peripheral makers handle that.
Also, at $330 for a 30-gigabyte model, it was a whole lot more costly than the $250 30-gigabyte iPod. At least it wouldn't suffer too much on its way to tech obscurity. Two months after the iPhone arrived. the ZEN Vision: M was pulled from shelves and never heard from again.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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