It’s time to finger the consumer tech losers of 2012, which won’t be hard. Consumers are fickle creatures, and not because of character defects—humans are driven to decisions by complex psychological forces only partly under conscious control. They’ll tell marketing researchers how much they want something - for example, 3D television - so manufacturers will ramp up production and… and maybe the new sets will sell, and maybe they won’t. For whatever reason, from consumer misconceptions to shoddy products, there were a lot of “big fails” last year, but here are the ones you should know about first:
Consumer tech’s train wrecks of 2012
Google TV (GTV) — There’s no Hulu Plus in the channel lineup, a startling omission since you can watch it on our MacBook Pro rental and every other (unlocked) net-connected device. “Internet TV” models from competitor Roku start at less than half of GTV’s price, and bring you 500+ channels of entertainment, sports, news, and most everything else—including Hulu Plus, of course, along with Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Google ‘missed’ in business tech with Google Wallet, and is similarly off-target with GTV on the consumer side. Let’s hope Google takes the time to get its phone right.
Smart Appliances — The expanding definition of the word “appliance” now includes our iPad rental as well as your toaster. Everything that could potentially be interfaced with electricity and a network, from coffeemakers to computers, is now a candidate for the upgraded term “smart appliance”—and don’t forget that the smartest thing smart appliances do is cut energy use, and dramatically. Just one thing: The Smart Energy Protocol (SEP 2.0) is still unfinished (this year for sure!) and it’s the foundation of the smart grid that everything needs to plug into to be, um, smart!
3D TV — This is among recent history’s biggest miscalculations in product development. (On the opposite end of the spectrum, you find Steve Jobs’ iMac, iPhone, and the rest of the “i” clan.) “Of course people will buy these wowie-zowie TV sets,” everyone assured everyone else. Sales of (real or imagined) paradigm-shifting technologies always start slowly, but after a few years—and a 2012 filled with even more 3D TV hype and histrionics—it’s still a colossal miss, even at bargain prices.
Ultrabooks — Intel made a bigger deal out of this “new” hardware category than PC manufacturers did, although the latter also revved the hype engine in 2012 right along with the 3D TV boosters. It wasn’t a new category, of course, as ultrabooks were based on the first lightweight, optical-drive-free laptop that wasn’t an anemic netbook—the notable Air model from Apple’s MacBook line. Ultrabook makers could help themselves with lower prices, certainly; but whatever they do, they should put as much effort into product quality in 2013 as they did into promotion in 2012.
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