The New York Times did a story recently on the future of the RIM BlackBerry called “The BlackBerry, Aiming to Avoid the Hall of Fallen Giants.” The article lists several products that were once the pinnacle of technology – everybody either had one or wanted on – but were superseded by other disruptive technologies.
For now the iPhone and iPad are the giants. I wonder what’s lurking just over the horizon that might make them obsolete?
From the article:
SONY WALKMAN (1979-2010) Before the Walkman, “personal audio” meant holding a transistor radio to your ear. Sony’s invention created an entire category of devices and helped make the company the technology leader of the 1980s. New models (Thinner! Auto-reverse!) were eagerly anticipated, the LP was relegated to the attic and tender moments spent listening to mix tapes from that certain someone proliferated across teenage bedrooms. Sony seemed incapable of putting a foot wrong. It successfully moved the brand into compact discs with the Discman, then bought record labels and movie studios to bring about that illusory marriage of technology and content. When the digital revolution hit, Sony was too beholden to its proprietary formats, as well as to the inertia inside its media companies. Enter Apple and the iPod.
PAGERS (BORN 1951) At first, pagers were attached to people who worked in fields where lives were on the line. That usually meant doctors, though the group expanded in the late 1980s to include drug dealers. Early beepers displayed only numbers, giving rise to a numerical lexicon that included codes like 911 (call me back immediately) and 07734, which resembles “hello” when read upside down. Pagers briefly gained fame in early 1990s hip-hop, showing up in songs like “Skypager,” by a Tribe Called Quest. The pager’s fall was attributable to the disruptive and destructive powers of another technology: the mobile phone. Why beep when you can talk? And a pager message is so tiny that it makes a tweet look like “The Iliad.” The beeper does live on, in limited circles: its network remains more reliable than cell networks, making it useful to E.M.S. and other rescue workers.
PALM PILOT (1997-2007) Filofax brought personal organizers to their analog apogee in the early ’90s, but Palm brought them into the digital age. Palm Pilots were dazzling when they first appeared: all of your contacts, calendars and notes in one slim, pocket-size device. A touch screen, which required a stylus, made navigation easy. And you could add software, bought through an online store. Want a Zagat guide to go along with your personal data? No problem. In later years, Palm even added telephone features, creating a compelling, all-in-one gadget. Despite boardroom dramas that affected the company’s name and its ownership, Palm’s reputation as a source of innovative hardware and software endured until Jan. 9, 2007. Why that date? That’s when Apple introduced the iPhone.
POLAROID INSTANT CAMERAS (1948-2008) Edwin Land’s invention of instant-developing film in 1948 put a darkroom inside a handheld camera. That achievement gave his Polaroid Corporation a distinct advantage over traditional film cameras. By 1980, Polaroid was selling 7.8 million cameras a year in the United States — more than half of all the 15 million cameras, instant and traditional, sold that year. In 1985, it won a major patent-infringement suit, forcing Kodak to abandon its own instant-camera efforts. The victory was short-lived. The late ’80s brought the rise of the digital camera. By 2000, digital cameras began appearing on cellphones, placing cameras in millions of pockets. Polaroid declared bankruptcy for the first time in 2001 and stopped making instant film in 2008. Kodak declared bankruptcy on Jan. 19.
ATARI 2600 (1977-c.1984) It wasn’t the first game console, but the Atari 2600 brought video games into the home and popular culture. Over its life span, more than 30 million were sold. Pong, Combat, Pitfall and Frogger soaked up children’s afternoons. Then came the PC, which could play games and do much more. Atari rushed out games, assuming that its customers would play whatever it released. They didn’t. Millions of unsold games and consoles were buried in a New Mexico landfill in 1983. Warner Communications, which bought Atari in 1976 for $28 million, sold it in 1984 for no cash.