What was the biggest fail in the history of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)? The Microsoft watch? Larry Page's call for universal power adapters? The netbook? Tough to say. While CES may be a launching pad for great new products (VCRs, Pong at home, HDTV), it is also the place for one-trick, hype-filled wonders that fade away before the last weary CES showgoer has departed from Las Vegas' McCarran airport. Here are 10 that fit that latter description.
1. Microsoft Watch: I list this one first, because I interviewed Bill Gates when he was wearing one and even he seemed a bit embarrassed by the clunkiness. The year was 2003 and in Gates' CES keynote, the SPOT (Smart Personal Objects Technology) watch was the star. FM barrier bands, geolocation and changing your TV's channel were going to be available from your wrist. Gates missed the point of watches: They are fashion statements, and wearing a brick on your wrist is a statement few want to make. By the way, the Dick Tracy watch idea is returning again.
2. Netbooks: It was 2009. Netbooks were everywhere. They're cheap! They're so tiny you can't type! They're slower than any laptop yet invented! Why didn't everyone want one? The iPad chewed up and spit out the netbook business. Netbooks were a terrible idea, and the last netbook stalwarts are finally bailing out.
[ Even with its consumer focus, CES 2013 offers plenty to spark IT leaders' thoughts. See 10 CES Trends That Matter To Business. ]
3. 3-D TV: Maybe someday all us sports fans will be gathered around a 3-D TV to watch the Super Bowl. Not yet and maybe not ever. The 3-D TV was the big news at CES 2010, 2011 and 2012. Time to put 3-D to rest and let us HDTV watchers drink beer and eat pizza while watching the Patriots win the Super Bowl this year.
4. Universal Power Supply: I bring this up because Google's Larry Page making a speech at CES is a rare event, probably never to be repeated. I was sitting in the CES 2006 audience as his (up to that point) interesting speech about robot cars veered seriously off the cliff. He didn't like all the various power supplies in use then (and still in use now). Okay, I agree all those power supply incompatibilities are a pain, but should they be the subject of a keynote from one of the great tech movers and shakers? Off message and off the cliff. Don't just believe me: read the transcript.
5. End Of That "Other Show" During CES: After looking at the 125th smartphone, CES attendees in years past might have been tempted to head over to the Hard Rock for an education-only tour of the Adult Entertainment Expo. Alas, no more. AEP and CES are no longer in congruence, and your only choice will be to look at yet one more smartphone.
6. Media2Go: This was highlighted in the same 2003 keynote when Bill Gates showed the Microsoft watch. If the watch was a brick, Microsoft's Media2Go was a concrete block, and about that attractive and portable.
7. HP Home Server: This one is still around, sort of a zombie server. The idea was, you were going to have a server next to your furnace to run all your media. In these days of Netflix, Dropbox, iTunes and Amazon, the idea that you were going to keep your media in the home instead of the cloud seems absurd. But in Vegas, the absurd can seem quite logical after a couple discount drinks at happy hour.
8. Palm and WebOS: At CES 2009, Palm was going to change computing as we know it, etc., etc. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
9. 100 Tablets Introduced At CES 2009: The odds were 100 to 1 against Apple. Guess who won? In all fairness, the Android team is still in the race.
10. Lots Of Stuff At 2010 CES: My old cohort Jim Louderback can be counted on to scout up the goofiest, dumbest CES products. I think his high point of the dumb hunt was in 2010. Here's video -- check out the nano-toilet, TV hat and USB cigarette.
VP and Editorial Analyst, InformationWeek
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