10 of the Shortest-Lived Tech Products

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The aftermath: Microsoft said that Verizon Wireless would continue to carry the Kins that had already been manufactured. And by golly, it did–you can still get one, for free, with a cheap service plan. Someday they’ll sell ‘em all, I’m sure.

9. Cisco FlipLive (2011)

cisco fliplive video fail
Gizmodo's copies of the unreleased FlipLive beauty shots.

What it was: The next generation of Cisco’s Flip videocamera, with one major new feature -- built-in Wi-Fi that let them sync wirelessly with a computer or broadcast video directly over the Internet.

Announced: Never! But it was supposed to be released on April 13, 2011

What they said when it was new: Cisco never told consumers about FlipLive, but when one of its representatives invited me to a prerelease briefing, it was described as a "new innovative family of products unlike any previous Flip you’ve seen!"

Died: April 12, 2011, along with all other Flip models

What they said when they killed it: "We are making key, targeted moves as we align operations in support of our network-centric platform strategy. As we move forward, our consumer efforts will focus on how we help our enterprise and service provider customers optimize and expand their offerings for consumers, and help ensure the network’s ability to deliver on those offerings." -- John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, in a buzzword-laden statement concerning the company’s decision to end the Flip line and lay off the 550 employees responsible for it

Why it really failed: Flip was very popular and apparently profitable. So it’s been widely speculated that Cisco’s goal involved showmanship as much as fiscal prudence: It wanted to create visible signs of blood to placate Wall Street.

Was it a tragedy it bit the big one? I know people who think so. It’s certainly too bad that Cisco didn’t attempt to sell Flip rather than blithely destroying a brand it had bought for $590 million just two years earlier. It’s true, however, that when I saw the FlipLive cameras, I came away thinking that they were largely more of the same rather than an exciting leap forward. Then again, the New York Times’ David Pogue used the phrase “tragic death” in his eulogy for Flip, and specifically praised FlipLive.

The aftermath: The decision to kill FlipLive along with all Flips was so abrupt that San Francisco (and, I assume other cities) were haunted by Flip ads on bus shelters for months after the bad news hit. And I wonder what Cisco did with all the FlipLives it had originally planned to put on sale the day after it ultimately axed the product? By now, they may be in landfill in New Mexico somewhere alongside Atari ET’s cartridges.

10. HP TouchPad (2011)

hp touchpad fail
What it was: HP’s first WebOS tablet, the most notable result of its 2010 purchase of Palm for $1.2 billion. It was supposed to be the flagship of an array of WebOS devices which HP would release in the years to come: "The flexibility of the webOS platform makes it ideal for creating a range of innovative devices that work together to keep you better connected to your world," a press release explained.

Announced: February 9, 2011. And it shipped on July 1.

What they said when it was new: "What makes HP TouchPad a compelling alternative to competing products is webOS. The platform’s unmatched features and flexibility will continue to differentiate HP products from the rest of the market for both personal and professional use. This is only the beginning of what HP’s scale can do with webOS." -- Jon Rubinstein, HP senior vice president

When it died: August 18, 2011

What they said when they killed it: "The tablet effect is real, and sales of the TouchPad are not meeting our expectations." -- Léo Apotheker, HP CEO

Why it really failed: Because HP didn’t actually have the stomach to enter a remarkably challenging market. In fact, by simultaneously announcing its intention to get rid of its PC business, it pretty much made clear that it doesn’t want to be in the consumer-goods business at all, except for printers (and ink).

Was it a tragedy it bit the big one? I think so. WebOS remained full of promise; now it’s dead, or close enough. We still need serious competitors to the iPad. And if a company isn’t willing to withstand more than six weeks of disappointing sales, it shouldn’t introduce a product at all.

The aftermath: Another TouchPad variant, the TouchPad 4G for AT&T, will apparently die without ever having been released.

So what can we learn here? A few important things:

  • If a product is terrible, or meant for a market that doesn’t exist, it’s better to figure that out before you release it, not after.
  • If a product has potential, it might take more than a few weeks to realize it.
  • The fact a company is great at making enterprise networking hardware doesn’t mean it’ll succeed with consumery gizmos.
  • Strangely enough, claiming a product is wonderful (sometimes in pricey ad campaigns) doesn’t help if it isn’t.
  • People responsible for some of the greatest products ever -- guys like Steve Jobs and Jeff Hawkins -- are still capable of misjudging the market.
  • All roads lead to HP, which killed the TouchPad and ended up owning the companies which had killed Kerbango, Audrey, and Foleo.

Right now, I’m genuinely sad over the fate of the TouchPad. I’m sorry for the people who bought it; I’m sorry for the HP employees who worked on it; I’m sorry for the HP stockholders that the company spent over a billion dollars for an operating system it lost interest in so quickly. But the good news is this: it won’t be too long until some other product fails so fast that the TouchPad is no longer the obvious example of horrendous tech-product failure. And Silicon Valley -- a place where making mistakes and moving on is part of the culture -- will always try, try again.

More tales of failure on Technologizer:

The Thirteen Greatest Error Messages of All Time

The Thirteen Other Greatest Error Messages of All Time

The Bob Chronicles

Osborne!

This story, "10 of the Shortest-Lived Tech Products" was originally published by Technologizer.

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