Dead and gone
Things always live fast and die young in the blink-and-you'll-miss world of consumer technology, but the past week was an especially brutal one for a wide range of devices and services. Killed products topped the headlines on an daily basis—many, but not all, stemming from Microsoft's plan to cut 18,000 jobs, including half (yes, half) of the Nokia staff it so recently acquired.
From Chromebooks to PCs to Windows tablets and streaming media services, nothing seemed safe from the reaper's gaze this week. Here's a run-down of all the tech gear that's waving goodbye.
Dell's Chromebook 11
Before things get bleak, let's start with a good-I-guess kind of discontinuation. On Monday, Dell said it was ceasing online sales of its 11-inch Chromebook, the aptly named Dell Chromebook 11. While the laptop lacked in innovation, we found it to be a nice execution of the Chromebook ideal, with a small size and heft perfect for student backpacks. (The $300 price doesn't hurt, either.)
Apparently, people agreed. Dell told us it yanked the Chromebook from its website because it proved too popular and the company was having trouble keeping up with demand. On the bright side, schools can still snag the Chromebook 11 by contacting Dell representatives.
Vizio's lineup of PCs dried up for the opposite reason. On Monday, we noticed that Vizio's lineup of PC products were completely out of stock online—laptops, tablets, desktops, everything. The disappearance spans both Vizio's website as well as Amazon and Bet Buy's websites, a few small third-party Amazon vendors aside. That's weird, especially considering that Vizio is a relative newcomer to the PC market.
When we asked about it, a Vizio representative said that "Given the continued weak sales in the PC category as a whole, Vizio is revisiting its product assortment strategy." Here's hoping this isn't the end of Vizio's foray into computers; the company's devotion to bloatware-free "Microsoft Signature" PCs and clean design was a breath of fresh air for the industry, even if they didn't sell in spades.
Lenovo's itty-bitty Windows tablets
Vizio wasn't the only company yanking weak-performing devices. After we spied a hole in Lenovo's online offerings, the company confirmed to PCWorld that it is no longer selling small-screen Windows tablets like the ThinkPad 8 and Miix 2 in the U.S., citing a lack of consumer interest. It's 10-inches and up from here on out for Lenovo.
"In North America, we’re seeing stronger interest in the larger screen sizes for Windows," said Raymond Gorman, a Lenovo spokesman.
Sure, Lenovo's slates were pricier and generally more business-focused than most tiny tablets, but it's still a bit worrying to hear the largest PC maker in the world say there's NO interest in its small Windows slates.
Update: Lenovo has since 'clarified its position,' saying it eventually plans to roll out more 8-inch Windows tablets. "We will continue to sell both 8 and 10 inch Windows tablets in both the U.S. and non-U.S markets." They're still gone for now, though.
Microsoft's Android phones
It's official: Nokia's brief fling with Android is over now that Microsoft's in control. Tucked away at the end of his employee memo about the mass layoffs, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made sure to mention that the company plans to move the low-cost Nokia X lineup away from being Android devices stuffed with Microsoft services to, well, Windows Phones stuffed with Microsoft services, to "[build] on our success in the affordable smartphone space and aligns with our focus on Windows Universal Apps."
Surprise? Not quite, especially with the elimination of Windows Phone licensing fees wiping out Android's cost advantage. Even still, Microsoft talked up the Android-based Nokia X when it swallowed Nokia in April, so the sudden death is somewhat jarring. Nokia's Asha and Series 40 feature phones are also expected to die out as the company consolidates its smartphone and dumbphone divisions into a single unit.
Xbox Entertainment Studios
Another Microsoft division got eliminated whole-hog. Like so many other tech titans these days, Microsoft wanted to get into the media creation business, originally positioning the Xbox One as an entertainment device rather than a straight games console and creating Xbox Entertainment Services to stock it with exclusive content. No more.
In the face of fierce backlash from gamers, Microsoft's refined its Xbox One vision to focus more squarely on games, and Xbox Entertainment Services is being shuttered as part of the widespread layoffs. Some of the division's top executives are sticking around to see wrap up the shows already being produced—namely the "Signal to Noise" documentary focusing on Atari, as well as the "Halo: Nightfall" digital feature and a separate Halo television series produced by Steven Spielberg—but Microsoft's focus is shifting to third-party apps and content.
Nokia's MixRadio service—now dubbed simply "MixRadio"—is another casualty of that refocusing, although it isn't being shuttered completely. Instead, Microsoft is spinning the Slacker-esque, radio-style streaming music service out as a separate entity, one which will still come preloaded on Nokia's Windows Phones but will also be able to branch out to iOS, Android, and elsewhere.
On the surface, it sounds like a redemption story (MixRadio dodges the Microsoft headsman!) but considering the crowded streaming music scene and MixRadio's limited monetization—the app is currently add free, offering higher audio quality, offline listening and unlimited song skipping for $4 per month—it's hard to shake the feeling that the spinoff may just be prolonging the inevitable.
Google+'s real name requirement
Forget all that bleak stuff and let's end on a high note. On Tuesday, Google dropped its real-name requirement for Google+ accounts—a contentious provision that accidentally outed in-the-closet individuals to coworkers and provoked an army of YouTube commenters to grab digital torches and pitchforks. Going forward, pseudonyms will be allowed in Google's social network-slash-ID system, though users that want to remain anonymous will still need to create both first and last fake names.
It's a major shift for a network built around identity, but don't get too excited: Google still probably has all the info it wants about you, anyway.