Nothing lasts forever, especially in the world of technology. The must-have product or the most buzzed-about company can quickly fall out of favor, pushed aside as soon as something a little sleeker, a little speedier, or a little cooler comes along. Read on to find out which products, companies, and technologies are about to head to the great scrap heap in the sky.
WebOS launched with much fanfare and plenty of potential: Palm's slick mobile operating system seemed to be the perfect foil to Apple's iOS and Google's Android. And when HP scooped up Palm, many pundits predicted that the deal would bring the OS to even more gadgets. But that didn't happen--and as of this writing, HP is deciding what to do with WebOS. The folks at HP can delay it all they want, but the writing is on the wall: Soon, WebOS will be no more.
The end is in sight for Adobe's multimedia technology. My colleague Jared Newman is right: Adobe's decision to kill off its mobile Flash Player is the beginning of the end for Flash on the desktop. As he says, mobile technologies are merging with their desktop alter egos. After all, we're using mobile products all the time, whether we're mobile or not--just ask anyone who has ever sat on their couch with an iPad.
RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet managed to impress PCWorld's reviewer at the time of its release, but shoppers haven't been swayed. RIM was able to goose dismal initial sales by dropping the PlayBook's price tag from $500 to $200--but that move forced the company to take a nearly half-billion-dollar write-down on its books. Numbers like that don't lie: By this time next year, the PlayBook will be dead and buried.
Although we're confident that no one should be confident about the future of the BlackBerry PlayBook, the future of the company behind the device is less certain. It isn't looking good, however. RIM's profits are down, and buzz about the company's products--including its new line of touchscreen smartphones--is nonexistent. Forrester Research suggests that RIM is "on a path to becoming a niche player." For a company that pioneered the mobile email market, that sounds like a fate worse than death.
Right now, sitting on my desk in front of me, are six USB drives. All sport different designs, and all offer varying storage capacities. But they all have one thing in common: I don't use them anymore. That cloud-computing phenomenon that we've been hearing about for what seems like an eternity has become something useful, especially for those of us who share files among computers and with colleagues.
Dedicated GPS Units
Stand-alone GPS units, made by the likes of Garmin and TomTom, are yet another technology product that smartphones will kill eventually. But I think they'll live on a little longer yet, for a couple of reasons. One is that the GPS apps from companies like Magellan and TomTom are pricey and eat up a lot of storage space on a phone. Meanwhile, free apps such as Google Maps eat up a lot of data. And they all consume a ton of battery power. Plus, who wants to put their phone down long enough for it to cough up driving directions?
Unlimited Data Plans
AT&T and Verizon Wireless are no longer providing unlimited data plans to new customers, and although T-Mobile does offer unlimited data service, its plans come with a pretty big caveat: Your data speeds will drop after you use a certain amount. That leaves Sprint as the only major nationwide carrier offering a truly unlimited data plan. While Sprint says its unlimited options are here to stay, the carrier recently discontinued its unlimited service for tablets and laptops. It seems pretty likely that the company's smartphone data plans could suffer the same fate.
Quick: Tell me the last time you bought an album on CD. Can't remember? You're not alone. CD album sales have dropped precipitously in recent years, as sales of digital albums continue to rise. And since we really don't need shiny silver discs for storage these days (thanks to the aforementioned cloud), it's not hard to picture a world without them.
DVD Movies and Players
While I'm on the subject of optical discs, let's talk about DVDs--specifically, when we we'll see the last of them. My prediction: soon. With digital streaming easy to come by (Netflix debacle aside) and innovative on-demand options (such as the excellent Flex View service from Verizon FiOS, which allows me to buy movies on my TV and then view them on my PC), I can't see a reason why I'd buy another movie on DVD.
It's hard to imagine the Web without Yahoo. The portal has come far from its origins as a guide to the World Wide Web, and it has fallen far in popularity (and stock price) since its heyday at the end of the last century. This Internet pioneer has managed to persevere, but recent rumblings claiming that at least a portion of the company is for sale likely indicate that Yahoo as we know it won't survive long.
3D technology is pretty cool, until you realize that you look like a giant dork sitting there in your 3D glasses. (And that's nothing compared to paying big bucks for the glasses, or trying to wear them in addition to your own specs.) So it's pretty safe to say that no one over the age of 6 will miss 3D glasses when they fade into obscurity. And they will: Mobile devices already offer glasses-free 3D screens, and the technology has been introduced on a big-screen TV from Toshiba.
Clearwire is clearly in trouble. The company, which provides high-speed wireless broadband under its Clear brand, is being sued for throttling Internet speeds. Its leadership team is in flux. And despite a recent rosy report, the company has been "bleeding money," according to at least one report. Extending its agreement to provide 4G service to Sprint could buy Clearwire a few more years. But even so, the future of Clearwire is looking downright murky.
Digg may have been ahead of its time, popularizing the concept of sharing Web content long before the social networking craze. But while we may be at the dawn of the golden age for social networking, Digg appears to be heading toward its sunset. Its latest update was beyond buggy, its executive team has been overhauled, and its staff has been devastated by layoffs.
You can get a full-fledged Android smartphone for $20, or less in some cases. Or you could pay $20 or more for a feature phone that doesn't (really) run apps and doesn't offer a comparable level of functionality, but still needs some sort of data plan. Which would you rather have? I thought so.
Its merger with AT&T will not happen, and its recent financial report actually showed a gain in customers. But don't be fooled--T-Mobile's future isn't as rosy as it may sound. Remember this: Of the big four carriers in the United States, T-Mobile is the only one that doesn't offer the iPhone. Perhaps Apple is trying to tell us something.