They can’t all be winners. For every Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad — a sexy new technology toy that takes collective consumer consciousness for every red cent it has — there’s a Segway — a device that flops so hard its name becomes synonymous with failure.
In fairness, there are few flops quite as notorious as Dean Kamen’s two-wheeled punchline. Most failures are quiet by definition. Gadgets fail because they never connect with consumers in a meaningful way — they simply fade into the background. While the past 24 months have seen both spectacular successes (the iPad) and modest victories (HTC’s swiftly selling Thunderbolt smartphone), they also have hosted some shocking failures. Here are the three biggest surprise technology flops of the last year and the companies that delivered them.
Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo
Nintendo‘s (PINK:NTDOY) Nintendo DS is close to becoming the best-selling devoted video game machine ever made. Its predominant features — a microphone, dual screens, touchscreen and WiFi capabilities — presaged the wild success of Apple’s iPhone and iPad when it released in 2004. It was forward-thinking and shrewdly priced; a product that briefly transformed the Japanese game company into a seriously hot stock.
The Nintendo DS’ successor, the Nintendo 3DS — a graphical upgrade with a stereoscopic 3D screen that forgoes specialized glasses — is the opposite. The 3DS is a device that fundamentally misunderstands consumer habits, opting for $40 games purchased at retail and rigid online functionality rather than the downloadable hits of the App Store and connectivity of social gaming.
The 3DS has sold so poorly since it released in March that Nintendo has been forced to drop the price from $250 to $170. The stock fell 12% after the 3DS’ price drop, and Nintendo now is trading at levels it hasn’t since around when the original DS was released.
At the Consumer Electronic Show in January, it looked like the technology manufacturers of the world were ready to steamroll Apple with a plethora of new tablet PCs. The iPad no longer would have the market to itself, and machines like Motorola‘s (NYSE:MMI) Xoom — with its brand-new Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) mobile OS, called Honeycomb and made specifically for tablets — would lead the charge. At least, that’s what the press said.
The Motorola Xoom hit stores in late February and barely was noticed by consumers, despite a massive advertising campaign. Global Equities analyst Trip Chowdry said in April that Motorola manufactured between 500,000 and 800,000 Xooms this year and sold between 5% and 15% of that stockpile. At best, Motorola sold just 120,000 Xooms. At worst, it sold 25,000. Meanwhile, Apple sold more than 9 million iPads in the second quarter.
There is no tablet market. Just an iPad market.
Google TV, Google
Television has changed dramatically in recent months. Disney (NYSE:DIS), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) and CBS (NYSE:CBS) have watched their respective networks — not to mention cable providers like Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) — continue to lose viewers to streaming video services like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX).
Of course, the Internet hasn’t taken over the living room quite yet. It looked like it might last fall when Google released its Google TV software in Logitech‘s (NASDAQ:LOGI) Revue set-top box and Sony‘s (NYSE:SNE) Internet Television HD TV sets. No dice. The platform — a search tool that lets people look for TV shows on cable, networks and Web sources simultaneously — was panned by critics for being unusable. Those aforementioned networks also moved quickly to block Google TV from accessing their websites, forcing users to watch shows through traditional means.
Sales of Google TV ready devices have been abysmal. How abysmal? A Thursday report at TIMN, reprinting an official statement from Logitech, said returns of the Revue Google TV set-top box actually have outpaced sales. The price of the device has dropped from $250 to $99.