Above: Viewing 3-D IMAX clips (Image by NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, CC BY 2.0)
Hype can be a fickle thing. This is especially evident at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where perceptions around certain technologies and products can shift in the blink of an eye. Over the past 10 years, CES has showcased a plethora of technology and product trends. Many appear to herald the future of electronics, only to fade off into irrelevance. So why do some products and trends take off, while others go nowhere?
There are many reasons for the unpredictable outcomes of products. Sometimes they just don’t fit the needs of consumers. Other times, the media drives the bandwagon. As Drew Keller, annual CES attendee and adjunct faculty member with the Communication Leadership graduate program at the University of Washington notes, “It’s interesting to see that the devices are often derivative of what the media is excited about, less than what the market is driving.”
Now that this year’s CES has wrapped up, it’s a good time to look back at three key product categories that were introduced over the last decade to enormous consumer enthusiasm. Where are they now?
The tablet invasion officially started at CES in 2010. Since then, many a major tech company has tried to insert its version of the tablet into our lives. A short list of tablets includes the Sony Dash (2010), Motorola Xoom (2011), LG G-Slate (2011), Razor Edge (2013) and, of course, the Apple iPad (2010).
The rise of the tablet coincidentally coincides with the fall of the PC. Last July, Gartner released its forecast that tablet sales would finally outnumber PC sales in 2015. So the obvious question is which tablet to purchase, right? Well, not so fast.
This year, Gartner released a new report speculating that tablet growth may be slowing down. The reasons for this change? For one thing, the influx of new tablets that have been released in the last five years have oversaturated the market. Combine that with slower replacement cycles and a lack of differentiation between generations, and there is little need for anyone to upgrade.
Bottom line: Consumer enthusiasm for tablets may be dwindling since their widespread adoption into the mainstream and lack of recent innovation. Despite this slowdown in interest, it’s clear that tablets aren’t going anywhere soon.
Historically, 3-D technology has been a passing fad for decades. From the golden era of 3-D in the early 1950s to its revival in the 1980s, people have been occasionally amped about 3-D technology. But the excitement never seems to last. Whether it’s because of the often-required viewing glasses or the occasional headache-inducing visuals, consumer enthusiasm for 3-D always seems to come and go.
The most recent incarnation of 3-D-related hysteria started five years ago when director James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Avatar created a renewed cycle of hype for 3-D technology. Simultaneously, TV manufacturers found themselves in a slump. Because people typically only buy a new television set every seven years, sales were trending downward and executives were looking for a new way to reinvigorate the market. Surprising no one, TV manufacturers wanted to capitalize on consumers’ recent fling with 3-D and bring the experience home.
The very first 3-D TV debuted at CES in 2010, and within two years, the product peaked. Even ESPN had its own 3-D channel. Just a few years later, however, this trend seems to be nearing its end. The once-popular technology was visibly absent during this year’s CES. In addition, the number of 3-D movies released per year declined from 39 major motion pictures in 2011 to 28 in 2014.
The main reason why 3-D is fading right now is lack of content. As Keller explains, “People who create the content, the studios, the production house, they didn’t want to have to invest in 3-D acquisition equipment. Not just the cameras, but editors, file sharing, distribution. Then you had all the folks like Comcast not wanting to support all the infrastructure required for 3-D content.”
People have been curious about wearables and wristwatch technology since the comic book days of Dick Tracy. When word got out in 2002 that Fossil was releasing a watch that ran the Palm operating system, people justifiably became very excited. Due to various production problems, the Fossil Wrist PDA didn’t make its debut until three years later at CES 2005. The public never confirmed their initial interest with their wallets, and the Fossil Wrist PDA was discounted later that year.
Not to be dissuaded, Microsoft introduced its own smartwatch in 2006, the Microsoft Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) watch. Unfortunately, like the Fossil Wrist PDA before it, the SPOT watch never caught on and it was discontinued in 2008.
Despite these setbacks, the market has yet to give up on smartwatches and other wearable devices. If anything, the market is instead doubling down on them. That has been apparent from the past few years of CES, with an overabundance of new products from Samsung, Sony, Pebble and Fitbit, not to mention the buzz surrounding the smartwatch from Apple slated to hit the market this spring.
Keller explains his theory on where this seemingly resilient technology trend is going: “We are starting to see wearables in two sorts of classes. We have the wearables that are really directed at specific metrics and information around your activity. Fitbit is an example of that … When we look at what Apple is about to do with the Apple Watch, that is much more of a social device than a classic sort of wearable.”
The bottom line? Although there may not be a consensus on which type of smartwatch will be the most broadly adopted, it’s clear that this trend is going strong on multiple fronts.