1. The hits and misses of 2014

The hits and misses of 2014

Every year-end brings its accounting, the failures and successes, the flops and hits. 2104 had its fair share of both, and with some major surprises. What most people are into these days are gadgets and gizmos, and related products, but there are also other ambitions that can fall short of expectations. Here’s what clicked and what didn’t in the year gone by, as judged by most business and tech experts

Published: January 4, 2015 12:08 AM

THE HITS

Socialmatic:  Those who predicted the end of Polaroid may need to think again. In 2014, Polaroid launched the Android-based Socialmatic. The company’s latest camera attempts to blend the physical photo printing of yesteryear with today’s instant social media sharing. The Socialmatic is a 14-megapixel camera that connects over Wi-Fi so that you can post images to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (it actually runs Android, so you can download other apps or browse the interwebs on its 4.5-inch touchscreen, too). It comes with a 2-megapixel selfie camera on the back, because humans are now incapable of turning cameras around to take photos of themselves. It’s also GPS- and Bluetooth-enabled, and could herald the revival of Polaroid.

Panono camera: Another camera that is literally turning heads is the Panono. It is not a throwaway camera, but a throw-in-the-air camera. Shaped like a ball, it takes panoramic images using 36 embedded camera modules at various angles. The result is a 360-degree spherical spectrum, composed of 36 photos all joined together and defined by the highest height the camera reaches. Other features include an attachment so you can hang it from the ceiling or a wall, during
a party, say. It’s got the wow factor but don’t throw it too far, or too often. The company says that it is turdy enough to withstand a miss from normal throwing heights— whatever that means.

Goji smart lock: Homeowners will be impressed. The Goji smart lock bypasses the need for keys, allowing you to gain access to your home with the simple tap of a smartphone or electronic fob. So no more worrying about whether you remembered to lock the door or not. It sends you a text when the locks are activated. Moreover, it takes pictures of visitors at your door and automatically sends real-time picture alerts to your mobile phone. All lock activity is recorded and logged by the system, and can be reviewed using the Goji mobile app.
Kolibree: This was launched in 2014 and advertised as the world’s first Internet-enabled toothbrush. The Kolibree toothbrush is connected by Bluetooth to your iOS and Android smartphone and/or tablet. Data sent from the toothbrush’s integrated sensors is analysed by the application to give you feedback on the way you brush your teeth. Kolibree monitors and compares your daily brushing and provides recommending brushing techniques. Looks pretty elegant too.

LG Home Chat: Sudden, unexpected guests and you can’t remember if there’s any cold drinks or beer left in the fridge? LG Home Chat lets you to text your fridge to check for you. Introduced by LG for its fridges, washing machines and ovens, Home Chat is compatible with Android, iOS and other operating systems, and allows users with smartphones to “talk” to home appliances to monitor their functions and get updates. For instance, a fridge, helped by a strategically placed internal camera, can tell the user of the various foods stocked inside, or take commands through chat to lower or increase the cooling temperature. You can also text your washing machine to start a load whilst you’re out. Truly the next generation of home appliances.

Pininfarina’s 43 Milano: Crafted by the famed Italian car maker Pininfarinas, the limited-edition bike is manufactured by 43 Milano in a chromed steel body covered in a walnut briar-root overlay. With leather-infused handles and seating, the bike that oozes its heritage also has a miniature electric engine that boosts power to balance with the cyclist’s energy levels. Along with the power boosters, the bike also boasts accessories like LED lighting and plug points to recharge your smartphones with the help of the dynamo.

The Polo Tech Tee: First showcased at the 2014 US Open, designer Ralph Lauren has decided to give his company’s sportswear a tech touch. The Polo Tech tee has conductive threads woven into the shirt, and a small snap-on module that weighs less than 1.5 ounces and relays information to a Bluetooth-connected iPhone or iPad. The smart part of the shirt is a stretchy band, under the pectorals, that contains conductive threads that contact the skin. A module Ralph Lauren calls the “Black Box” or “Tech Box” snaps into the shirt around the left rib cage; it receives heart-rate and breathing data from those threads via metal snaps built into the shirt. In addition to a Bluetooth module, an accelerometer and gyrometer help track the number of steps taken and calories burned.

THE MISSES

Google Barges: No one expects a company like Google to come up with dud products; ater all, it has been ranked as the second most valuable company in the world after Apple for successive years. Yet, the search giant did come up with some flops in 2014. One was Google’s barges, remember those? The international media went crazy over the mysterious vessels made of dozens of shipping containers. CNET was the first to show photographs of the barges. There were actually four barges built between 2010 and 2012. The crafts captivated the tech world, spurring speculation about their purpose. Were they futuristic data centres? Floating retail outlets? Google pitted all speculations to rest by announcing they would serve as “an interactive space where people can learn about new technology”. That sparked the possibility that they would be used as luxury showrooms for Google’s new line of products, including Google Glass and its driver-less cars. By 2013, the vessels disappeared, and shipping containers sold for scrap. It was an anticlimactic end for a project budgeted at tens of millions of dollars.

Google Glass: Heralded as the future of mobile-wearable technology, Google Glass was meant to be the next big thing. The hi-tech smart eyewear allowed users to get exactly what you want, in the moment. Search, photos and videos, messaging, apps and more, while on the move. Except the script did not go according to plan and things don’t look rosy anymore. The expensive wearable tech failed to catch on with the masses and many companies didn’t think making apps for Glass was worth their effort. Twitter stopped making its app for Google Glass and another nine developers gave up on Glass because no one was buying it. Nobody even pretends to think Google Glass is going to be big anymore, although Google is reportedly producing Glass 2.0. That may be through the glass, darkly.

Clinkle: Launched with much fanfare and $30 million in crowd funding, Clinkle was intended to include a mobile app that served as an online wallet. The e-wallet would be linked to existing credit cards and bank accounts. The tech used was high-frequency sounds to send payments between devices; however, the section was shortly retracted. The final launch was with a much smaller scope than promised —it’s basically just a prepaid debit card. Most people ignored it.

Smartwatches: After all the hype, it looks like smartwatches are not what they were cracked up to be. After a few promising attempts, 2014 was supposed to be the year for smartwatches. Google got into it seriously with its Android Wear software, designed specifically for wearable devices. Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony, among others, released what felt like a constant barrage of smartwatches in the hope of wowing consumers. But the problems persisted: bulky watches, disappointing battery life and clunky software. Samsung was the most promising with Gear, but they failed to generate enough  consumer interest. The most bizarre smartwatch put out in 2014 was called Portal, which was a flexible wrist-mounted smartphone concept that meant putting a six-inch phablet made from flexible kevlar-reinforced polyurethane on your forearm. The way of the future or way too much? We’ll have to wait and watch.

Facebook apps: The world’s most valuable online social network rarely gets it wrong but it did make some giant missteps in 2014, with the three apps it launched, Slingshot, Paper and Rooms. None of the apps appears to have any traction. To a company with a revenue of $7.87 billion, it may not be such a big deal, since they are comparatively small investments, but it creates the doubt about the company being able to create dynamic new products on its own. Slingshot was like Snapchat, but you had to “sling” a picture back to the other person before you opened the picture they just sent you. It was quickly withdrawn. Paper, a news reader, met the same fate, as did Rooms, a more restricted chatroom.

Amazon’s Firephone: After much buzz and speculation, Amazon finally released a phone this year. It was such a flop that Amazon took a $170 million hit on unsold phones. What Amazon did wrong was that it didn’t do enough to make the phone unique, and the features that were supposed to stand out, like a 3D display and a way to scan products in stores to identify them, didn’t catch on. It was just as expensive as an iPhone, but certainly not comparable. Amazon has since cut the price of the phone and CEO Jeff Bezos swears that the company is working on the evolution of the product.

Microsoft Band: Microsoft, rather unexpectedly, released a fitness tracking gadget in 2014. It was quite unlike Microsoft to release a new product without any fanfare or pre-publicity. The product itself was thoroughly trashed by critics. CNET’s review said: “It has mediocre battery life; it’s not swim-friendly; Bluetooth syncing and pairing can be buggy; the Microsoft Health app isn’t that easy to use, and learned insights seem few and far between. Heart-rate accuracy seems to be a little inconsistent, too.”

Apple iOS 8.0.1: Apple released a software update for the iPhone that actually damaged the phone, temporarily. Anybody that download the software had their phone temporarily out of commission. Apple quickly pulled the software and released an update that fixed the problem. For Apple, however, it was a huge embarrassment.

Dubstein: Combining two products to form a new device has been done before but this was a disaster. Dubstein combined music with a frothy mug of ale by embedding a Bluetooth speaker into a beer stein. It was not a winning combination.

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