Technology is always evolving and advancing, at least in theory, and that means old tech is often bumped out of the way to make room for new. Sometimes perfectly good gadgets or services that still work as intended are taken out back, unceremoniously shot, and buried in a shallow grave. Sometimes you can accept that a particular piece of tech’s time has come, but that doesn’t make putting it to sleep or saying goodbye any easier.
We could easily fill a graveyard with all the tech that was killed off in the last decade, with enough terminally ill products and services left over to fill a hospital. Here are the tech stars that shone the brightest before they were snuffed out forever — may they live on in our hearts.
MP3 Players — iPod and Zune
When the MP3 file format collided with Apple’s iPod it transformed the way we listen to music. People used to own portable cassette or CD players that weren’t really all that portable, and if you wanted to listen to specific albums or mix tapes you had to carry them around with you. The iPod helped Apple get onto the path to world domination, along with its iTunes software. Suddenly, it was easy for people to create playlists and carry hundreds, and eventually thousands, of tracks around in their pockets. It also became much easier than ever before to share and download music. Microsoft tried to get in on the act a few years after Apple with the Zune, an infamous flop that was declared dead back in 2009. The iPod dominated, so it was somewhat ironic that Apple’s next big hit, the iPhone, would be the one to start hammering nails in the MP3 player’s coffin. With the growth of streaming services led by Spotify and the ubiquity of smartphones which serve as music players, there’s really not much call for MP3 players anymore. The MP3 format itself was declared dead in 2017 when the Fraunhofer Institute that originally created it terminated its licensing program.
Instant Messengers — AOL, MSN, BBM, Yahoo!
If you were a teen in the late 90’s or early 00’s then you probably spent hours chatting to friends on MSN Messenger, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), or maybe Yahoo! Messenger. Text chat was a relatively new thing back then and it had never been so easy to have conversations online. A little later BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) brought instant messaging, voice, and even video calls to mobile, allowing for group chats, location sharing, and other features that would soon be widely copied. These early messaging pioneers were gradually replaced by newer and better services. Microsoft bought Skype in 2012 signalling the end of MSN, Verizon acquired AOL in 2015 and finally disconnected AIM in 2017, and Yahoo! Messenger was shut down in 2018. BBM declined with the popularity of BlackBerry phones, though it was belatedly released for Android and iOS in 2013. It still exists as an enterprise app, but the consumer BBM was shuttered in May.
DVDs — Rentals, Blockbuster, and Players
We used to proudly display our shiny disc collections of films and TV shows, but it’s becoming rare to see DVDs in modern living rooms. It wasn’t that long ago that people would drop in at the local Blockbuster and spend a few minutes reading the DVD covers before choosing the night’s entertainment. The service moved onto rentals by mail, enabling you to get new movies and return them by post. But what really swept away all those Blockbuster stores, and DVDs in general, was the advent of streaming services. Blockbuster famously turned down the chance to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000. The DVD rental giant would go on to file for bankruptcy in 2010 with the last store closing in 2014. Blu-Ray and UHD discs have failed to catch on in the way that DVDs did. If you have a fast enough internet connection, there’s very little reason to buy physical discs anymore and sales of all formats have dropped more than 50% in the last five years, according to the Motion Picture Association.With DVD sales dwindling, DVD players are also disappearing. All the current game consoles can play DVDs anyway, so the need for a purpose built box for DVDs under the TV has dissolved.
Steam Controller, Link, and Machines
When Valve leveraged its amazing success as the developer of Half-Life to take on the traditional game publishing industry with Steam it was something of a surprise and victory was far from assured. But digital distribution took off in a big way and developers flocked to Steam because it offered far higher potential profits and lowered the barriers to entry. Perhaps giddy with the success of Steam, Valve planned to conquer consoles next. It would bring your Steam library to the living room, bridging the gap between PC and console. As it turned out less than 500,000 Steam Machines were sold in the first six months and it proved difficult to keep hardware manufacturers like Alienware and Zotac interested. But Valve had another great idea — what if you could stream games from your PC to the living room TV? That’s exactly what Steam Link offered. To complete the line-up there was the fully customizable Steam Controller. While some people appreciated the capabilities of Valve’s thoughtfully designed hardware, it met with a mixed reception and failed to put much of a dent in a console market dominated by Sony and Microsoft. Valve cut prices and bundled the hardware, but it never took off and when the last few Steam Controllers sold for $5 apiece earlier this year Valve stopped making them.
When flat screen TVs rocked up to displace the big, boxy, cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions most people had in their living rooms we welcomed them. Screens got bigger, pictures got better, and they took up less space and used less power at the same time. The battle for your flat screen affections divided into two camps: Plasma or LCD/LED. If you wanted the best picture possible, you went with a Plasma TV — they offered deeper blacks, better viewing angles, faster processing, and better contrast and colors. While LCD or LED TVs had higher brightness and used less power, only the very best LED TVs could come close to competing with Plasma TVs on picture quality. So why did plasma TV production end in 2014? Mostly because mass production cut the cost of LED televisions and leading plasma TV manufacturer Panasonic failed to press its advantage. Like Betamax before it, Plasma was beaten by an inferior technology. It’s only really with the rise of OLED that we’ve seen Plasma’s picture quality bested.
The idea behind Net Neutrality is that everything on the internet should be treated equally. That means you should get the same speed from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) regardless of the site you’re trying to access. It’s still not entirely clear what the death of Net Neutrality means, but it was declared dead in June 2018. The FCC rolled back protections that were in place to prevent companies charging different content providers different rates for different content or reducing speeds for internet users accessing specific sites or services, paving the way for carriers and ISPs to throttle competitors or boost speeds for partnered services. Most major ISPs were quick to suggest they would uphold the principles of an open internet, but this is entirely at their discretion. What they are definitely doing so far is throttling torrents and file sharing when they determine that downloads are illegal.
Launched in 2010 and bundled with the Xbox One, Microsoft’s Kinect was a clever, advanced, infrared camera system with sensors and a microphone that could automatically recognize you, track your body, and respond to voice commands. It was launched with a few silly, family-friendly games that required you to clear a space in the center of your living room and then jump around waving your arms. The Kinect games were a clear attempt to compete with Nintendo’s all-conquering Wii and suck in a more casual gaming audience, but it didn’t work. The games were disappointing, it suffered from fairly frequent glitches, and it required a clear space in front of it with players between six and ten feet away to work properly. The hardware still felt ahead of its time, but Microsoft was unable to come up with a killer title. When it started selling Xbox consoles without the Kinect in 2014 it was clear that Microsoft was throwing in the towel and the Kinect was officially discontinued in 2017.
Infamous for spinning up different services and sometimes new products, then killing them off, the Google graveyard is huge and growing. Google Reader, Google Buzz, Google Glass, Project ARA, Nexus Player, Bump!, Chromecast Audio, Inbox by Gmail, Project Tango, Google Now, Allo, Picasa, Google Wave, Google Goggles, Google Daydream, the list just goes on and on. Arguably its biggest death of the last decade was Google Plus, its attempt to build a social network that would rival Facebook. Launched in 2011, Google Plus wasn’t its first foray into social networking, but it did seem to represent Google’s biggest push into this space. There were circles you could group different people into, photo and video sharing, polls, a +1 button, Pages for businesses, Communities for topics, and more. It seemed successful and important at first and user numbers soared, but it turned out that user engagement was low and those numbers were inflated because people often signed up to get access to a different Google service and actually had no interest in using Google Plus. Redesigns and splitting off core functions into separate apps did little to help and Google shut it down earlier this year.
At the beginning of the decade, Microsoft was feeling the pressure. Apple’s iPhone was taking the world by storm, Android was attracting more manufacturers, and Windows Mobile was fading. Microsoft was struggling to hang on to a share of the soaring smartphone market and so it was time for something new. Enter Windows Phone 7 with a brave and bold new look that featured customizable Live Tiles and the integration of different services into hubs. Everyone loved the style and it had a big influence on user interface design, but Windows Phone never caught up with its big competitors in terms of app quantity or quality. When Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 it managed to grow its market share, but angered many loyal customers left with Windows Phone 7 devices that couldn’t upgrade to the new OS. By 2014 sales were dwindling and big name manufacturers were increasingly focusing on Android. Windows Phone had peaked in 2013 with a 3.4% share of the market. Nokia was the one of the few companies still making Windows Phone devices with some measure of success, then Microsoft bought the Finnish firm’s mobile manufacturing wing and started making its own devices — it didn’t work. Microsoft tried to reboot again with Windows 10 Mobile in 2015, but it was effectively dead by 2017 when it received its last feature update and users were advised to switch to an Android or iOS device this year.
The internet has changed the way we spread and consume information and it has led to the birth of all sorts of creative alternatives to the printed word, radio, or television. Vine brought us videos with audio in six second loops, like an evolution of the GIF, and when people started using it in all sorts of interesting new ways it catapulted to the forefront of the growing social video app space. Just as Twitter — which would go on to acquire Vine — imposed a unique challenge with its character limit, Vine challenged people to create loops worth sharing and people rose to that challenge. It rapidly built a huge audience, generated countless memes, and boosted several careers. While it was laudable that the founders resisted monetization it didn’t bode well for Vine’s long term survival. Twitter failed to integrate its acquisition and then failed to find a buyer for it; meanwhile many of its stars jumped ship when Instagram launched video and Vine’s fate was sealed. Twitter shut it down in 2016.
Honorable mentions and the terminally ill
There are many candidates that didn’t make our list. Early sites to help you navigate the internet and find the good stuff, like StumbleUpon and Digg are dead. Small smartphones like the iPhone SE or the Sony Compact are history. We can pour one out for USB-A, CD players in cars, Mini USB, Hotmail, Ouya, PlayStation Vue, and Tumblr. While owning your software, camcorders, iTunes, landline phones, headphone jacks, SatNavs, and digital compact cameras are all on life support. We’d ask you to leave your own suggestions, but the early promise of an intelligent conversation between reader and author was crushed when the ability to leave opinions, or just plain insults, anonymously precipitated a flood of trolling and led many publications, including this one, to scrap online commenting altogether.
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