It's the fate of electronics devices to come and go. The arrival of the smart phone and tablet has had a profound effect on the consumer electronics landscape, for example, wiping out device categories once considered staples in electronics stores.
Some products, such as snapshot printers, never made it past a fad, while others, such as cordless home phones, have quietly resisted extinction. We looked at the last decade to chart device evolution and extinction in the electronics world. (Watch our Talking Tech video on smart watches and wearable gear—this technology is cutting edge . . . for now.)
As the cost of flash memory dropped in the early 2000s, the market for MP3 players exploded, with device offerings from major electronics manufacturers—most important, of course, the Apple iPod—leaving portable disc and cassette players in their wake. But their popularity was soon eclipsed by the introduction of smart phones that, among their many other features, let you carry your digital music with you. Apple has continued to update the iPod Touch line, but the touch-screen iPods bear little resemblance to their monochrome predecessors, and most other manufacturers have given up on MP3 players.
Seeking to fill in for their paper counterparts, PDAs (personal digital assistants) let you manage your time, take notes, and compile to-do lists, all on one device. Despite initial success, BlackBerries soon came along and eclipsed the PDA market by offering identical features with the critical addition of push e-mail and phone service, sending the PalmPilot and its ilk into obsolescence.
The premise behind the now-obsolete digital picture frame was simple enough: If photography was moving into the digital age, then picture frames should as well. But their lack of interactivity, relatively high price, and the prominence of photo-sharing websites were enough to remind consumers that their money was better spent elsewhere—like toward a tablet, for example.
When snapshot printers came to market, consumers no longer needed to visit the photo store to have their pictures developed. But the convenience of these printers did not cut it for consumers, and by 2010, the market for snapshot printers was on the decline. A downturned economy, the high price of ink and photo paper, and the prevalence of online printing services likely account for their gradual descent into a niche product.
Check our buying guide and Ratings for smart phones to find the right model for your needs and budget.
Before the arrival of pocket camcorders, consumers were stuck buying fairly expensive full-size camcorders that were often complicated to use. Then came pocket camcorders. Praised for their simplicity, camcorders such as the Flip gave budget-conscious videographers the ability to capture precious moments on the go. The product category was ultimately swallowed (again by smart phones). The final nail in the coffin was in 2011, when Cisco, the Internet infrastructure conglomerate, ceased production of the Flip and exited the consumer electronics business altogether.
Avatar's success at the box office in late 2009 marked a 3D renaissance, and manufacturers were eager to usher in a new era of 3D televisions as well as monitors, cameras, and laptops. But the TV's foray into the third dimension hasn't lived up to the hype, as the lack of quality 3D content, reliance on viewing glasses, and reported headaches and nausea from a small but significant group prevented 3D from truly taking off. Even though many televisions continue to feature 3D, the industry has shifted its focus toward 4K, the ultra-high definition format, with companies such as Vizio choosing to drop 3D from its 2014 line up.
E-book readers did for books what MP3 players did for music by giving readers the freedom of having an entire library accessible to them on the go. But so did the tablet, which helps explain the dwindling shipments of electronic readers since their peak in 2011. While e-book readers still appeal to those who prefer to read under direct sunlight, thanks to their nonreflective screens, the market is still expected to continue its downward spiral, according to a market report by IHS iSuppli Research.
After reporting a loss of $19.96 million in the first quarter of 2014, E Ink, the company that produces displays for nontablet Kindles, appears to be diversifying its products by showing a 32-inch color electronic reader display at Computex and confirming the development of a smart watch.
Although smart phones continue to establish their dominance, they have yet to complete their conquest over dedicated devices. Here are two whose resilience you might find surprising.
Unlike their Flip counterparts, point-and-shoot cameras were able to bounce back by targeting the higher-end DSLR market. The next-generation point-and-shoot cameras, which feature better lenses and sensors than those of their predecessors, offer consumers DSLR quality photos without the bulk and complexity of DSLRs. Their ease of use and superiority over smart phones seem to justify their relatively high prices, which often exceed those of standard DSLRs.
The rumor of landline phones' death is greatly exaggerated. While everyone and their pet seems to own a smart phone, cordless and cordless phones are still expected to sell more than 16 million units this year, according to a survey by VTech, the world's largest manufacturer of cordless phones.
In the same report, users cited better call quality and the ability to use home phones in case of an emergency as primary reasons for holding on to their landlines. Though VTech's sales projections for cordless phones show a steady year-over-year decline in overall market share, they still number in the millions—meaning landline phones are here to stay for now.