The consumer technology landscape never stands still. We’re always striving for cheaper, faster and more efficient ways of doing things, moving constantly forward towards new possibilities and new horizons.
But every emerging gadget or technology has to fight for a place at the table of our affections. We only have so much cash to spend, after all, and history is littered with examples of perfectly decent ideas or products that simply faded away because they failed to keep up, or other influences took the market in a different direction.
So which of today’s gadgets could be going the way of the PDA and VHS recorder? Here’s our quintet of endangered gadgets.
Digital compact camera
There was a time when the digital compact itself was the spoiler, with its sleek body, compact image sensor and portability making a strong case against the bulk of the D-SLR and all those interchangeable lenses. However, cue the arrival of the smartphone and suddenly the tables have turned: serious photographers are still buying D-SLRs, but point-and-shoot photographers who only really want to upload their snaps to Facebook have realised that a phone is perfectly capable of doing the job.
Nokia has now taken things a step further with the 41-megapixel 808 PureView, probably the first smartphone that can take on and beat many digital compacts on their own turf.
Until fairly recently, the flat screen TV market was quite simple: for anything up to 32 or 40 inches or thereabout and an LCD was your best bet. Bigger than that and you went for a plasma. Back then, Pioneer and Panasonic were the top names for plasma TV, but Pioneer then pulled out to leave Panasonic as clear market leader.
Fast forward to this week and you have Panasonic announcing net losses of $9.7 billion for the past three months. Now obviously that’s not all down to its plasma TVs, but some of it is.
LCD is now by far the bigger market thanks largely to the emergence of the mobile market, while LED and OLED have also gained traction at plasma’s expense.
Handheld games console
Handheld gaming has always been a niche market, but it has also always been a highly popular one, with millions of us having grown up with Game Boys, Nintendo DS’s and PlayStation Portables never far out of reach.
Mobile phone gaming took a while to get going, but the emergence of the touchscreen has made interface limitations vanish, while processing power and display size has increased significantly.
A year ago Sony (then Sony Ericsson) seemed to finally see the light in bringing the two devices together in a PlayStation Phone, the Xperia Play. It failed to take off, simply because it was years too late: smartphones of today don’t need any special features or marketing gimmicks to make them gaming-friendly. They already are.
Some gadgets are successful because they focus on one job and do it well. Others are a failure for exactly the same reason. In a fairly short space of time, e-book readers have managed to be both.
The initial concept was a good one: take the reading experience and make it digital, then offer books in digital form, giving you the potential to carry around thousands of books with you on a single device. Many people said it was a travesty, that it wouldn’t work, but devices like the Amazon Kindle proved them wrong.
Then the iPad came along and killed the e-book reader market’s future overnight, succeeding in making a lot of people think the whole concept is simply daft when gadgets can be capable of so much more. Even Amazon itself doesn’t seem to see a future for the standalone e-book reader, and has jumped into the tablet fray with the Kindle Fire. Of all our endangered gadgets, the e-book reader is surely the closest to complete extinction.
Standalone sat nav device
Who knew we had such an appetite for wanting to know at all times where we are and where we’re going? When it first emerged, the in-car sat nav truly was a godsend, largely because the alternative was a dog-eared A to Z gathering footprints and coffee stains somewhere on the floor of the car.
But with the rise of mobile triangulation, our obsession with location jumped out of the car and onto our phones, and then to our cameras, and beyond, to the extent that GPS is now just another tickbox on a list of features.
For traditional in-car navigation, smartphones can’t match the speed and reliability of a dedicated sat nav device just yet, but the rise of ever-more advanced mobile apps from the likes of TomTom and Garmin is a reminder that it’s the mapping data and add-on services that are important, and that hardware limitations are sure to be overcome sooner or later.