5 Products That Can't Be Killed

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Everything old is new again. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to discard aging technology for the hot new thing, breaking up is hard to do. Electric cars may never replace gas-burners in our affections. McDonald's (MCD) can tempt us with new salad varieties, when all we want is the return of the McRib. Apple (AAPL) can banish wonky Flash plug-ins from its iOS, but public demand found a way to bring it back, HTML 5 be damned.

Apple has long led the way on tough-love innovation that discards old technology for new, incensing users and threatening industries. First Apple stopped shipping computers with floppy-disk drives. Then it shut the door on the FireWire transfer standard, just as it did for SCSI, the serial port and the desktop BUS. Big deal.

But walking away from Adobe's ( ADBE) Flash -- which powers most video and animation on the Web -- was, indeed, a big deal. User and developer protests forced Apple to reconsider and allow some Flash development for its devices, with the first to act on the move being a company called Skyfire Labs. It released a $2.99 mobile Flash-translating Web browser called Skyfire on the App Store on Wednesday.

Demand for the app essentially crashed Skyfire servers within hours. The company had to cancel sales.

From a statement by Skyfire CEO Jeffrey Glueck: "Skyfire has historically generated high demand for its browser products but nothing like this ... we were blown away by the demand and sales."

Newsflash! New doesn't always mean better, as numerous products with Rasputin-like staying power prove.


Nearly 30 years after gaining global status as a must-have gizmo, Sony ( SNE) announced last month that it was retiring its Walkman -- a cassette tape-based music player that has long collected dust behind more popular MP3 players such as the Apple iPod.

But while mix tapes may have gone to that great technological dust heap, vinyl recordings continue to thrive -- relatively speaking.

Although LPs, introduced 72 years ago, no longer command even a fraction of the sales for which they once accounted, they and the turntables to play them have defied extinction.

Two particular audiences can take credit for the death row reprieve: audiophiles and DJs. For the former, vinyl albums are still considered the best of the mainstream audio formats, producing a resonating depth that comparably tinny MP3s, compressed for minimal file size, can't match and CDs don't try to. The latter group, the DJs, gravitates to the round plastic slabs in their pursuit of deep bass and the ability to scratch tracks.

Thanks to such bands as the Beastie Boys, Spoon, U2, Radiohead and Pearl Jam, an even more diverse consumer base is dropping the needle, gobbling up albums at independent retailers.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, last year's sales for vinyl recordings, 2.5 million units, represented a rise of 33%. Impressive, perhaps, but even more so when you factor in an 89% spike between 2007 and 2008.


It looked as though Outkast's catchy plea to "shake it like a Polaroid picture," would be as outdated as references to the Lindy or saying "23 Skidoo." But just as hipsters were buying the "last" Polaroid cameras in their neighborhood Urban Outfitters ( URBN), a comeback was announced for the cameras and film.

Back in June 2008, Polaroid stopped production on its once coveted instant cameras and film, much to the chagrin of collectors, photo aficionados and manic pixie dream girls with a bit of cash and a thing for retro.

So what does Polaroid have that Nikon, Fuji and Kodak ( EK) don't? Not much, really. In fact, plunk down a few cents and there are numerous iPhone apps that can convert digital photos into the more nostalgic look of those once popular hurry-up-and-wait cameras.

Nevertheless, just as film stock reserves were running low, a company, Licensee Summit Global Group, partnered with a group calling itself the The Impossible Project to resurrect a variety of Polaroid's products and sell them online. Doing so, it bought the company's last remaining production plant and says its film production will spare upward of 300 million cameras from obscurity.


No matter how much talk we've heard the "paperless office," fax machines, though little used, are still taking up space.

Why? In part it is because electronic signature technology, as pioneered by Adobe and others, still has yet to meet the critical mass needed to replace legal concerns. Most electronic fax processes require fax modems, which, in that special logic of the Internet age, aren't needed because everyone sends e-mail. (And everyone sends e-mail because no one has fax modems anymore.) Add in a dash of perceived "we might really need it someday" and feature sets such as plain paper printers and scanners, and we'll undoubtedly be stuck replacing thermal paper rolls for ages to come.


Never mind inventing a better mousetrap, as sages used to say. How about a better mouse?

Long before the iPad hit shelves, Steve Jobs was touting its allegedly "revolutionary" means of data input. The blogosphere was abuzz with talk of a new finger-swiping language that would allow the company to jettison the traditional computer mouse for something better.

Instead, all we got was an on-screen keyboard that reinforces the old standby of hunt and peck.

Apple is still trying, marketing its neat but hardly essential trackpads with considerable fury. But while it hasn't quite invented a better mouse trap -- and nor have Dell ( DELL), Microsoft ( MSFT), H-P ( HP) and the numerous other pioneers of touchscreen tech -- it does keep improving actual mouse technology. First was the optical mouse, with no wheels that needed to be cleared of lint to keep from clogging. Now everyone buying an iMac gets a buttonless, wireless "Magic Mouse" that works with gestures. As Apple enthuses, "Scroll in any direction with one finger, swipe through Web pages and photos with two and click and double-click anywhere. Inside Magic Mouse is a chip that tells it exactly what you want to do. Which means Magic Mouse won't confuse a scroll with a swipe. It even knows when you're just resting your hand on it."

Magical! But this doesn't change the fact that increasingly the mouse is inadequate for what we do with computers, especially for the tablets, PDAs and smartphones to which we've become addicted.

So why do we still use them? The fact remains that the lowly mouse is so ingrained in our computer interactions that it is our gateway to all things technical. Take it away and you will accomplish is a technological variation of phantom limb.

Also, without a mouse, what would we do with all the free mousepads we collected over the years?


Just as we've been promised a paperless office for decades, we're also still awaiting a cashless society. While it's true Visa ( V), Mastercard ( MA) and Bank of America ( BAC) are among the many who have made a pretty penny peddling debit and credit cards, the swipe-to-own approach is still not leading us to a world free of crumpled bills and germ-saturated coins.

The centerpiece of our hard currency dependence is the cash register. Even with debit cards, we have to get in line, have a cashier scan our purchases and punch in needed PLU numbers.

Even the growth of supermarket and pharmacy self-checkouts really just shifts the burden even more to the customer.

Apple stores and toll booths alike have found a way to bypass the usual get-in-line approach to transactions. Yet the reign of the cash register continues. Apple took a hit in May for refusing to sell an iPad to a woman in Palo Alto, Calif. -- Apple's backyard! -- for cash, since they had those sleek card readers carried around by each sales rep. The store backed down the next day, even giving the woman a free iPad by way of apology. And toll booths are getting downright punitive to boost use of devices such as the E-ZPass. This month, New York announced price hikes for users of the area's tunnels and bridges: 5% for E-ZPass users, 18% for people paying cash.

That might just do the trick.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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