PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Hyping a gadget at the International Consumer Electronics Show is about as big a gamble as any other in Las Vegas.
CES is a ceaseless stream of the next big thing. Every app, product or gadget is being introduced as the great leap forward humankind needs and can't live without. It's a deafening echo chamber with a din that doesn't subside until weeks later, when tech geeks start asking themselves questions such as "Who's been clamoring for high-definition radio?"
Remind us again why were were supposed to be bowled over by the Xperia Z smartphone Sony introduced last year. Exactly what happened to the Pebble smart watch? Why were we supposed to prize Vizio's thin tablet over offerings by Amazon and Apple? For every NVIDIA Shield and Valve presentation making it clear that streaming games are going to kill the console, we get OLED 4K televisions that are a minor leap in screen quality for a major investment. We get tabletop PCs and smartphones that only stand out because someone other than Apple, Google, Microsoft or BlackBerry took a stab at designing its operating system.
Basically, unless you're unveiling significant technology such as high-definition television (which debuted at CES in 1998), Blu-ray discs (2003) or autonomous cars (2013), one device isn't going to make much impact beyond a company's booth. CES hype is strong, but finite, and it needs a lot of help to keep a product afloat once the show is over.
We took a look back at years past of CES and found five products that didn't quite make their way out of the desert:
5. Apple Pippin
Apple has rendered its checkered history with gaming a somewhat moot point by helping smartphones and tablets wrest the mobile gaming market from Nintendo's 3DS and DS handheld's and Sony's Playstation Vita and PSP. With a nearly 60% share of the mobile gaming market that's still growing, according to Flurry Analytics, mobile devices are killing dedicated handheld consoles one cheap app at a time.
In 1996, though, Apple's relationship with gaming was awkward at best. At a time Apple was better known for its well-intentioned ideas than for executing them -- the Apple Newton message pad, a distant relative of the iPad, comes to mind -- Pippin was just another example of bold vision in a clunky, underpowered package.
The Pippin was a joint venture with Japanese gaming company Bandai that was supposed to not only meld a network computer and a gaming console, but introduce the world to true online gaming. A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or Dragonball Z game is tough to play online at a dialup speed of 14.4 kilobytes per second, though. Also, at $600, the Pippin was more than double the price of a Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn or Sony PlayStation.
Apple sold only 10,000 Pippin consoles, and the entire project was considered a colossal failure. The folks in Cupertino got their revenge little more than a decade later, but the Pippin cost Apple its chance to get in on console gaming just as it was nearing its peak.
It could have been worse for Apple: It could have tried the reverse approach to mobile gaming.
Gizmondo was a company built around the notion that a mobile phone/PDA -- remember when PDAs weren't just awkward makeout sessions in highly visible spaces? -- could be a secondary function of a handheld gaming console. Yes, they actually wanted you to carry around something that looked like a Nintendo Wii U controller and use it as your phone or traveling secretary.
The company that produced it, Tiger, not only wanted you to pay $230 for it, but to sit through commercials before playing. You don't want to endure ads, you say? Then cough up $400 for an ad-free version.
Though the Gizmondo impressed at CES in 2005, consumers were less than thrilled by the price and a catalog of games that numbered little more than a dozen and spent much of the console's life on the "to be released" list. Only about seven ever hit shelves in the U.S.
The results were disastrous. Only 25,000 sold. The unit's Bluetooth connectivity for multiplayer gaming was rendered useless by the fact that nobody owned one. Its GPS capability was hampered by awful mapping. To make matters worse, the company announced months after releasing the first Gizmondo that a better, widescreen version with Wi-Fi and a port for television display was on the way.
Gamers stopped buying the old console, the new one never materialized and the Gizmondo was discontinued in 2006 when the company making it went under. In 2008, one of the company's partners announced there would be a Gizmondo 2, but that never came to pass, either.
The ideas behind this console had a lot of potential, but Nintendo, Sony and even Apple eventually executed them better. The Gizmondo, meanwhile, is considered one of the biggest tech busts of all time.
3. Motorola Xoom
Not only did reviewers at CES in 2011 think this was the best tablet at the show, but the best overall product.
Keep in mind that Apple doesn't attend CES anymore.
Hindsight doesn't do justice to all of the accolades heaped onto the Xoom's Android Honeycomb OS, dual-core processor, 4G-compatibility and front- and back-facing cameras. Its 10-inch frame had everyone convince it would not only rival the iPad 2, but beat it on even footing.
Not quite. While Motorola put on a happy face for the folks in CES' fantasy land, the company was splitting in two. Motorola Mobility, the one with all the gadgets, would get swallowed up by Google eight months later in a $12.5 billion deal. Google took charge of Motorola's more than 17,000 patents and felt free to use them as it wished, either through sale or open sourcing.
Xoom was caught in the middle and struggled to sell roughly 250,000 units in its first quarter. By July, Motorola was already lowering the Xoom's price by $100 for its Wi-Fi version and by $200 for its 4G model. With wireless companies taking their time implementing 4G and Android Honeycomb proving buggier than expected, Xoom's total sales stalled around the 1 million mark. In contrast, the competing iPad 2 hit that mark in its first weekend.
Verizon Wireless and Motorola released a follow-up tablet, but renamed it the Xyboard and just confused the consumer further. Xoom wasn't the first or last tablet to fall flat, but it had perhaps the highest expectations of that still-swelling cemetery of also-rans.
2. Microsoft Slate PC
Steve Ballmer looked so confident while presenting the HP Slate during his CES keynote in 2010.
Then his company backed up this optimistic demo by doing absolutely nothing Slate-related for the next year. The HP Slate wasn't released, other talked-about Windows tablets never made it to market. Nope, his folks in Redmond, Wa., were so tuckered out by that CES showing that they just sat back, let Steve Jobs and Apple debut the iPad in April and proceeded to get blown out of the water and lose the tablet race every year since.
It was godawful and, as Microsoft's struggles with it Surface tablet hybrid suggest, the company has never recovered. Ballmer's leaving, Windows has been smoked by iOS and Google's Android and the only slate Microsoft seems concerned with these days is the tombstone its competitors keep carving for it.
1. Palm Pre
About two years into the iPhone era, Palm seemed poised to shatter Apple's smartphone dominance. Its WebOS system, Deck of Cards multitasking, slide-out keyboard, outstanding voice quality and Synergy for updates, contacts, calendars and messages from various sources including Facebook, Outlook and Gmail were considered the best offerings in the industry.
But the market had already passed it by.
About a year earlier, the Palm Pre would have stood a chance. Its Web search automatically pasted search terms into various engines, the pinching and double-tap zoom was as easy to navigate as the iPhone's and it had Wi-fi, Bluetooth, an airplane mode, Microsoft and Mac compatibility and the voice quality of a landline phone.
Unfortunately, by 2009, the iPhone and BlackBerry had a lock on the market and the Pre looked like be a little bit of each of them. Palm just couldn't back it up. Most of the Pres were left over from old Palm products and its newest apps bore little resemblance to the iOS and Android offerings of today.
The Pre was supposed to get a shot at redemption in 2010, when Hewlett-Packard bought Palm for $1.2 billion and was bent on using it to build the next dominant OS. By Aug. 18, 2011, or little more than a month after HP released the WebOS-driven TouchPad tablet in the U.S. and only a day after the Pre 3 phone's release in Europe, HP stopped making and supporting any WebOS hardware whatsoever. Palm saw its smartphone market share slide from 4% in December 2010 to absolutely nothing.
There are still a few holdout open-source WebOS users out there, but not enough to keep the Pre's memory alive.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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