mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What happens when you make a product to solve a problem that no longer exists?

There are certain companies, especially in technology, that make products that are designed to solve a very specific need - to provide a solution to a gap in technology or allow people to do something with technology that they can't do with existing products. What frequently seems to happen is that technology catches up and that product is no longer needed.

One example that springs to mind is Polaroid - for years, if you wanted instant pictures, they were the only way to get them. Lots of businesses that had a need for that - like insurance companies - relied on Polaroid cameras. Then came digital, and people could take better and cheaper instant pictures, and Polaroid found itself facing bankrupcy.

Iomega also comes to mind as an example of this - their Zip drive for years was a simple way to store large files. For years, every machine on the college campus I worked with had Zip drives and students were encouraged to buy the disks and the drives. Now we no longer supply them, and few companies use them - recordable CD's and network storage have made the zip drive all but extinct.

There are two others I've run into recently. The first is one that is already dead - Micro Solutions, maker of the BackPack CDROM drive. The Backpack was an external CDROM/CDRW drive that could be connected via parallel port. Five or six years ago, that was a brilliant thing - lots of computers either didn't have USB ports or ran operating systems like Windows 95 or Windows NT that didn't support USB devices. Nowdays, every computer and every OS has a USB port, and nobody wants to burn a cd over a slow parallel connection.

Another one that I've run into recently at work is the Nova Desk. When all monitors were CRT's, NovaDesks were the bomb - you stick your big, clunky CRT montior IN your desk under glass, and gain several square feet of desk space. You can look down at the monitor when you need to, but you can also have a book or papers on top of it when you don't need it. But nowdays, fewer and fewer people have CRT's - more and more people have LCD flat-panel monitors. That gives them the space benefits of a Novadesk but cheaper and with a more traditional viewing angle. I think that there is still a market for NovaDesk furniture - they make sense in a lab or classroom where you may not want LCD's for security purposes or so students don't have to look over top of a monitor. But I would guess the market for NovaDesks is shrinking, especially for single-user desktop workstations.

If you have any other ideas of products you have considered that were brilliant ideas to solve problems of the time, but no longer are because technology has bypassed them, please add it in the comments.


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