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From AirPower to Zune, a decade of tech and companies that died

Even the last VCR manufacturer lasted until 2016. But the bigger surprise may be what's still around.

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This story is part of The 2010s: A Decade in Review, a series on the memes, people, products, movies and so much more that have influenced the 2010s.

While they inspire a bit of nostalgia -- and frequently skeuomorphism -- yesteryear's gadgets are the compost of technology, the old crap out of which new products grow. As part of the natural product cycle, it's hard to describe them as really "gone." 

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Sometimes they just feel dead because a company doesn't update or even mention them for a while. The Apple iPad Mini, Mac Mini, MacBook Air, Mac Pro and iPod were on our endangered list for years before Apple surprised us with upgrades to all. On the other hand, the company's AirPort router line and Time Capsule backup drive also were on a long death watch until they finally landed on Apple's vintage and obsolete product list this year. You just never know. 

Other times, new products absorb their predecessors. As they became ever more powerful over the past decade, phones killed devices like the MP3 player by slowly, but inexorably subsuming the capabilities of single-purpose gadgets like the Microsoft Zune player and the Flip camcorder. While we might mourn our old friends, we get over the loss pretty quickly. 

A variation on that theme are technologies that fail as consumer products but become absorbed into commercial devices. Microsoft's Kinect sensing camera and mic array moved from Xbox gaming to the enterprise in 2017, for instance, as Azure Kinect. I don't really consider that "dead."

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There are a lot more categories that the phone currently endangers like GPS devices, point-and-shoot cameras and voice recorders (you may think they're gone, but they're not). And then there's the analog headphone jack, which Apple effectively put on the endangered list with the iPhone 7's Lightning port (also, still not quite gone). As it turned out, the computer in our pocket was a killer. 

Even so, the biggest surprise of my 10-year trudge through Google Search wasn't what we'd lost, but what's still plugging along each year on my endangered list. Blockbuster Video. Curved TVs. MySpace. Snap Spectacles. Android tablets. They may be sharply diminished or struggling and assumed to be gone, but they're not quite dead yet.

VW Beetle Final Edition

The last of the VW Beetles rolling in 2018.

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Isn't it iconic?

There are some companies, products and technologies that simply reflect the tech zeitgeist of an era, regardless of their lifespan, actual impact or how we felt about them. They need little explanation.

But some of the dead I feel compelled to eulogize. Or speak ill of. 

Old companies never die, they just become patent portfolios

OnLive was one of the pioneers in cloud gaming when it launched in 2010, but arguably failed simply because it arrived before its time. Game libraries were too small, we hadn't yet become inured to (or fatigued by) subscription pricing, there were a lot more problems with network bandwidth and stability (though they remain issues even today for new platforms like Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud), and gaming was primarily for the hardcore who prefer the better performance on a local system. 

By 2012 it had hit too many financial bumps to remain independent or continue as originally envisioned, and in 2015, Sony bought it and immediately shut it down. As a service it wasn't viable, but its technology patents were extremely valuable for Sony's nascent PlayStation Now platform, which at the time streamed games from the cloud to its consoles.

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Event Kodak's imaging patents, which it originally believed were worth billions, eventually only netted it $525 million.

Some eCards

Sometimes companies remain but their souls die. In 2012, struggling Kodak sold or shut down every product that arguably made it Kodak -- the film, sensor, camera, scanner, kiosk and inkjet printer businesses -- culminating in the sale of its entire imaging patent portfolio. (Fun fact: It sold its OLED business to LG in 2009.) The company's still around today, and has been slowly bringing back its film, thanks to a small old-school photography market, but it's nothing like what Kodak was when this century began.

Palm traveled a similar road. Technically, you could also argue the once-dominant pioneer in in handheld computing is still alive and well, but it's nothing like it was in its heyday. After 18 years of success it had to sell itself to HP in 2010, which stopped producing the hallmark Palm and WebOS devices in 2011 and licensed the WebOS source code and documentation, and sold the patents, to LG in 2013. That was followed by the transfer of the Palm trademark to TCL in 2014.

And occasionally, the first time you see a new product you just know it's never going to be viable as a saleable item -- but that it's a great proof-of-concept of technologies that will eventually end up in other products, whether via the sale of the companies' patents to a bigger entity or reverse engineering by another player. That's how I felt when I saw Lytro's brilliant light-field technology in its awful first camera in 2011; Google acquired some of the brains behind that in 2018. 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Some technologies die out no matter how good they are simply because they can't keep up with changing market demands, like plasma TV. It was the reigning quality champ beginning in the mid-1990s through the mid-2010sPanasonic getting out of the business in 2013 tolled the death knell. Despite diehard fans, as 4K grew in popularity, plasma's inability to scale resolution beyond HD held it back, along with the constraints imposed by the bulb-for-every-pixel backlight that allowed its deep blacks, a problem rising competitor OLED didn't face.

Long, drawn-out deaths

Some companies and products die so gradually that, by the time they turn off the electricity we thought they were already long gone.

Take VHS tapes and VCRs. A combination of digital video recording and streaming displaced them eons ago, but it wasn't until as late as 2016 that the last VCR manufacturer closed shop -- and Betamax, which had lost the game to VHS as far back as the 1980s, didn't completely disappear until 2015

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Windows Phone 7 and Zune app, circa 2010. Both doomed.

Bonnie Cha/CNET

One of the last relics of the early web -- when we still prefaced it with "worldwide" -- community GeoCities was sold to Yahoo in 1999, but just three years later it faced the insurmountable pressures of a changing web.  In 2009, Yahoo officially closed it, but the last remnant of it didn't disappear until March 2019. Ditto for Yahoo groups, which are slated to go to that great discussion board in the sky by the end of this year.

Windows Phone, Microsoft's 2010 attempt to create a single operating system across desktop and mobile devices, and which eventually morphed into Windows 10 Mobile, also had some diehard fans. But it was quickly squeezed out by Android and iOS, and it dropped from the public consciousness long before Microsoft formally pulled the plug in 2017.

The army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres

Apple, with its much-hyped-but-never-shipped AirPower wireless charging pad is my Could've Been King of the decade. Google's Project Ara modular phone and Theranos' unproven blood-testing tech are other rivals for the position, but while highly newsworthy, neither felt as eagerly anticipated by the tech world as the AirPower. 

"Never shipped" is a crown usually donned by crowdfunding campaigns, frequently part of take-the-money-and-run stories, such as Lily (the selfie drone), Ossic X/SonicVR (3D audio headphones), Goji Smart Lock and the iBackPack (a connected backpack).

At AirPower's announcement, Apple showed AirPods connecting to an iPhone when dropped on the same AirPower charger.

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There's also a special subset of insanely stupid product ideas that somehow get funded but either never ship or sputter out a couple miles above the launchpad, leaving the rest of us with our schadenfreude to keep us warm. The Kuvee Wi-Fi wine bottle and Juicero Wi-Fi juicer are two recent standouts. (Unfortunately, there's always a few that sneak through and make it to production, like Licki. Because sticking a pacifier-like tongue in your mouth to groom a cat is just insane.) 

An honorary member of this club is Microsoft's Kin, a phone-ish attempt to appeal to a made-up demographic of "lifecasters" (young adults really into social networking). While the product line actually launched in April 2010, it lasted less than three months before Microsoft officially called a halt to it in June.

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Microsoft Kin One and Kin Two didn't even make it to three months old.

James Martin/CNET

Killed by Google

Google gets a section of its own, thanks to its (and parent company Alphabet's) notorious reputation for sinking a lot of money and resources into big, hype-tastic products and projects for which it then loses interest in, like a kid with ADD. Google's tagline should be "don't get too attached." There's even a web site devoted to the Google graveyard.

On one hand, you've got to admire Alphabet's ability to cut its losses and start from scratch when others refuse to admit defeat. But the practice has come back to bite it. As recently as this month, lifespan has become a not-unwarranted concern some people have about its cloud-gaming venture, Google Stadia. 

From 2010 through 2015, Google scooped up a lot of little companies to beef up its social network presence, including Orkut and Meebo, which it subsequently shut down as part of its list of social media failures. Its own Google Plus, which launched in 2011, finally succumbed in 2019 after eight years of the company foisting it on users of its web apps, especially Gmail. Though Google Plus did have its fans, for the most part it went unloved and unlamented, and leaving a big security hole in our lives.   

But Google's also killed a lot of products that had real fanbases, like Inbox by Gmail in 2019 (I still miss it), Picasa and Panoramio in 2016 and Reader in 2013. 

It was all just a dream

Google's assassinated products are sometimes a part of categorical executions, as well. Take low-cost VR: Google and Samsung attempted to deliver cheaper solutions than full-on headsets like the Oculus Rift and Quest, HTC Vive and others; essentially, letting you roll your own headsets by popping your phone into a visor. Just this year, Samsung's Gear VR, Google's Daydream platform and its own Cardboard headset fell victim to the increasing physical complexity of flagship phones and a largely uninterested reception by the public.

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2015: Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard: Two phone-based virtual reality options available now.

2019: No more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sometimes it's a dream of a different type. MoviePass was an idea everyone loved in theory: all-you-can-eat subscriptions for movie-going. But the company had to continually change its pricing, tiers and policies in search of a viable business strategy, alienating almost all its subscribers, until it finally reached The End in September 2019.

Every decade is littered with the corpses of startups with the dream of taking on a big competitor or blazing a trail. Path launched in 2010 with the idea of a more intimate, private, mobile-based social network to compete with the Facebook juggernaut, and in 2013 overvalued itself at $1 billion; by 2015, it had sold its app to Daum Kakao, a South Korean messaging company, and yielded to the inevitable in September 2018. Other notable startup dreams that died over the past 10 years include Friendster (June 2015) and Fab (2015).

Then there are 3D TVs, which sounded so good on paper and still have some admirers. The last two manufacturers, LG and Sony, caved to its flaws in 2017

Death by lawyers

Intellectual property protection has been a big deal for tech startups over the past 30 years, whether you believe it  an economically essential defense, legal overreach to insulate obsolete business models, or somewhere on the continuum between. The 2010s continued the litigating-out-of-existence trend that took down Napster, Grokster, RealDVD and a host of others during the previous decade. Some which fell during the last 10 years include LimeWire peer-to-peer file sharing, Grooveshark streaming music on demand and Aereo's unbundled over-the-air-TV streaming; nonprofit streaming TV startup Locast is currently on the legal defensive. (Disclosure: CBS, the parent company of CNET, was a plaintiff in some of these litigations.)

In addition to IP challenges, some hit legal walls because they couldn't see the anonymous writing on them. YikYak, for instance, was frequently charged with facilitating cyberbullying and harassment, complicated by its use of proximity detection

The forgotten

Ten years is a long time in tech, and there's so much detritus we've left on the side of by the road -- and in our landfills -- that I've inevitably missed some of your big faves. Or least faves. So feel free to fire off your lists of dearly departed gadgets in the comments. And don't forget to check out the people we've lostthe scandalsthe worst developments and more of the decade in tech .