Will 2006 be the Year of High-Profile Technology Busts?

explosionWe started the year with quite a bang, with CES in January displaying lots of new tech gadgets and ushering in the era of HD and internet based delivery of television and movies. Coming out of 2005, we already got a glimpse of what was on the horizon with iTunes support for commercial free television episodes and the release of the Xbox 360. That’s why it’s somewhat confusing to think that 2006 would actually be the year of high-profile technology busts, but I think it’s possible that this year will be marred by several big missteps; and to boot, they’re already happening and we’re not out of March yet! Not to say that there won’t be successes, or that these missteps can’t be corrected, but this may just be the year that is identified more by its failures than its successes.

A War with Two Losers
The first failure should be somewhat obvious, as the seeds have been planted for quite a while. HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray is this generation’s version of BetaMax vs. VHS, except this time, I’m not sure either format will be a winner. Whereas VHS, and DVD after it, ushered in a new technology, both HD-DVD and Blu-ray are nothing more than an evolution of existing technology, not a revolution like VHS and DVD were. Also, with initial prices for the new formats hovering at, or above, the $30 price point and players starting at a minimum of $500, will consumers adopt either format when the war could make their player and $30 copy of Batman Begins ancient in 2 years? Plus, with the recent news that the Playstation 3 won’t ship until November, the “expected” loser format – HD-DVD – will have a 6 month head-start on the device that is expected to usher in Blu-ray’s dominance. This is one war I would not want to be a General in.

iTunes Movies: No Way, Jose!
Steve Jobs has a following that reminds me of Jim Jones. Jobs’ Kool-Aid drinkers regularly ignore the fact that Apple is a DRM factory, churning out music and videos laced with restrictive, proprietary content protection. Until recently, people have happily paid the $1.99 for TV shows without commercials, albeit, wrapped with the aforementioned DRM and reduced in quality. For a while now, people have clamored for movie content to hit the iTunes Music/TV store. Well, it’s happened and the results are ugly. The first movie for sale on iTunes, High School Musical (a Disney made for TV movie), is listed for a whopping $9.99. Let me repeat that. A made for TV movie from Disney will cost you $9.99.

Rest assured, if Apple is seriously considering selling low-res, DRM infected movies at a little less than what a DVD would cost, movies on iTunes will fail miserably. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Hey, Where Did My Network Go?
Wireless networking has been a boon the past several years due to its ease of setup, dropping prices and ability to connect several computers without having to string CAT5 cable everywhere. Even though 802.11g has offered decent speed, the promise of wireless networking has been in the upcoming 802.11n standard, which could theoretically match wired networking speeds! Just one problem. The 802.11n standard as it stands now, and as we reported earlier, may trample on nearby 802.11b and 802.11g networks, to the point that those networks may not even work in the shadow of the 802.11n signal! With 802.11n close to certifying, this is NOT the news that manufacturers were waiting for.

Holy Lack of Supporting Vista Hardware, Batman!
Windows Vista marks the beginning of another Windows era for Microsoft. They are banking alot on the new OS. It’s just too bad that, as of this moment, no one will be able to take full advantage of the OS. Video cards with full support for Vista’s features don’t exist yet, and to make matters worse, HD-DVD support is not a given, which is crazy considering Microsoft is one of the biggest HD-DVD backers! Also, if you use Media Center and were hoping to upgrade your system to use CableCARD, you can drop your plans now. You need special authorization from CableLabs to use CableCARD within Media Center. Until these various issues are worked out, the very people who would have been early adopters of the OS may end up being the last to adopt. Don’t worry, Vista will eventually rule the desktop as XP does now; just don’t expect it to happen in 2006.

The Rest of the Mess
Sadly, all the aforementioned items are not the only potential 2006 blunders. The Playstation 3 quickly comes to mind. It’s already slipped to November of this year, and unless Sony can pull off a miracle, we’re likely looking at severe shortages throughout the holiday season. Add on the fact that it will probably retail somewhere between $500 to $700, and 2006 could be painful for PS3. The release of MovieBeam – the first HD movie service – proved to be a completely underwhelming experience. So much for Hi-Def movies in the home. Finally, people caught wind of a new mobile platform coming out of the Microsoft camp. A viral marketing campaign made it seem like a huge announcement was in the wings. Once people saw Halo running on said device, speculation ran rampant. Now, we know that Origami is nothing more than a smaller version of Tablet PCs with some interface enhancements. So much for innovation.

Down, but Not Out
You know, one could easily read through this and quickly label me a pessimist. I’d prefer realist, but whatever. The fact is, 2006 was really looking like THE YEAR for tech and the promise of the future. The hope of the connected home would be fulfilled this year, or so we thought. There are some promising developments coming, but the potential for busts is as big as I can remember.

There’s always 2007…

Filed in: Industry Buzz