25 computer products that refuse to die
- — 02 April, 2009 02:01
Personal Digital Assistants
What they were: The handy-dandy, pocketable gadgets that started as organizers in the early 1990s and blossomed into full-blown computing devices, from the pioneering Apple Newton and Casio Zoomer to the enduringly popular Palm PalmPilot and Compaq iPaq lines.
What happened: By 2005 or so, stand-alone PDAs were rendered almost entirely superfluous by their close cousins known as smartphones, which started out big and clunky but eventually did everything a PDA did, and a lot more. Despite occasional attempts to reinvent the PDA--such as Palm's ill-fated LifeDrive--almost nobody chose to purchase and carry a phone and a PDA.
Current whereabouts: I'm not sure when any manufacturer last released a new PDA, unless you want to count the iPod Touch as one. (And come to think of it, I can't think of a strong argument against calling it a PDA.) HP, which acquired the iPaq line when it bought Compaq, still sells four aging PDAs under the name. Palm, meanwhile, maintains an eerie ghost town of a handheld store, which still lists three models but says they're all sold out. Amazon still has Palm PDAs in stock, though, so they're not quite dead. Yet.
What happened: Numerous products in this article fell on hard times in part because of crummy business decisions by their owners, but no other one did itself in so quickly and so self-destructively as Packard Bell. Its computers were cheap in part because they were terrible, and backed by subpar customer support. When rivals such as Compaq started selling reasonable computers at reasonable prices through retail stores, Packard Bell started to founder. The decision by NEC to take a controlling interest in Packard Bell in 1995 seemed bizarre even at the time; in 2000, the last Packard Bells disappeared from U.S. store shelves.
Current whereabouts: Lots of places--just not stateside. The brand name never died in Europe, and after a couple of further changes of ownership, it ended up as an arm of Taiwanese PC giant Acer in 2008. It now makes laptops, desktops, displays, MP3 players, and desktops. And if it ever returns to the U.S. market, it'll be a more impressive comeback than anything Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens has managed.
What it was: A remarkable line of personal computers, introduced by home PC pioneer Commodore in 1985, that delivered powerful multimedia and multitasking years before they became commonplace on PCs and Macs.
What happened: Well, you could fill a book with the details--and hey, someone did. Commodore had superb technology, but did a terrible job of developing and marketing it. You could argue that Amiga would have petered out no matter who owned it--even Apple flirted with death as DOS and then Windows overwhelmed other alternatives--but Commodore's decision-making sure didn't help. In 1994, it declared bankruptcy and stopped making computers. The Amiga name went on to change hands at least four times over the next decade, sometimes being used on hardware, sometimes being used on software, and sometimes just disappearing.
Current whereabouts: Amiga, Inc, the current owner of the Amiga name, uses it on middleware for set-top boxes as well as games and other applications for cell phones (you can buy an Amiga tip calculator). It also says it's still working on Amiga OS 4.0, a product so long in the making that it, like Harlan Ellison's science-fiction anthology The Last Dangerous Visions, is best known for how long it's been promised without ever appearing. As a former Amiga fanatic, I hope it does ship someday--there's no way a new Amiga OS wouldn't be cooler than an Amiga tip calculator.