The Good and Bad Surprises of 2011

By Rob Enderle December 19, 2011

We are getting down to the end of the year and there were a number of surprises in 2011 that I thought it would be fun to look back on. Next week we’ll start looking ahead to 2012 and try to guess what is in store for us that year.   

So let’s take that romp back through memory lane at the big surprises of 2011.

iPhone 4S: Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2011 was the lack of the iPhone 5. After Apple got up in arms about the loss of other prototype and actually had its security folks impersonate San Francisco police in order to unsuccessfully run it down, Apple actually didn’t launch the expected 4G phone just a fixed 3G phone, a better, iPhone 4. Folks lined up to buy it anyway reminding a lot of us of the old Apple Lemming TV Ad.

HP Touchpad: The HP Touchpad came to market and, as expected, it was arguably the second best tablet on the market. Evidently second wasn’t good enough for buyers who avoided it like the plague or HP who quickly killed it and nearly killed the entire division.   However, after dropping the price down to $100 HP had to go back into production because the demand went vertical with lines in the Apple range.  This showcased several things – that folks were price sensitive and that HP likely could have priced it at somewhere between $200 and $300 and still sold every single tablet.   For a time they were selling on eBay for over $350 successfully. 

Kindle Fire:   This was a color tablet with a nice tablet color display from the company that had been marketing that this display was inferior because you couldn’t use the iPad outside.    The proceeded to set a sales record for non-iPad tablets and were projected to sell between 20 and 30 percent of what Apple sold this quarter.    Buyers loved it, reviewers were mixed often finding it lacking against the iPad in features, but one hell of a bargain at $200. As it turned out the bargain part won which we should have known given what happened to the Touchpad.

Google +: This in like a Lion out like a Lamb product was actually one of the most complete and high quality products Google ever created.   It represented a real threat to Facebook and initial momentum was impressive. But a lack of attention from the Google executives, no real marketing, and a tendency for folks to go back to a product they have used for a long time resulted in Google + going from hit to flop in a few short months. Far from dead but far from successful as well, Google + was this year’s bit hit that wasn’t.   Only overcome by.

ChromeOS: This product positioned as a Windows killer and loaned for free on Virgin America flights showed up on interesting and inexpensive hardware only to become the latest iteration of the netbook.   Folks once again showed that for a $100 less they were unwilling to abandon all they found useful on a notebook computer and this made the ChromeOS this biggest overset expectation of 2011.   But Chrome wasn’t just a failure.

Chrome Browser: The Chrome Browser passed Firefox and IE8 to become the most popular browser and did so on the promise of being simpler and faster than the competition. Even in the face of massive improvements in IE9 Chrome’s auto-update capability allowed it to springboard past IE in the metrics, granted because IE versions were counted individually and not in aggregate, but still an impressive and somewhat unexpected feat. Microsoft instituted an automatic update program shortly thereafter like Google has and this lead may be short lived. But Google was more about failures than successes this year.

GoogleTV: Google’s biggest catastrophe was by far GoogleTV and it actually appeared to get the Logitech CEO fired.     This poorly thought through offering was an embarrassment to the entire segment and set it back at least a year.   The idea was a good one, the execution horrid and the only amazing thing was that the vastly better Microsoft offering never actually made it to market showcasing one more opportunity lost by that company as well.  Trust Google get fired, which seemed to resonate with the folks in Los Angeles as well.  

Flip: Perhaps the worst decision of the year though was Cisco’s decision to shut down their Flip unit after it lost its way but still controlled the number one position in their segment.   This half-billion dollar goof overshoots the Palm decision because HP is keeping Palm alive while Flip was shot dead.      Who would have thought someone would kill a division that was just suffering under some wrong-headed decisions and could have been recovered?

3D: This was the big technology out of CES 2011 and it went basically no place in 2011.   Buyers just didn’t want to buy TVs that required glasses and good 3D programing was very hard to find.   The promised 3D channels were missing in action and, in the end, while 3D was cool to show the neighbors it really didn’t justify the added cost or the early replacement of a flat screen TV.   It was pretty much a flop this year.  

OnLive: This game service, which Robbie Bach while at Microsoft constantly said was impossible, actually began working on tablet computers and pointed to a future where your PC could be in the cloud accessible by future tablets.  It showcased that even with current limited networks this service could provide a credible replacement for even high performance PCs on future TVs and likely will represent one of the most disruptive changes in the coming decade.   

Wrapping Up:   2011

We lost Steve Jobs this year and Patty Dunn, of the two it was Dunn’s passing that actually hit me the hardest. She was the chairman of HP’s board that was thrown under a bus by Mark Hurd, the then CEO of HP, because she wasn’t in a good position, or in good health representing not only a black mark against Hurd but all men in power.    But Meg Whitman is looking better all the time at HP, Lenovo got to the #2 PC spot, the Audi A7 knocked my socks off in my first full car review, and world appeared to finally be getting out of its economic funk.   2011 was a mixed year, let’s hope for a 2012 that has more ups and fewer downs.   

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. To read more of his articles on TechZone360, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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