Top Tech Flops of 2011: Chromebook, iPhone 4S, HP TouchPad?

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By Carlo Alejandro Fernandez | December 16, 2011 8:36 AM EST

Year 2011 is drawing to a close. 

This year device-makers HTC, Samsung, and Motorola raised the bar, releasing smartphones with huge 4-inch screens, powerful dual-core processors and impressive cameras.  But the end of the year belongs to Apple with record sales of a new iPhone with an intelligent voice-activated assistant. 

For tablets, the iPad 2, counting on Apple's ecosystem of apps, made Apple the runaway winner.  ASUStek though appears to be the game changer after showing of the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the first ever slate with quad-core processors.  And Amazon shows that it can sell tablets with so-so specs by integrating them with the site's huge portfolio of digital content.

For consoles, Nintendo unveiled the Wii U, which can be converted to a tablet without the TV and controllers, and then released its newest mobile console, the Nintendo 3DS.

While there has been hype for mobile devices, the PC industry has been facing slowing consumer demand.  Despite that, we've seen a barrage of new laptops like the Ultrabook and the Chromebook.

Nonetheless, there have been a couple of devices that created buzz and hype but have received bad reviews or have failed to attract consumers.

Here's our top five tech flops for 2011:

1. Chromebook

Search giant Google Inc. this year launched a web-centric laptops that boot in only 8 seconds, receive automatic updates, do not need for anti-virus software, and save space by using web apps instead of traditional applications found in Windows-based laptops.  The Chromebooks, which have the Google Chrome OS operating system as well as the Google Chrome browser built-in, had limited offline capability and had no offline support for key apps like e-mail, calendar and documents.

Google has released updates that allow use of key apps when disconnected to the net and now offers more models with 3G access and flexible mobile plans.  And the Chromebook has received accolades for being maintenance-free, reliability and its long-battery life.  

But the Chromebook is having a hard time replicating Google's success in mobile devices, where Google's Android is the top OS.

Chromebook manufacturers Acer and Samsung have not released official sales figures, but the huge price cuts announced in November -- which drops the entry-level price to $299 -- and the absence of these "nothing but the Web" notebooks from other device makers indicate that sales have been sluggish.

Google's search engine has the world's most popular Web site and its e-mail, blogging, and news services are topping rivals.  But not everything Google touches turns to gold.  Second place this year for Google flops could go to Google+.  Now with 800 million users, Facebook's lead over Google Plus may be insurmountable.  And Twitter has established its niche.  Who needs a third social network?

2. HP TouchPad / WebOS

Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad is the second best-selling tablet this year, next only to Apple's iPad.  The latest batch of TouchPads sold out in minutes, even crashing eBay's site.  Brilliant?  No.  HP's foray into tablets cost CEO Leo Apotheker and announcement that it's ending production of its webOS devices.

HP paid $1.2 billion for Palm Inc.'s webOS then created an impressive $499 10-inch tablet that allows full multi-tasking, runs Adobe Flash, and offers wireless printing.  But HP only sold less than 10% of these tablets in inventory due to, among other things, the lack of third party apps.  This prompted its CEO to announce that HP's ending production of webOS devices.  The TouchPads were later sold at fire-sales for $99 (the TouchPad costs $300 each to produce, according to estimates).

New CEO Meg Whitman has abandoned her predecessors' plans to end HP's PC business and is now trying to salvage webOS and HP's mobile devices business.  Whitman recently announced that HP will likely continue releasing webOS tablets.  She also released the webOS to the open-source developer community to entice

"WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable," Whitman said in a Dec. 9 statement.  "By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices."

HP, in a bid to woo developers and other device makers, has emphasized that webOS would be a "pure, open source project", unlike Android.  A study by research firm Vision Mobile has concluded that Android is the most "closed" among open source projects.  Nonetheless, Android has already gained ground against the iPad, cutting Apple's tablet market share from 90% to 67%.  And the Android is now the top platform for smartphones.

webOS has been a flop in the post PDA era.  With the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and other Android devices already trying to rival the iPad plus Windows 8 tablets coming to town next year, will there be space left for the webOS platform?

3. iPhone 4S

It's no flop in terms of sales -- Apple sold 4 million units of the iPhone 4 sales in the first three days.  Rival Samsung Electronics achieved the same feat for its best-selling Samsung Galaxy S 2 in more than three months. 

But it doesn't mean that the fifth generation iPhone has not been a disappointment.  Samsung, Motorola and HTC released smartphones that each has a 4-inch-plus screen real estate, 4G-LTE connectivity, and near field communication chips.  For whatever reasons, Apple in October unveiled a nominal upgrade to the iPhone 4 rather than a phone with an all-new design.  The iPhone 4S appears like a replica to the iPhone 4 and has the same 3.5-inch screen.

But Apple did package the iPhone 4S as a totally new smartphone, emphasizing that "inside, it's all new."  The iPhone 4S has an 8-megapixel, 1080p high-definition camera; an A5 dual-core chip processor that has a graphic processor that is seven times faster; two antennae to transmit and receive data; CDMA and GSM connectivity; 8 hours of 3G talk-time, and new applications like Siri and Find My Friends.  The device's main draw is Siri, a voice-recognition system that turns the device into a hands-free personal assistant.

While the iPhone 4S has had a blockbuster launch, but with new Android offerings (quad-core phones, possibly) coming next year, it will be unlikely if the iPhone 4s will have the same legs as its predecessor.

There have been reports that Apple was working on a release of the iPhone 5 this year but production issues and/or Steve Jobs' concerns that a bigger screen "fragmented" the iPhone range forced Apple to scrap the device at the last minute.  Apple will likely reclaim the label as the leader in innovation when it releases the iPhone 5.

4. Windows Phone 7

HTC, Dell, Samsung and LG have released smartphones running on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Phone 7.  But check Microsoft's market share: 1.7 percent in the second quarter and 1.6 percent in the third quarter.

Microsoft has had a slow start but it aims to end the year with a bang and gain ground against the Android and iOS next year. 

The Bill Gates founded company has signed a deal for Nokia to release Windows phones.  Nokia, the world's top seller of mobile phones and smartphones for the past 10 years, unveiled its first Windows Phone-based devices including the Lumia 800 in October.  The Lumia 800 is as stunning as the Meego-based Nokia N9 but is slimmer.  The tile-based user interface provided by Windows 7.5 Mango and the Metro are visually appealing, although Microsoft has yet to convince developers to make apps for Windows Phone.  Next year, Microsoft is expected to unveil Windows 8, its first platform designed to work on tablets, smartphones and PCs.

5. Nintendo 3DS.

Nintendo Co. announced new game titles and later announced 40 percent price drops as it couldn't sell the Nintendo 3DS.  The Japanese gaming giant hasn't given up with its portable game device by announcing that the device will also be available in "misty pink".

While the glasses-free gaming device from Nintendo is innovative, Nintendo appears to have difficulty competing against the iPad (and its apps) and Facebook's online games.

The 3DS is way cheaper than the $499 iPad tablet from Apple but sluggish sales have raised concerns that the portable consoles are no longer relevant.

Nintendo's shares are down by almost 50% this year.  Nintendo hopes to revive its fortunes next year when it unleashes Wii U, the successor to the market leading Wii console.  The Wii U works like a touch-screen tablet when not connected to a TV and controller, a sign that the console maker has been hit by the growing popularity of tablets.

Of course, Nintendo may have just had a bad product.  3D technology in mobile or home devices is still in its infancy. Outside movie theaters, 3D technology in smartphones, TVs or laptops create headaches and disorientation and blurred objects when viewing at the wrong angle.

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