In Memoriam: The Tech That Died in 2017
By Eric Griffith, PCMag, 15 December 2017.
By Eric Griffith, PCMag, 15 December 2017.
Every year brings its hardships and losses. The tech world is not immune; brands and gadgets come and go. A must-have device or addictive service is easily discarded as VC funds dry up and newer, shinier offerings emerge.
Once again, PCMag is here to remind you of the tech tools and interfaces that will not be joining us in 2018 (until a future re-launch; I'm looking at you, Polaroid). We're not talking about the start-ups that barely got off the ground, but the well-known brands that said farewell in the past 12 months.
Many were forgotten by the masses long ago; it may surprise you they even still existed in 2017. But all (okay, most) are worthy of a quick doff of the hat in respect for the fallen.
1. AOL Instant Messenger, Alto Email
Verizon now owns what's left of AOL - what many of us used to call America Online - and this year, it took a couple of AOL features out of commission, permanently. The first to go on Dec. 10 was the AOL Alto Email Service. It was supposed to be a smart inbox for mobile users, but failed to get any traction after five years.
The same can't be said for AOL Instant Messenger, aka AIM, which most of us probably used at one time or another. But in the last decade, rival services like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, and a billion other messaging services easily eclipsed AIM, and its user base dwindled. The writing was on the wall back in March when AOL pulled third-party support from the AIM service. By October, the original instant messaging service's fate was sealed, and AIM was dead by Dec. 15. RIP.
2. CompuServe Forums
CompuServe's Forums - an internet destination that was all the rage back in the early 90s - went dark on Dec. 15. You'd be forgiven for thinking they were no longer a thing, but remarkably, they have lived on - until today. No explanation was given for the closure. However, like AIM, CompuServe is now under the control of Verizon-owned Oath.
3. Net Neutrality
The saddest thing on this year's list is the death of a principle: an open and free internet where ISPs treat all data the same no matter the source.
The term net neutrality dates back to 2003, coined by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, but didn't really start making headlines until 2007 when Comcast was accused of blocking P2P traffic. That led to an enforcement action under the GOP-led FCC, and the introduction of formal net neutrality rules under Obama in 2009. But the issue was then caught up in the courts for years as ISPs like Verizon sued, arguing that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate broadband providers.
By 2014, the FCC made the controversial decision to reclassify broadband as a telecom service rather than an information service. Broadband had become a public utility like water or electricity - not a luxury, the FCC argued. And that argument held up - until Trump won and selected Ajit Pai as FCC chairman.
Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, hates the "utility-style regulatory approach" and thinks the internet has fared just fine without regulation. He voted against the net neutrality rules in 2015 when he was just a commissioner, and moved to gut them when he became chairman. This week, he got his wish, when the FCC voted 3 to 2 on party lines to reverse the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
All this despite calls by internet pioneers like Tim Berners Lee and many in Congress asking for a pause to the proceedings (if for no other reason than the comment period was full of fake and duplicate comments).
4. iPod Nano and Shuffle
Smartphones pretty much killed MP3 players, but Apple's iPod was still kicking around - until this year. Apple said in July it would kill the last two standalone iPods in its lineup: the iPod nano and shuffle. While you can still buy them until the stock runs out, the screen-free shuffle and small-screen nano won't be getting updates, ever again. Is the iPod touch next?
5. Google Spaces
Launched in 2016, Google Spaces was supposed to be a messaging app for small groups to help them get organized, sort of like Slack, but not just for businesses. Heralded as a "pointless exercise" almost immediately, Google must have agreed. It killed Spaces in under a year.
6. Wunderlist, Word Flow, and Groove Music
Microsoft, much like Google, isn't afraid to kill off a service or product that isn't doing much for the bottom line. But unlike its rival, Microsoft often serves up an even better replacement.
That's what happened with Wunderlist, an excellent cloud-based task-management app. It launched in 2013 and was acquired by Microsoft in 2015. But in April, Microsoft introduced To-Do, a new "intelligent task management app" built by the Wunderlist team. To-Do is currently in preview, but once it's up to snuff, Microsoft will retire Wunderlist, so it's perhaps best to familiarize yourself with To-Do (or any of our other favorite to-do list apps).
The same thing happened to Word Flow, a mobile keyboard Microsoft made for Windows Phone but later ported to iOS. It was best known for offering very cool one-handed typing options, as well as GIFs and customized themes. But earlier this year, people noticed that Word Flow was no longer available on iOS. If you search for it in the App Store, you're directed to Swiftkey, a rival keyboard app Microsoft acquired in 2016.
Groove Music, meanwhile, launched in 2012 as Xbox Music, and was intended to take on rival services like Apple Music, Tidal, and Spotify. That didn't happen, though; the Groove Music Pass streaming service will shut down on Dec. 31. Music purchased on Groove will still be accessible on OneDrive, and users can get a 60-day free trial of Spotify to fill the void in their lives.
7. Facebook Ticker
Remember when Facebook used to show you things from your friends in chronological order? It gave that up in favor of algorithms a few years back, but to satisfy those who wanted to keep up with every like, comment, and photo, it added the Ticker in 2011. This running stream of all your friends' activities has been clogging up your News Feed ever since, until this month when Facebook unceremoniously axed the feature. Facebook is now all algorithms, all the time.
In 2012, Dalton Caldwell, founder of music service imeem, announced plans for a Kickstarter-like, 30-day online funding campaign that would gather money for a Twitter-like service that would rely on paid subscribers rather than ad dollars. In a video (above) announcing the project, Caldwell said he was "really disappointed with the way that free, Web 2.0 services have let me down." The focus at firms like Twitter, he said, had been on advertisers, resulting in a poor experience for users and developers.
Ultimately, that online funding effort topped $500,000 but not enough people wanted to pay $50 per year for a social media account. By 2014, App.net said it didn't have enough money to pay its employees, and the site languished until March 2017, when it finally shut down.
9. Yik Yak
Yik Yak debuted as an anonymous social media network, and nothing bad ever happens with gossipy, anonymous posts, right? Not exactly. It was once considered a $400 million brand, but anonymous cruelty isn't a great business plan, and the kids lost interest. In the end, Square bought Yik Yak's engineers for $1 million.
Launched in 1999 as AliphCom to make communications equipment for soldiers in the field, Jawbone was an early pioneer in Bluetooth audio for cell phones, with unique looking headsets called the Jawbone, from which the company eventually took its final name. By 2010 it was making speakers (JamBox), and the UP brand of wearables debuted in 2011 for a $1.5 billion valuation in 2012.
Despite the buzz - its CEO was in Fortune's 40 Under 40 in 2012 and one of Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2014 - it couldn't last. Jawbone needed investment to keep up with acquisitions and pay its lawyers (it sued Fitbit and lost). By 2015, it was all-in with fitness trackers, but only had 2.8 percent of the market. It liquidated its assets in July.
Vertu sold ridiculously expensive "luxury" Android phones made with high-end materials like titanium, sapphire, and ostrich leather. But $9,000+ phones were not enough to sustain UK manufacturing operations, which shut down in July. Murat Hakan Uzan, who bought Vertu in March 2017, says he'll bring the brand back someday. We hope so, as it was always fun to include Vertu in roundups of over-priced tech or ridiculously niche smartphones.
12. Lily Flying Camera Drone
When we first discovered Lily back in 2015, we described it as an "action cam with a brain" It was supposed to follow you around and record your every move from on high; simply toss it in the air to get going. Like everyone else, we were astounded it had $34 million in pre-orders the following year. That's a lot, even for a $900 waterproof drone. But it wasn't enough. Lily will never come to market, dead before it even got a chance to live beyond the concept stage. If you ordered one, you should have already received a refund.
13. The Gaming World Mourns
Turbine shut down the servers for the Windows-based MMORPG Asheron's Call and Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings (from 2003) in January. The original, published by Microsoft, had been running since 1999 and was the third big game of its kind, after Ultima Online and Everquest.
A more recent game was Marvel Heroes, called Marvel Heroes Omega by the end, a free MMORPG famed for having comics writer Brian Michael Bendis involved when it launched in 2013. But this year, Disney (owners of Marvel) cut all ties with the developers at Gazillion Entertainment, the rights went away, and the servers were unceremoniously shut down early since the whole thing put Gazillion out of business.
Nintendo also went on a murder spree in 2017. In April, it stopped selling the Classic Edition retro gaming console. In November, it did away with the Miiverse - the social network within the Wii and 3DS for posting art. And the deaths continue into the future: the Wii Shop for buying games will be killed off fully by 2019.