Successful failures-Zune, PS3, Vista, Blu-Ray

Today’s news from Sony about the ‘new’ PS3 (smaller, cheaper) model got me thinking about failed products.  Or, more specifically, successful failures.  There are products that fail completely, like the little known RCA home computer.  There are very public failures like HD-DVD and then there what I call the successful failure like PS3.  Below is a short list of these successful failures.  Before I go on, however, let me explain what I mean.

A successful failure is a product that has sold reasonably well, but failed to live up to expectations or is generally perceived as a failure even though it sold relatively well.  This is not a huge category, but is one that contains some interesting choices.

  • Sony Playstation 3:  with about 25 million units sold, the PS3 could be considered a hit.  After all, the Atari 2600 sold about 30 million units in almost twenty years.  PS3 achieved its numbers in less than three years, yet is considered a failure.  It released to much hype and, in the first couple of weeks, high demand.  However, that demand was short lived as everyone who was going to pay its outrageous price, $600, did so.  Almost immediately, it became clear that the competing Nintendo Wii was a bigger hit.  In fact, the Wii took nearly two years before supply levels caught up with demand.  This console sold almost 55 million units in the same amount of time.  PS3, even today, still commands a high price, even with the announced 299 price point for the 80gb model and the new ‘slim’.  The chances that it will ever do the sales numbers of the PS2 or the Wii are pretty ‘slim’.  Still, the console is a success as 25 million units sold is nothing to sneeze at.  With its image tarnished and the public notion that it is a failed product, I consider it a successful failure.
  • Windows Vista:  no matter how you try spin it-and I’ve tried-the perception is out there that Vista is a failure.  Even Microsoft is now trying bury Vista by releasing its successor, Windows 7, much more quickly than it did with Vista compared to XP.  Almost immediately, the tech press began to label Vista as a dog of an operating system.  Bent out of shape bloggers and columnists were upset because their ancient printer did not work with Vista or some obscure program that no one has used since Windows 95 was new didn’t work.  Drivers were not complete.  There were a few high profile applications that didn’t play nice, etc.  Even though most, if not all, legitimate problems were solved within its first year, the damage was done.  Couple that with the series of dis-information ads, courtesy of Apple, and the continual barrage from certain PC magazines forever tarnished Vista.  Yet, it is on all new PC’s and 250 million or more computers and you have a successful failure.
  • Blu-Ray: another Sony product that has failed to capture the hearts and minds of the general public.  Yet, sales are up and prices are coming down.  However, no one really expects the format to become entrenched like DVD.  The difference in quality between DVD and Blu-Ray, for most people, is negligible and not worth the cost.  Millions of players have been sold and millions more discs.  Successful, but a failure nonetheless.
  • Microsoft Zune:  this one really kills me.  I love the Zune.  The new Zune looks really hot.  The software is far and away better than the competition that it tried-and failed-to kill.  Microsoft has sold a few million of the devices and will probably sell a few million more, but the device-platform-will never be considered a success.  Microsoft itself is a tarnished brand.  They should have taken the Microsoft name off of Zune and marketed it separately.  Whatever they do now is going to be considered ‘catch up’ to Apple.  No matter how hard they try, no one will ever admit that they are one up on Apple, but, instead, just call them ‘copycats’.
  • Memory Stick:  yet, another Sony product.  Sony insists on keeping memory stick alive, even though they are pretty much the only consumer electronics manufacturer that makes products that actually uses these things. Oh, other companies include the ability to read and write to them, but no other company relies solely on them as storage.  Even Sony uses SD cards in addition to Memory Stick on a few devices.  Since they have successfully marketed and sold a very nice selection of digital cameras that use Memory Stick, the memory cards can be considered successful even though as a standard format, they failed.
  • Betamax:  continuing the Sony record, Betamax had an early lead in the home video market.  That lead, however, was short and by the early 1980’s, the writing was on the wall.  Millions of decks and tapes were sold, but, in the end, VHS ‘won’ the war and Sony threw in the towel and marketed VHS for a while.  They never really killed Beta, which met with more acceptance in the professional market. There are those who lament its passing in the consumer market.  It still has its fans.  Many claim it was better than VHS-and, on paper, it was.  In practice, however, there really was no discernable difference.  One needed a high end television to notice any difference.  Like Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, the expense required to see that difference far outweighed the perceived difference in quality. It also helped VHS that RCA sold VHS decks back when the RCA name still meant something and it also helped that the adult video industry settled on VHS to market its wares.
  • Packard-Bell:  Packard-Bell sold millions and millions of computers in the 1990’s.  They were, for a time, the number one seller of computers in the United States.  The machines were relatively low cost for the time.  They had great marketing.  They were everywhere.  They were junk.  Many of the computers were sold as new, even though they may have been returned or contained many returned components.  A high failure rate and poor customer service eventually lead its new owner, NEC, to pull the brand from the US market.  It continued in Europe and was purchased by Acer in 2008.  Acer also owns the Gateway brand.

Some may argue about my choices, and that is OK.  I stand by them all.  There are a few there, like Zune and Vista, that pained me, but reality prevails.  Zune is a failure in the market.  These days, perception is everything and the perception is that PS3, Zune and Vista-all currently marketed products-are failures.  Thoughts?  Comments?



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