In the first decade of the 21st century, a handful of brands emerged at the forefront of our adaptation to technology.
Skype introduced users to the revolutionary clarity of peer-to-peer video conferencing. Yahoo! brought e-mailers and net-surfers nifty access to emailing and surfing the world-wide-web. Nokia was 'Connecting People', BlackBerry was bringing corporate executives together, while the likes of MySpace laid the groundwork for Facebook.
One therefore wonders, where are they now?
The switch from having them as a part of our daily lives to completely forgetting them seems inconspicuous. Some simply faded into obscurity and some were brutally taken over or squashed by other brand giants.
They certainly did not turn irrelevant over a few short years. Similar brands are still doing what they used to. The brands that could not get in queue on how relevant 'converging communication' has become were among the first to fall out of the competition. Each of these brands has a different story to tell, that might as well serve as a warning to those who do not want to follow suit.
Founded in 2003, founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström saw quick success in a very short time. And within just three years, it had a user base of 115 million. But short-run success seemed to have deluded the brand to thinking that updates are not vital; and at the same time, the smartphone started to slowly emerge in the backdrop.
Ownership switched hands twice between online auction company eBay in 2006 at first and then Microsoft in 2011. Not only was the smartphone becoming smarter but by 2013 the world began adapting cloud-based servers.
Skype lagged behind, resulting in dissatisfied users.
Additionally, Whatsapp (a messaging platform) and Zoom (a video-conferencing platform) started to make strides. To seal Skype's fate, its then benefactor Microsoft began to incorporate all the good features of Skype over to Microsoft Teams, while depriving Skype from the attention it needed to stay relevant.
The many new similar apps offered users interfaces that Skype never had. Already struggling to stay in business, Covid-19 spelled doom for the brand as the world, by and large, moved on to Zoom and then Google Meet in quick succession, leaving Skype in the dust.
Sadly, news of Yahoo! now has to be read on Google dot com.
Stanford University graduates Jerry Yang and David Filo had jointly founded Yahoo in 1994.
While Google is a simple looking homepage where navigation is easy, Yahoo, on the other hand, features every little detail on one page and that makes it quite cumbersome and not very user-friendly.
Those who preferred reading news could use the Yahoo homepage as their personalised digital newspaper. Yahoo chat rooms essentially were the precursor to what we call Messenger now. And the ability to search anything on the internet, along with some other features, were brought all under one roof by Yahoo.
That idea still sounds relevant but, over the years, users simply rerouted to more specialised apps.
The niceties of specialised apps coupled with the added advantage of being able to carry the apps 'anywhere' on the mobile phones competed with Yahoo, in regards to every one of its available services.
Additionally, the user-friendly interfaces that Google offered made users more inclined towards them. In addition, the multiple changes in management and hostile takeovers effectively ended Yahoo.
For a company that produced modems and pagers, moving on to product phones was a bold step that paid off. In 2000, BlackBerry released its first ever mobile phone in the market, the BlackBerry 957.
With a premium look and a compact enough size to fit in a palm, the 957 soon became the go-to-device for business executives, through which they could send emails and surf the internet. Its popularity began to skyrocket in the early years until the first-generation iPhone hit the market in 2007.
Without any competition, BlackBerry's monopoly on pricing seemed to be justified, if not wholeheartedly accepted. But the introduction of the iPhone changed how people looked at a mobile phone. BlackBerry started to lag behind with new competitors. They failed to deliver the features the iPhone and also what the Android phone offered.
BlackBerry maintained their tactile QWERTY keyboard while touchscreen mobile phone screens took the typing experience to another level. Even in their later iterations, they did not care to introduce the virtual keyboard for the sake of originality.
Meanwhile, both iOS and Android kept developing their devices to suit users' convenience.
To make matters worse, BlackBerry maintained celebrities and corporate personnel as their target audience while, again, iOS and Android targeted a bigger audience. At this rate, BlackBerry was bleeding money. As their business was failing, they weren't able to earn as much and thus they could not allot funding to R&D, which spelled disaster for them.
What sealed its fate was its adamant decision to not adapt, at least to the Android Operating System.
Android (an OS run by Google but they are also an entity on their own), at some point in time, approached BlackBerry to use their OS, but they refused their proposal. When BlackBerry did not make the switch, people happily adapted to the Android OS because the Blackberry OS had gone obsolete by then.
By the time BlackBerry tried to introduce full touchscreen phones, it was too late.
Nokia's effort to stay relevant is a similar story to BlackBerry's. But Nokia was on a mission of 'Connecting People,' not celebrities and the elite.
In a way, Nokia is still out there but somehow it has managed to roll over into a niche. Nokia's origin could be traced back to a fishing company that came out in 1865. From fishing to producing virtually indestructible mobile phones, Nokia encompasses the concept of conglomeration absolutely.
Nokia, through the 1980s and 1990s, sparred with SIEMENS and Motorola in the mobile phone market and managed to stay on top. Mobility was an issue in the early days and the brand immediately invested in much smaller and ergonomic phones, thus crushing their competition.
Eventually, like BlackBerry, Nokia lost out to iOS and Android.
In its last desperate attempt to stay above the water, Nokia came up with their own smartphones. However, since they were heavily invested in their own operating system - Symbian OS - they failed to fall in line with the global market where every other mobile phone producer was shifting to the Android wagon base.
Their success story with Symbian OS became their downfall. Their smartphones were not as 'smart' as their Android or iOS counterparts. In the background, tech giant Microsoft was going through their own sporadic outbursts of insecurity. Microsoft went on a shopping spree of buying out any brand that did or potentially could stand in their way.
Nokia, owing to its wavering performance, handed themselves over to Microsoft. Microsoft implemented their own, new operating system on the rebranded Microsoft mobile phones. But people were already a little too invested in the iOS/Android experience by then and as a result the takeover did not work.
Eventually Microsoft sold off Nokia in 2016, and Nokia made the reluctant switch to Android. Again, Nokia was a day late and a dollar short.
Facebook practically rolled out in 2004, just a year after MySpace did in 2003. The early years for both the brands were rife with neck-to-neck competition. In fact, MySpace made its presence felt in a more pronounced manner than Facebook could. But MySpace's accessibility was lacking compared to its counterpart.
Like with BlackBerry, MySpace looked to popularise itself by reeling in celebrities while Facebook appealed to a larger audience. As Facebook's user base hiked up at a rate of millions per day, MySpace went down at somewhat a similar rate owing to their business model.
With the entry of smartphones in the early 2010s, optimised apps for websites took off from personal computers and permanently landed on phones. Facebook took advantage without fail and exception. MySpace did the same too but by then, Facebook had already brought everything users wanted onto a single app.
MySpace may be a pioneer in the world of social media but because they failed to cater to the little things users were asking for, they lost out.
Kodak's fade could be summarised with a one-liner: inability to cash in on digital photography.
Interestingly, Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975. In 1986, they were also the first to invent the mega-pixel camera.
Vince Barabba, a former Kodak executive and major market researcher for big names such as Xerox, General Motors, etc, claims that during his tenure at Kodak, he had undertaken extensive research on how Kodak would benefit from applying their original inventions.
After the invention of the digital camera in 1975, Barabba advised that the transition to this foolproof innovation would take a decade's time at best. By 1986, when Kodak had brought out the first megapixel camera, they should have settled well on the road to digital photography, but they failed to do so.
Kodak was too heavily invested in their silver halide, chemical and paper business and failed to scale up. On the flip side, Canon and Nikon made an aggressive switch to digital photography, stealing Kodak's own brainchild from under their noses.
For the first time in a long time, Kodak thus came full circle, teetering on bankruptcy.
Video Home System; behold the mighty VHS!
Blockbuster set up shop with a collection of 8,000 VHS and 2,000 beta tapes in 1985. Although 1985 is not very far back in time, in the world of technology, 1985 is ancient. As are VHS, VCDs and DVDs.
Brands like YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, among others, are the names at the forefront of the audio-visual experience that capitalise on streaming. However, the VHS used to spearhead such ideas.
Blockbuster turned it into a business. They would give out their VHS to customers for a fee and upon return, customers could take others home. However, the late fee that Blockbuster charged customers for overshooting return dates used to be staggering. Though people did not like it, they were out of options either way, until Netflix came into view in 1995.
Netflix's model revolved around that of Blockbuster's. They would snail mail the cassette/VHS directly to customers based on their orders placed online. And then when done watching the movies, the customers could take it back to the shop themselves and order more.
Initially a little cumbersome, but it still captured people's interests.
In 2000, Netflix wanted to strike a deal with Blockbuster but the offer, however, was rejected.
Netflix then made the switch to a subscription model which enabled customers to pay for the movies once a month for a fixed fee, in return they could keep the movies for as long as they liked.
Shortly after, with the advent of the internet and its widespread adoption, Netflix moved to streaming in 2007. The rest is history as they say.