Thursday, February 05, 2015

5 Biggest Failures From Big Tech Stocks

Not every idea from one of the big tech stocks is a good one

Source: Disney Enterprises, Inc.
The evolution of technology in the twenty-first century has been staggering, to say the least; one innovation leads to dozens more, and the process snowballs. Today, our civilization is at the height of its technological advancement, and that evolution will continue to progress at an exponential rate.

Companies large and small, as well as educational institutions and the military, have contributed to the leaps and bounds by which tech has advanced.

But, not every invention has been a smashing success. There have been plenty of failures over the years that range from eyebrow-raising to jaw-dropping.

However, those failures still served to move technology forward and resulted in countless new ideas, inspirations, and realizations that spurred further innovation. The notion was summed up perfectly by Walt Disney’s iconic quote that appeared in the end credits of the Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) 2007 hit Meet The Robinsons:

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious … and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Let’s take a look at some of Big Tech’s more recent failures and examine why they flopped — or are destined to flop — to see if there’s any potentially salvageable future takeaways or inherently useful material left over for these tech stocks.

Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE) Smart Wig

Back in November 2013, engineers at Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE) filed patents for one of the weirdest wearable tech devices conceived so far – the Smart Wig. Apparently aimed at bringing the aging Boomer generation further into the 21st century, the Smart Wig’s hidden micro-circuitry and vibrating pads would be paired with the wearer’s smartphone and activated when new text messages and emails arrive.

Source: Gizmodo
Taking unusual to the next level (if the wig itself isn’t unusual enough), Sony’s patent application described multiple models that could contain cameras, microphones and GPS sensors.

If Sony’s Smart Wig ever actually comes to fruition, I doubt it will be a big seller. I can’t imagine people waiting for hours in lines that wrap around the corner, just to be one of the first to strap on this weird wearable.

As far as tech stocks go, sometimes it’s good to be different, but in this case it just seems like Sony’s engineers need to get out of the lab a little more often.

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) Smart Bra

Next in a seemingly growing line of weird wearable tech devices is the Smart Bra from Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). While most of the wearables being developed today focus on enhanced communication and interaction with social media, the Smart Bra does none of that.

Instead, this high-tech undergarment contains a host of sensors and micro-circuitry that monitor a woman’s heart rate, body temperature, and respiration for the purpose of — wait for it — warning her when she might be overeating due to emotional stress.

Source: CNN
When paired with a smartphone, the Smart Bra could alert a woman that her emotional state is responsible for her apparent hunger, rather than an actual need for nourishment. Citing research that confirms something already known to most adults — people often seek solace in the form of sugary, high-calorie junk food when feeling depressed or stressed — Microsoft researchers designed the bra as a means of intervention to prevent unhealthy diet choices.

The linked smartphone app would display “comforting” messages and suggestions to lower stress levels when the bra’s sensors detected potentially risky eating behavior.

While technology may have advanced enough to allow sensors to read relatively accurate identification of moods and stress levels, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wise for MSFT to spend time and money developing the Smart Bra.

Criticism of the Smart Bra already appeared on social media, and tech stocks that want to remain in the good graces of the world’s women would do well to consider the implications of such devices.

Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) Smart Spider Dress

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, perhaps the most impressive — albeit doomed — new tech invention was the Smart Spider Dress from Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC).

Source: Intel IQ, Innovation Everywhere
Using dozens of sensors aimed at both the wearer and the external environment, the dress acts as a sort of bodyguard; giant animatronic spider legs, which otherwise rest neatly against the wearer’s body, quickly extend when embedded sensors in the dress detect stress levels above a pre-determined threshold.

The idea is that the pointy, ominous-looking giant spider legs will keep would-be attackers at bay.

Made entirely from 3D-printed materials, the Smart Spider Dress is as interesting as it is frightening. Although Intel collaborator Anouk Wipprecht described the dress as elegant and “created with the aim to give more power and ‘psychological thrill’ to the sugar-sweet character that performative wearables often have,” I don’t expect to see many (strike that, any) women wearing something like this any time soon.

Imagine trying to walk into a courthouse or an airport wearing this dress. From the looks of it, just driving your own car might be challenging.

Samsung Electronics Smart Refrigerator

In an attempt to further its foray into the Internet of Things, Samsung Electronics has released it’s latest and greatest Smart Refrigerator — a stainless steel side-by-side unit with an 8-inch touchscreen display positioned above the automatic ice dispenser on the left-hand door.

From a distance, the fridge looks classy and high-tech, especially considering the bright, colorful screen that seems to shout “Touch Me!”

However, as far as actual functionality and practicality, the Smart Refrigerator missed the mark. Reviewers described an excruciatingly cumbersome process of trying to connect a Samsung Galaxy S5 to the fridge, one that required multiple software updates and upgrades.

The proprietary apps that came pre-installed on the fridge were non-functional, and the device actually froze at one point (pun definitely intended).

Phone and television-screen mirroring failed to work properly at all, making the fridge screen little more than a fancy built-in clock. The TV-screen mirroring functionality, in fact, contains limitations that make it impossible for owners living in the U.S. to activate the feature.

Further, Samsung touts the ability of the Smart Refrigerator to browse the web and explore social media sites. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how many people would actually spend their time standing in front of the fridge checking Facebook or Twitter on the clunky Samsung fridge screen when they could just as easily sit down with their existing phone or tablet.

So, despite this attempt to keep pace with evolving technology and remain on the forefront of the Internet of Things, Samsung’s Smart Refrigerator just doesn’t cut it — especially not with a price tag of nearly $3,600!

All the big tech stocks want a piece of the IoT pie, and smart appliances are a logical step in that direction. But, the technology should be added where it will be most relevant and useful, which means developing an actual “smart” refrigerator (rather than just one with a tablet mounted in the door).

Toshiba Corporation Robot Hostess

Attempting to take a giant leap forward in the field of artificial intelligence, Toshiba Corporation unveiled its Robot Hostess at this year’s CES. The robot, named ChihiraAico, was designed to look like a 32-year-old Japanese woman.

Toshiba’s marketing manager, Hitoshi Tokuda, described the robot as having “very realistic appearance and movement,” and mentioned plans to use it with senior citizens who have dementia or similar conditions, and connect it to therapists and physicians.

ChihiraAico demonstrated the ability to laugh, talk, sing and even cry in a voice that was, well, eerily reminiscent of the Chucky doll in the ’80s horror flick Child’s Play.

Videos from Toshiba’s presentation at CES show the robot attempting communication through sign language, but without the necessary dexterity and fine finger movements required for effective signing, ChihiraAico looked more like she was auditioning for Styx’s next iteration of Mr. Roboto.

As simply a prototype to demonstrate the realm of AI possibilities, ChihiraAico is a fine invention that other tech stocks could use as a reference point.

However, considering Tokuda’s description of Toshiba’s plans to actually use the robot in real-life settings involving senior citizens with already deteriorating mental conditions, well, that seems a bit twisted. And just plain scary.

Article originally appeared on InvestorPlace (02/05/2015)

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