12 gadgets and apps that took a few tries to get right
As the great poet and musician Aubrey Drake Graham once sang, "It's not about who did it first, it's about who did it right."
That's true: Like comedy, selling a product is all in the timing. Sometimes even the best ideas don't work out the first time, whether because the technology isn't ready or because the market isn't.
But those failures are a great opportunity for the next person, who gets to look at the mistakes of those who have gone before and figure out how how to make it work.
IBM Simon was 13 years before the Apple iPhone
Then: IBM Simon launched in 1994 at the considerable price of $1,100 ($900 if you got it on contract with BellSouth).
It was chunky and not exactly user-friendly, but it had a touch screen, could get e-mail, and be used as a fax modem. It was discontinued in February of 1995 after only six months and 50,000 units sold – the Simon could only get an hour of battery charge, which was as unimpressive then as it is now.
Now: Plenty of other manufacturers tried their own hands at making a smartphone, but the market didn't show its real potential until Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007, which sold 6.1 million units in its first five quarters on the market. The first Android smartphone was introduced in October of 2008, and nowadays it's hard to remember a time before smartphones and the apps we run on them.
WebVan let users order groceries online 15 years before Amazon
Then: WebVan, an online grocery delivery website that started in 1998, is one of the first dot-com bubble's greatest horror stories, burning through $800 million in venture capital money before going totally bust in 2001.
Now: Amazon Fresh and startup Instacart both take advantage of the rise of smartphones and a public that's more willing to shop online for their own successful grocery delivery services. In fact, Amazon Fresh bought a lot of WebVan's intellectual property and team.
Sony Librié was the prologue to Amazon Kindle
Then: In 2004, Sony released the Librié 1000-EP, the world's first e-ink "electronic book," as The Register put it at the time.
Before that, all book readers were based on traditional screens — the kinds that hurt your eyes after too much reading. The Librié was powered by four AAA batteries, and books were available on a $2 "all you can read" subscription.
Now: The first version of the Amazon Kindle e-reader launched in 2007 and promptly sold out within five and a half hours. Amazon had cracked the code: The Kindle was smaller than the competition, made it a lot easier to buy books through the Amazon online bookstore, and perhaps most importantly, a totally free, totally unlimited cellular data plan that let users buy books (and consult Wikipedia) from anywhere in the world.
Hang W/ beat Meerkat and Periscope to the punch
Then: Hang w/ (as in "Hang With," get it?) launched in 2013 as an app to let celebrities connect with fans via live-streamed video to their phones.
Celebs like Justin Timberlake, 50 Cent, Nathan Fillion, and Jared Leto have all used the app to connect with fans. Since then, it's broadened out into a full-fledged live-streaming app that's grabbed nearly 2 million users. It even shares advertising revenues with its top streamers, YouTube-style.
Now: Meerkat started building buzz in early March for its super-simple approach to live-streaming, gaining "tens of thousands" of users in very short order. That buzz only intensified with the announcement that Twitter had purchased Periscope. More importantly, Meerkat and Periscope brought the concept of live-streaming to the masses in the way that its predecessors never had.