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How To Make Santa Gadgets That Last

Tien Tzuo

The holiday season is here, which means it’s time to talk about gadgets and gifts. But first, let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?  According to Time Magazine, pictured below is one of the hottest electronic gifts of 2000, the Iomega HipZip:

The HipZip was a $300 MP3 player, but not just any kind of MP3 player. Instead of using an internal flash drive, it ran on proprietary magnetic discs called PocketZips. Sadly, this revolutionary new format was discontinued shortly after its release in 1999 (it tended to break), and so the HipZip died with the PocketZip. RIP. 

As George Harrison reminds us, “all things must pass.” It’s just that gadgets tend to pass more quickly than most things. Here’s a list of nine other pieces of cutting-edge personal electronics that made Time Magazine’s Christmas Gift Guide twenty years ago: 

  • Creative Nomad Jukebox MP3 Player

  • Samsung DVD Player

  • Nikon Twisty CoolPix Electronic Camera

  • Gateway Laptop with 12.1” Display

  • Motorola Two-Way Pager

  • LG Touchpoint “Smart” Phone

  • Cybiko Wireless Messenger with MP3 Attachment

  • Playstation 2

  • Handspring Visor Prism Personal Digital Assistant

Remember PDAs? Remember pagers? Reminiscing about obsolete gadgets is always good for a laugh, but it can also be a pretty humbling experience as well. After all, the stuff we’re using right now is bound to look just as silly in twenty years, right? Maybe. But maybe not. 

In fact, if you were to take a look at today’s most popular personal electronics, you’d actually see a lot of the same brand names on the 2000 list, as well as others like Nintendo, Android, Google, Apple, Ring, Peloton, Nest, Roku, Acer, Xbox, and Sonos. But in terms of functionality, what would be the main difference between the 2000 and the 2020 list?

That’s easy. Connectivity.

In 2000, we were essentially playing with fancy bricks. As mentioned, many of these gadgets came with their own proprietary formats that didn’t play well with others. Wireless networks were the exclusive domain of good old fashioned Nokia bar phones. 

Today, successful electronics manufacturers understand that in a world of commodified hardware, the network is everything. They have to offer differentiated services. That’s their key to immortality, their antidote to obsolescence. Today, every device is an edge device. 

Case in point: Sonos. Founded in 2002, Sonos quickly gained popularity as a maker of high-quality, great-sounding speakers that you could sync across your house. Now a speaker manufacturer might sound like a company that’s ripe for commodification, but founder John MacFarlane was focused on networks and connectivity from the very beginning.  

Today, Sonos acts more like an audio nervous system for your home than a generic speaker manufacturer. Sonos pioneered multiroom wireless audio, made it sound amazing, and changed the way people listen at home by giving them access to the content they love and allowing them to control it however and wherever they choose. 

Sonos is known for its unparalleled sound experience, thoughtful design aesthetic, simplicity of use, and open platform. The company has partnered with more than 100 streaming providers (incl. Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube Music), works with all the major voice assistants, launched its own streaming radio service, and is even partnering with IKEA to make sound-enabled furniture. This is a service company to its core. 

 And here’s what they share with other consumer all-stars like Fender and Peloton that helps them avoid the dreaded gadget trap:

  • Ongoing platform innovation: Sonos is continually evaluating and bringing new customer facing innovation to its platform in products it delivers, partners it works with and new experiences delivered from its platform. 

  • Subscription Content: For eight dollars a month, Sonos offers Sonos Radio HD, a high-definition radio service featuring personally curated stations and artist interviews. The company says that radio represents 50% of all listening time across their products. 

  • Replacement Programs: They offer a trade-up program which offers discounts of up to 30% on new speakers if you replace certain older models. They also offer to responsibly recycle your older speakers for you if you choose to turn them in.

  • B2B Engagement: Sonos offers a number of packaged bundles and commercial music services aimed at small businesses and offices.  

  • Developer Platforms: Sonos hosts an online portal with tools that allow developers and home audio enthusiasts to create their own apps and customize their own audio experiences. 

In short, I think we’re going to see Sonos on that 2040 gift guide. Who else do you think is going to make the list?

Please note that there will be no newsletter on Saturday the 26th of December, as I’ll be taking the week off. 

Today, Sonos acts more like an audio nervous system for your home than a generic speaker manufacturer.

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