Lifestyle

Winners & Losers 2010: The bright ideas

When it comes to innovation it's all about technology, but not every piece of kit hits its mark.

See also, ‘ The rebrandings,’ for how several companies and public figures fared in the art of the makeover.

Social media

&#9650 Foursquare: The mobile city guide and friend finder took off like a rocket this year. At the end of March, it boasted 725,000 users; by October, the number was up to four million. Now, partner application FourWhere uses Google Maps to search nearby venues, and Facebook has launched its own app, called Places. In October, a NASA astronaut even “checked in” at the International Space Station.

&#9660 Chatroulette: Early this year, there was a lot of buzz around this site that links random people for webcam chats. It had 400,000 users in April. But it soon became better known for indecent exposure than intelligent conversation, and user numbers dropped to 100,000. In August, the site shut down for a week to implement upgrades, but interest never recovered.

Green power

&#9650 Fuel-cell boxes: After eight years of development and $400 million in startup cash, Silicon Valley-based Bloom Energy launched its long-awaited fuel cells in February. The boxes, which cost about $750,000, provide 100 kilowatts of electricity by converting air and fuels like natural gas into power. Early adopters include Google, Walmart and Coca-Cola. As of October, the company had 50 systems set up, and expected to double that number by year-end.

&#9660 Wind power: As General Electric, Mitsubishi and others considered investing more than $630 million in the U.K.’s offshore wind industry, Canada was casting the whole idea into doubt. Plans to build wind turbines off Point Pelee, Ont., were put on hold after concerns about fishing, bird migration and other environmental issues emerged. What’s more, the turbines would have to be placed far offshore, where deep water would make construction very expensive.

Electronics

&#9650 Dyson Air Multiplier: The vacuum cleaner company has expanded into hand dryers and bladeless fans. The Air Multiplier circulates a smooth air current without the use of cumbersome blades or grills. The product has been successful enough to spawn two new versions and is largely credited with doubling Dyson’s operating profit.

&#9660 3-D TVs: While 2010 brought big leaps in 3-D’s cinematic popularity, on television it’s failing to catch on. Research firm DisplaySearch reports that sales of 3-D TVs are below projections, especially in North America, where they’re off by 20%. The need for special glasses and lack of 3-D content are to blame.

Smartphone apps

&#9650 Bump: Initially, the software was a way for people to share contact info, calendar dates and photos by literally bumping their smartphones together. But a partnership with PayPal earlier this year has significantly expanded Bump’s appeal. Available for BlackBerrys, iPhones and Android phones, it now allows users to make mobile payments to others nearby, as when splitting a restaurant bill.

&#9660 Recognizr: The facial-recognition program enables people to access online profiles, making it perfect for recruiting sessions or networking events. But even with privacy settings, the app sparked fears that stalkers or criminals could identify strangers and gain access to their personal data just by snapping their photos.

The rebrandings

&#9650 Eliot Spitzer
When allegations surfaced in 2008 that the New York governor had patronized a prostitution ring, it took only 48 hours for his reputation to be reduced to tatters. The once rising star apologized for permitting his “private failings to disrupt the public’s work,” and resigned. Now, two years later, it appears Spitzer’s slow-and-steady efforts to revive his image are working. After making several appearances on network TV and authoring columns on the financial crisis for Slate, the disgraced politician was recently tapped by CNN as co-host of a nightly news and discussion program alongside journalist Kathleen Parker.

&#9650 Domino’s pizza
When Domino’s released its new-and-improved pizza recipe in January, the company issued a bold mea culpa, acknowledging the change had been motivated by consumers who likened its sauce to ketchup and its crust to cardboard. The firm’s investment in new ingredients — and advertising — is paying off. After struggling a little through the spring, Domino’s recently posted a 12% increase in quarterly sales in the U.S. (the only jurisdiction where the new recipe has been rolled out), significantly outpacing Wall Street’s expectations and boosting shares by 6.7%.

&#9660 iTunes logo
Graphic designers and iTunes users alike were perplexed in September when Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the revamped logo that would accompany a new version of the company’s wildly popular music-downloading service. Though Jobs’s explanation was logical enough — with iTunes sales set to outpace those of CDs, he said it was time to drop the compact disc from the logo — observers were less than understanding, loudly deriding the blue bubble and black note as everything from “nondescript” to “hideous.”

&#9660 Campbell’s soup
In response to a dip in U.S. soup sales, Campbell Soup embarked on a major rebranding campaign in February, changing everything from packaging to ingredients to advertising. But consumers remain lukewarm on the iconic product, and the slide has continued. With fourth-quarter sales of condensed and ready-to-serve soups down 7%, prominent Wall Street firm Janney Montgomery Scott recently downgraded its rating on the company’s stock, citing a weak packaged-soup market. Although Campbell maintains its promotional efforts are working, its overall sales in the same period fell short of analyst expectations.

&#9660 Chevron
The global advertising campaign Chevron launched in October, which acknowledges that “oil companies should put their profits to good use” and “support the communities they’re part of,” was a bid to clean up its reputation and take control of the conversation about Big Oil’s environmental impact. But the company’s voice was drowned out by activist groups, which pre-empted the campaign with an online spoof. The fake website suggested Chevron was owning up to alleged environmental abuses, and admitting that “oil companies should clean up their messes.”

—by Rachel Mendleson