It was a year of surprises. Sure, some companies hit their targets, hewed to their strategic plans, and got their products out on schedule.
But we were struck by how many of the year's business developments were unpredictable, even downright weird.
BusinessWeek's second annual Best & Worst Products of 2006 guides you through the peaks and gulches.
The magazine’s editors and correspondents sifted through hundreds of interesting gadgets, baubles, gizmos, and jalopies, narrowing down the field to 20 considered the very best products of the year. Also chosen was five of the most notable clunkers — and two products to watch in the year ahead.
Among the winners:
- For a mere $100,000 you can own the world’s fastest electric car. The Tesla Roadster does 0 to 60 in four seconds, can hit 130 mph, and has better torque than cars with gas-guzzling combustion engines. The motor is eerily quiet and goes 250 miles between charges. Tesla promises 100,000 miles of battery life. But you’d better move fast — just 1,000 are planned.
- The Eclipse 500 is the very first “Very Light Jet” to win Federal Aviation Administration approval, Eclipse Aviation has already booked 2,500 orders for its five-seater. It weighs less than standard business jets, costs about half as much as the next-cheapest jet, and, the company says, costs much less to maintain.
- Legos now have legs. The Lego Mindstorms NXT has rods and beams that work with light, touch, and sound sensors that allow you to build full-fledged, programmable robots. Software allows you to write programs on a Mac or PC, and connects with the bot via a USB cable (included). It's recommended for kids as young as eight, but older ones — not to mention gadget-minded adults — will likely be the most interested users.
There were also some notable duds:
- Sony's lithium-ion laptop batteries malfunctioned in the worst possible way: Publicly and destructively. The bad ones didn't just conk out, they overheated to the point where they actually set laptops ablaze. Even worse for Sony, a few of the flame-ups were caught on tape, including one at a conference in Japan, and quickly made the Internet rounds. The result was a massive recall which will end up costing the company about $430 million, possibly more if some Japanese PC makers follow through on threats to sue. But the hit to struggling Sony's reputation as a technology leader is what really stings.
- The NBA's new basketball from Spalding, made from a microfiber composite, is meant to offer a more consistent bounce than the old leather models. Instead it has sparked incessant complaints from players, who say that it slips when their hands get sweaty and even causes skin abrasions. The players' union has filed a formal grievance.