A dissection of 10 examples of product life cycle reveals a familiar pattern. Each successful product has five distinct phases: (i) development, (ii) introduction, (iii) growth, (iv) maturity, and (v) decline. These product life cycle examples also reveal that profiting opportunities in serving customers’ purpose of Getting jobs done better by leveraging technology possibilities are at the core of the birth of a product—as a reinvention of matured alternatives. The formation of the remaining four stages of the product life cycle has been due to the evolution by leveraging technological advancement in serving unfolding consumer preferences and sustaining as well as winning competition.
However, not all products do have these five stages of life cycles. Many products end their life cycle before getting introduced to the market. Similarly, due to accumulated losses, innovators are compelled to remove their products from the market. For example, after its introduction, IBM removed its first smartphone, Simon, from the market. Similarly, many of the 293 product ideas in Google Graveyard could not even face the introduction stage. Unlike living creatures, product life cycles do not unfold naturally. It costs innovators money and time for a product to get born and cross each stage of the life cycle. As innovators do not always succeed in making money, in many cases, they terminate the life cycle of products before reaching maturity. Let’s look into the ten examples of product life cycles to detect reoccurring patterns.
List of product life cycle examples
- Floppy disk
- LCD Television
- Word processor
- Film camera
- Gasoline automobile
- Autonomous vehicles
Floppy disk—first of 10 examples of product life cycle
- development—in 1970, IBM developed a portable 8-inch floppy diskette for storing data on rotating magnetic tape, with a capacity of 2MB.
- introduction—IBM introduced the floppy diskette in 1971 as a portable data storage product.
- growth—in the 1980s, the popularity of personal computers led to rapid growth of demand for floppy diskettes. Size and capacity innovations and improved resistance to dust also contributed to growing adoption.
- maturity— by the middle of the 1990s, floppy diskette reached maturity. Due to the lack of scope for Incremental Innovation, many competitors shared the market, and the profitability became razor-thin.
- decline—due to the emergence of higher capacity CD ROM, the market of floppy diskettes started to decline. USB cables, flash drives, and portable hard disks also accelerated the decline. Eventually, floppy diskettes exited the market at the dawn of the 21st century.
- development—Walkman development is a typical example of meeting consumer preferences by leveraging technology possibilities. Sony’s co-founder Masaru Ibuka’s desire to listen to music on long flights led to Walkman’s innovation by leveraging compact cassette tape, transistors, and battery technologies.
- introduction—In 1979, Sony released Walkman; it was an instant hit because of the resonance between technology and consumer preferences and the absence of alternative products.
- growth—in the 1980s and 1990s, the Walkman penetration grew with the changing lifestyle and incremental innovation. Sony also changed the technology core by introducing CD ROM-based Walkman.
- maturity— at the dawn of the 21st century, Walkman out of cassette tape and CD ROM reached saturation. As a replacement, a new wave of MP3 music players emerged, with the option of downloading music from the Internet.
- decline—Apple’s release of the iPod and iTunes accelerated the shifting of demand from Sony’s Walkman to Apple’s iPod, leading to suffering from Disruptive innovation effects from the creative destruction of portable music players.
- development—in the 1980s, LCD technology showed the possibility of building flat panel displays to meet consumer preferences of having a television with a flat large screen. Hence, R&D efforts were made to leverage this possibility and introduce a new product by reinventing CRT and projection televisions.
- introduction—in the middle of the 1990s, LCD television was introduced. During the introduction phase, the screen size was small, the quality was low, and the cost was high.
- growth—during the first decade of the 21st century, there was a race to improve LCD technology, leading to a strong wave of creative destruction.
- maturity—at the beginning of the 2020s, LCD television started to show signs of maturity due to the inherent limitation of the necessity of backlighting to illuminate passive displays.
- decline—the growth of organic light-emitting diode (OLED), also known as organic electroluminescent (organic EL) diode, based flat panel displays for Television started taking away market share from LCD television.
- development—the development of computers and the difficulty of editing content with typewriters led to the development of computer-based word processors in the early 1970s.
- introduction—in the middle of the 1970s, innovators started releasing computer-based modern word processors. One of the notable ones was Vydec, which was introduced in 1973 with a price tag of USD 12,000.
- growth—high cost and the need for a dedicated computer were significant barriers to the growth of word processors. However, the development of the PC and its growth led to the opportunity to upgrade the word processor as a 3rd party application running on general-purpose, low-cost machine-personal computers. Hence, the 1980s started observing the introduction of several word processor software applications running on PCs. The upgrade of the text-based interface to a graphical one and the advancement of PCs and their price reduction led to the wide adoption of the Word Processor. However, due to the high scale, scope, and externality advantage, Microsoft monopolized the market for word processors.
- maturity—by the end of the 2010s, word processors reached maturity in their life cycle. There has been a bit of innovation due to migration from licensing to software as a service business model.
- decline—despite attempts to bring substitution to Microsoft Word by Google and others, there has been no sign of decline yet.
- development—human beings have a strong urge to capture and preserve images. Such an urge and technological advancement led to the development of the film camera by Kodak.
- introduction—in 1888, Kodak introduced a simple box camera with a fixed-focus lens and single shutter speed. Due to the ease of taking photographs, Kodak’s camera started gaining popularity.
- growth—the refinement of film in increasing pixel counts, contrast, and stability of shade or color led to a long journey of incremental innovation. In this race, Kodak appeared as the winner in quality and complementary products like chemicals, film, and equipment for developing and printing films. Of course, competition in each value chain segment emerged, sharing the market and offering customer segment-specific products.
- maturity—by the 1970s, the film camera industry reached maturity. During the same decade, electronic image-based camera technology started to grow. Although Kodak was the first to get the patent for digital cameras, the decision Dilemma led to missing it to Sony.
- decline—in the 1980s, Sony led the journey of launching and growing the digital camera wave, leading to declining sales of film cameras and pushing Kodak towards bankruptcy.
- development—preference of selecting and downloading music from online stories and enjoying them by an intuitively operable, aesthetically pleasant small player and the rising technology possibilities to offer them led to iPod development by Apple. It was Steve Jobs’ reinvention response to the mature Sony Walkman and bits and pieces of MP3 music player innovations.
- introduction—on October 23, 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, the first MP3 player to pack 1,000 songs. A stunning 6.5-ounce package had a 10-hour battery life. Of course, there was a resonance between customers’ expectations, technology possibilities, and Apple’s ability to fuse them with the delicate touch of aesthetics. As a result, during the winter launch quarter of 2001, Apple succeeded in selling 125,000 units.
- growth—to drive the growth, Apple came up with iPod siblings, such as the iPod mini and iPod touch. Apple also expanded the distribution system. Consequentially, iPod sales accelerated to 4.4 million in 2004, 22.5 million in 2005, and 39.4 million in fiscal 2006.
- maturity—unlike many other highly successful products, while the iPod was blooming, Apple came up with the idea of recreating it through self-destruction. Due to the threat of an impending smartphone invasion, Apple pursued the iPhone as a fusion of the iPod, phone, and internet browser.
- decline—due to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and its continued evolution, iPod sales suffered. Despite this, Apple succeeded in selling 450 million units by May 2022.
- development—as a preemptive response to the smartphone invasion threat to iPod success, Steve Jobs led Apple’s mission of recreating the iPod and smartphone as iPhone. The fusion of consumer preferences for large screens, ease of use with one hand, and technology possibilities led to the stylus and keyboard-free design of the multi-touch user interface-based iPhone. It was the fusion of three devices: (i) iPods, (ii) PDA-like phones, and (iii) Internet browsers.
- introduction— in 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone 1. Despite its magical future, sales of the iPhone 1 came close to zero within a year. For sure, Apple neither made a profit nor succeeded in showing magical innovation performance by selling a little over one million units of iPhone 1.
- growth—the growth of the iPhone came not from the advertisement, cost-cutting measures, distribution system and discount of iPhone 1. Instead, Apple’s success is distilled from its ability to keep releasing successive better versions—through feature enhancement and addition. As a result, subsequent versions kept facing increasing sales, even at higher prices. For example, the iPhone’s first weekend sale grew from 1m unit of 3GS in 2009 to 10m units of 6 and 6Plus in 2014. Apple also focused on innovating a family of iPhones to drive the growth. Apple has focused on adding hardware and software features to expand in application areas like health and financial services. Apple’s decision to 3rd party component plugins and the development of app stores contributed to positive externalities.
- maturity—not a sign of maturity is visible. However, the general perception has been that the rate of advancement has been slowing down. As a result, competitors are taking away market share.
- decline—waiting to witness the rise of the reinvention wave, having better synergy between consumer preferences and technology possibilities.
- development—by combining personal distal assistant and mobile phone features, IBM developed the first smartphone—Simon. Due to the increasing performance of microprocessors, IBM added a rich set of software features. However, it was bulky, weighing 18 ounces.
- introduction—in 1994, IBM released Simon, priced at $1000 apiece. However, the sale of only 50,000 units during the first year disappointed IBM. As IBM could not foresee the evolution path of making the product smaller, better, and cheaper, Simon left the market before entering its life cycle growth phase.
- growth—not applicable
- maturity— not applicable
- decline— not applicable
- development—through tinkering, Craftsmanship, and a bit of mechanical engineering, in 1886, Carl Benz successfully demonstrated the idea of reinventing the horse wagon by replacing the horse with an internal combustion engine.
- introduction—in 1988, Carl Benz introduced the gasoline automobile. Although there were no other automobile makers, Benz’s gasoline vehicle faced the barrier from horse wagons and electric cars. Upon seeing the initial performance, several innovators from Germany, the rest of Europe, and the USA also launched their version of gasoline automobiles in the market. However, due to poor performance, by 1899, German automakers only succeeded in selling 900 cars.
- growth—the growth of the automobile industry emerged not from the development of distribution and retail channels as a market development exercise. Yes, they contributed. However, if automobiles had not evolved to offer higher performance, improved safety, higher reliability, and more millage in each refueling, those market development efforts could not have produced the scale effect we know today. The automobile market has been growing due to incremental innovation of each significant module, from engine to cabin. Other modules, such as air conditioners, heaters, radio, and music players, have also contributed to the growth of the automobile industry.
Besides, the creation of an automobile family, each sibling serving a specific market segment, has contributed to the development of the automobile industry. This race to grow the market through evolution out of innovation has encouraged the entry of new players and also their exit. For sure, along with market expansion, this growth journey has created virtual monopolies in a significant segment of the industry. It has also created supply and distribution channels.
- maturity—upon more than 100 years of evolution, gasoline automobiles have shown signs of maturity due to the limited scope of reducing emissions. Innovators and policymakers are out there for reinventing automobiles by changing the polluting internal combustion engine with electric batteries or fuel cells. However, to extend the life of gasoline automobiles, Toyota and others have been partially replacing the role of gasoline engines by adding battery modules. This strategy of extending the life cycles of gasoline automobiles has led to a hybrid version of gasoline cars.
- decline—electric vehicles have already started taking away visible shares of automobile markets. For example, the global market share of electric vehicles within passenger car sales has steadily grown. From 0.01 percent in 2010, the EV market share reached 14 percent in 2022. As the EV has been gaining momentum due to the advancement of the battery pack, gasoline automobile makers have joined the reinvention race.
Autonomous vehicle–last of 10 examples of product life cycle
- development—as early as 1928, innovators embarked on making cars autonomous. However, several attempts failed to graduate the autonomous vehicle idea from the laboratory. The recent wave of innovating autonomous cars started in the 1980s with the US military’s Navlab project. The success of the Navlab inspired investors to fund the development of autonomous vehicles or robot cars for the civilian market. This wave has resulted in many R&D projects consuming as much as $80 billion. However, despite demonstrations, robot cars are still unsuitable for mass-scale deployment. Hence, autonomous vehicle products have been waiting for introduction. Significant technology hurdles are yet to be overcome before they are introduced. Without it, any amount of market development and social factors will prevent the introduction, let alone enter the life cycle’s growth stage.
- introduction—not yet
- growth— not yet
- maturity— not yet
- decline— not yet
Product life cycles are determined mainly by the technology possibilities in meeting consumer preferences increasingly better in getting jobs done. Of course, conventional market development activities are relevant. However, these examples of product life cycle reveal that if technology does not scale up, the product does not grow through its life cycle stages. The next factor is the competition and profitability. Unless introduced products win the competition in generating profitable revenue, innovators will not keep driving them through the remaining phases of the product life cycle.