The last decade introduced a wealth of game-changing technology to our lives. But along with it came some true disasters.
15+ min read
This story originally appeared on PCMag
In the US, 20 percent of small businesses can’t make it a year, half are dead in five years and a full 70 percent can’t make it past a decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Success is even harder if that business is all about one particular product — especially if that product is tech-related.
Look at companies like Juicero, which couldn’t launch a smart juicer even with $120 million. Or Pono, a digital media player and music download service for audiophiles that Neil Young just couldn’t quite make happen. Crowdfunding has many tales of spectacular failure, like the Zano Drone, which earned $3 million on Kickstarter but couldn’t actually … fly.
Even big names like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon — the so-called Frightful Five of Tech — have their fair share of shameful screw-ups in the tech product space.
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That’s what we’re here to reflect on: 10 years of tech product failure. Not the small ones like those above, but the products and services you came to love, or wanted to love, or can’t understand why they didn’t get any love. Some are great ideas that never went anywhere. Some were incredibly flawed products that never should have made it past prototyping. A few are glorious vaporware — products rumored, promised, or even guaranteed, but that never came to be.
Apple AirPower Wireless Charging Mat
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Apple’s good at delivering high-quality products most of the time. But occasionally it over promises, as it did with the AirPower in 2017. It was supposed to be the ultimate wireless charger mat for Apple products, powerful enough to charge an iPhone X, Apple Watch, and AirPods simultaneously. It took another 18 months or so before the much-delayed, destined-to-be-overpriced mat was cancelled because it would “not achieve our high standards,” according to Apple.
Amazon Fire Phone
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While you can expect a whole separate story from us on the major smartphone failures of the past decade, there are a couple that are just so bad they must be included here. Amazon’s first and only foray into the space was 2014’s Fire Phone. It was more than a phone — with 3D capabilities, it was a way for Amazon to help you showroom the world, and thus increase its own retail sales. Which some found offensive at best, especially in a $650 device that only worked with AT&T. Amazon, never one to shy away from pulling a loser off the shelf, killed the handset off in less than a year after taking a $170 million hit.
BlackBerry PlayBook and BlackBerry 10
PlayBook photo by Will Ireland T3 Magazine Future via Getty Images
Research In Motion owned the mobile space in the first decade of the new millennium. But by 2010 it was trying desperately to stay relevant. The PlayBook tablet was RIM’s answer to the iPad and Kindle Fire. But it just couldn’t compete because BlackBerry didn’t have the apps; thousands of units shipped to retailers and never left the shelves, despite some big price cuts. RIM — by then renamed BlackBerry Ltd. — killed the device by mid-2013.
It also shipped BlackBerry 10 that year, a mobile operating system it hoped would give iOS and Android a run. It even had 100,000 apps — including 28,000 Android apps that apparently ran like they were on dial-up — but it was no use. BlackBerry 10 ran on a few phones, the last one being the BlackBerry Leap in 2015, but it couldn’t bring back the heyday of the “CrackBerry.”
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Once the most funded Kickstarter project in history (as of 2014), the Coolest Cooler — a cooler full of gadgets like a blender, wireless speaker, and USB for charging devices — turned out to be mediocre at best. By 2016, Coolest was out of money and couldn’t ship all its orders, a saga that continued through 2018. Coolest still has it for sale on its website for $399.99, though.
Facebook Home and More
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We could devote an entire story to Facebook screw-ups in the 2010s. From the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal to potentially messing up democracy itself in the US, the list goes on and on. But let’s focus on the bad products/services it tried to foist on us in the last 10 years.
- Trending Section: A way to get people talking about the news, the Trending section met its demise in 2018 after accusations that its human editors were ignoring conservative news sources.
- Facebook Home: Rather than create an actual phone, Facebook opted instead to release a user interface for Android phones that put Facebook front and center. Unfortunately, it was also a huge security risk.
- Facebook Deals: For four months, Facebook tried to take on Groupon, but despite having billions of users, still couldn’t pull it off.
- Facebook Email: Remember how in 2010 this unified inbox was supposed to be a Gmail killer? Since it died in 2014, no one else remembers either.
- Facebook Places: Another standalone app, this one trying to outdo Foursquare. The power of the check-in eventually migrated over to regular Facebook posts.
- Notify: From November 2015 to June 2016, you could get real-time news from a standalone app from Facebook, but no one bothered.
- Facebook Gifts: Wanted to only do your shopping for gifts on Facebook? That might have worked from 2012 to 2014.
Is there more? Sure, but these are depressing enough.
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Gigabit fiber expansion is expensive, even for tech giants. Google Fiber, which like Google itself is a division of parent company Alphabet, Inc., was all about fiber to the home (FttH) and launched with some fanfare in 2012 in the Kansas City metro area. It has won awards — more than a few from PCMag and its readers — for its speed and customer service. But FttH apparently isn’t a big money maker. Despite opening up in a few new cities through 2015, Google put a halt on further fiber expansion in 2016. If you’ve got it, enjoy it, because no one else is going to get it. (The same thing happened to Verizon Fios the decade prior; it ceased expansion to new cities in 2010.)
Google via PC Mag
The cyborg backlash started with Google Glass, an optical HUD that you could use with glasses or without, so all the data you’d typically see on a phone could float in front of your eyes. After selling a prototype for $1,500 in 2013, Glass went out to the general public the next year. But technical limitations and privacy concerns doomed the dorky high-specs, and by 2015, the first-generation of Glass was no longer for sale. Google has since moved on to only providing Glass as an “Enterprise Edition” for businesses at $999 a pop, but the rest of the world doesn’t care.
Google Nexus Q
Joe Britt, former engineering director at Google, introduces the Nexus Q.
Kim Kulish Corbis via Getty Images
Google tried to get into the media hub game as early as 2012 with the Nexus Q, a weird little Magic 8-Ball sized thing you hooked up to a TV to stream YouTube and other Google properties. But it didn’t work with services like Netflix or contain any local storage, which made it pretty limited for $300. Google stopped selling it by January 2013, and the Chromecast came along to erase the Q from memory.
Google Social Efforts (Buzz through +)
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Google’s rivalry with Facebook pre-dates the past decade, but really took off with the launch of Google Buzz in 2010, an attempt to bring some web-based social networking to Android and iOS users. Google killed it in October 2011, so it could concentrate on Google+.
What a waste or resources. Despite trying to graft this free social tool onto actual useful and popular Google properties like Blogger, Gmail and YouTube, Google+ never caught on. Worse, as the service was heading into the sunset, it was revealed that a bug in G+ in early 2018 exposed 500,000 profiles, and Google tried to keep it hush-hush. Then another bug came along that pushed up the timetable to kill the service from August 2019 to April. Google+ for the enterprise lives on, but the consumer version joins Friendster and MySpace in the hall of failed social networks.
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The first attempt at interactive TV by Google was Google TV in October 2010. Available first from Logitech and Sony, the Android-based hardware integrated with the Chrome browser to make an overlay that should have made TV more active for viewers. But it wasn’t what passive TV wanted, especially not in such a clunky interface. By 2014, Android TV had taken over to power digital video streaming for smart TVs and media hubs.
GoPro is synonymous with action cameras, but it had a rough few years thanks in part to a foray into drones. The Karma worked with GoPro’s Hero4 and Hero5 cameras, but it was hardly a best-in-class drone — some fell out of the sky when the battery compartment door opened. After that, it only had 15 minutes of flying time. GoPro smartly killed the $800 Karma in early 2018.
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Imagine it’s 2008. Everyone thinks Apple has something big planned in the tablet space, but who knows? So Mike Arrington, founder of TechCrunch, decides to take on Apple with a $200 tablet called the CrunchPad, which uses an open-source OS to keep costs low. He teams with Singapore-based Fusion Garage, which soon decides it doesn’t need Arrington, who sues. The CrunchPad is dead.
Fusion Garage, however, releases it under the name JooJoo, with a pre-sale in December 2009 … for $499. In January 2010, the iPad is finally announced, crushing interest in the JooJoo. A few of them even ship to buyers, but it shouldn’t have bothered. Our 1.5 star review said it was “overpriced, doesn’t do very much, and doesn’t do anything particularly well.” By November 2010, the JooJoo was discontinued, and Fusion Garage (despite trying to sell another tablet called Grid 10) followed it into the ether not long after.
The Lytro Light Field Camera
Light field photography, championed by the Lytro, was tech that would let you take a shot — then focus on the subject later. Lytro’s tech was fascinating, but not particularly well-executed. In our 2012 review of the Lytro Light Field Camera (pictured), we found that “its image quality and ergonomics are poor, making the camera little more than an overpriced toy.” Two years later, the $1,600 Lytro Illum didn’t fare much better; “its image quality is disappointing and its price sky high,” we concluded. Despite a pivot into VR video capture, the company shut down in early 2018. It shut down its hosting services at the same time, so no one can share Lytro images anymore. Those we had in our reviews at the time are all broken links.
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This one flopped twice in the last decade. The original, called Project Natal during its development, debuted in November 2010 on the Xbox 360, turning your body into the game’s controller. It even came to Windows itself in 2012 and was forced upon the first buyers of the Xbox One. By 2014, Kinect was sold separately and was on its way to being a market failure. Microsoft stopped making them in 2017, but they still turn up in weird places.
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Everyone wanted MoviePass to work. While it was founded in 2011, it exploded into the public consciousness in 2017 with a plan that would let you see as many movies as you wanted for only $10 a month. It was a doomed business model, of course, because that price is nuts, especially when trying to service an instant influx of 2 million subscribers. After a number of increasingly frustrating changes to its business model over the next few months, plus going to war with big-name cinema chains like AMC, MoviePass finally kicked the popcorn bucket in September 2019 with a one-day notice. Copycats abound, but none will ever have a price as crazy good as MoviePass once had.
Nintendo Wii U
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The Wii U was the successor to the original Wii, meant to take on the Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. It moved away from motion control toward dual-screen play, but it launched in 2012 with very few games and was slow to see any traction. Nintendo admitted defeat as early as 2014, and gave it a mercy killing in 2017, a couple of months before the Nintendo Switch debuted — a device that improved on the Wii U’s concepts and game play in almost every way.
Ouya Video Game Console
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Ouya was going to change video games. It made a massive $8.6 million as a Kickstarter in 2013, with the promise of being an Android-based console. It went on sale that year, and even supported media apps like Twitch at the time. But then it never sold, because it wasn’t great at its one job: playing games. Our two-star review said it was an “ungainly mess of a consumer product that requires more work than it’s worth to get the most out of it.” By 2015, the company assets had been sold to Razer, which to its credit continued to support Ouya users until June 2019.
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Launching a social network post-Facebook is like swimming upstream without legs. Path tried in 2010, hoping to be the social network for just you and your 50 closest friends, with chat and photo-sharing ultimately becoming more of a public journal space (because we needed another LiveJournal?). It had privacy problems (it was fined $800,000 by the FTC for storing data from underage users), and was eventually sold to a South Korean company, which killed it dead in 2018.
Sony PlayStation Vita
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Mobile gaming is all the rage, but now only Ninteno competes against smartphones for gamers’ affections. As of this year, the Sony PlayStation Vita ceased production after almost a decade of trying to catch on. As our analyst Will Greenwald put it, “It was a great system, ahead of its time and it didn’t have the Nintendo game list or pedigree that the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and 3DS had. It eventually just became this puzzling handheld only enthusiasts and Japanophiles dug.”
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Qwikster never existed as anything other than a lesson in big companies dealing with public backlash. In September 2011, Netflix decided it would break itself into two services, one for streaming video, the other (Qwikster) for renting DVDs via mail, plus video games. Supposedly 800,000 people left Netflix in a huff over the move (and the fee increases Netflix had planned). So Qwikster never happened and today you can still log in with only one Netflix account to stream movies and rent DVDs and Blu-rays. But Netflix never did add video games and continues to gradually increase prices. So who really won here?
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
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The Galaxy Note 7 was a lovely phone … until it started exploding. Pants pockets were scorched, people awoke to smoking smartphones on their night stands and airplane passengers were spooked by malfunctioning phablets. Samsung issued a recall, but eventually threw in the towel completely and blamed faulty batteries. But while the Note 7 will go down as a huge disaster, the botched rollout didn’t kill the Note brand; the Note 8, 9 and 10 have since arrived without incident.
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Samsung played in the digital camera market with its NX system, introduced in 2010. Mirrorless tech was in its infancy then, but the system’s performance ramped up quickly. The flagship NX1, from 2014, offered a BSI CMOS sensor and 4K video — tech that would take some time to make it to other systems.
The NX300 followed in 2015, putting the NX1 toolset in a more affordable package. But the camera system struggled to gain traction in the market. Samsung did everything it could think of — including gimmicky events where photographers could swap an old — even broken — SLR for a free NX1, but it didn’t work.
Samsung unceremoniously killed the system later that year. It’s a shame, because the cameras were ahead of their time. — Jim Fisher, lead analyst for digital cameras
Secret via PC Mag
The Secret app was intended as a place to reveal your inner-most secrets. You know, back before people remembered there was such a thing as privacy (thanks to Facebook’s scandals). One problem: The anonymity that Secret allowed made people act like jerks. Enough so that an entire country (Brazil) banned the app. It didn’t fit with the remaining founder’s vision, so after only a few years existence and a meteoric rise, the popular app shut down in 2015.
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Steam proved to be a popular way to distribute PC games, so Steam-based hardware seemed like a natural evolution. But despite an early showing of Steam Machines in 2014 — which manufacturers could make with the Linux-based Steam OS software — they didn’t ship for over a year. And when they did arrive, even from big names in gaming like Alienware (above), they didn’t sell. Perhaps because Steam put itself in competition with its own (now-discontinued) Steam Link set-top box for TVs. By 2018, Steam itself removed the Steam Machines page from its nav bar, despite claiming the Machines are still a thing.
Tizen running on a Samsung Z910F phone and SM-R380 Smartwatch at the Tizen Developer Conference in San Francisco June 3, 2014.
Josh Edelson AFP Getty Images
Samsung backed this Linux offshoot for mobile devices from the get-go, hoping to forge a new OS that would use HTML5 apps to make smartphone users happy. Getting it on their phones would have meant controlling the money that typically goes to Google when you license Android for a phone. But Tizen never took off, not in phones, smartwatches, or tablets. In fact, the only success Tizen has seen is in smart TVs, where it resides today in about 21 percent of them. So it’s not a failure or flop in that regard — since it still exists. It’s simply a long way from where it started on small screens.
Vine via PC Mag
This is less a tech flop than it is a case of tragic mismanagement by the company that acquired it. Vine was an instant hit when launched in 2012, limiting shared videos to only six seconds long and forcing creators to be extraordinarily creative. Twitter bought it and couldn’t figure out how to make money off the service — money-making not being Twitter’s forte — so it shut down in 2016. Vine’s co-founder said he’d launch a sort of Vine 2.0 by 2017, but financial and legal hurdles killed that before it was even born. Maybe his latest project, Byte (Vine 3.0?), will eventually become available, but with TikTok taking over short-form video, who’s going to care?
Windows 8 + Windows RT + Windows Phone
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With the memory of Vista fading, Microsoft was riding high on the success of Windows 7 when it launched the ill-advised Windows 8 in 2012. Changes to the OS — tiles, ugh — and attempts to make it more mobile-friendly all sent users into a rage. A year later, with Windows 8.1, Microsoft was walking back a lot of the interface “enhancements” to be more like Windows 7 again. When Windows 10 came along as a free replacement, and was welcomed with open arms by 8-haters and lovers alike.
Windows RT was a cripple-ware version of Windows 8, made just for tablets and laptops with lower-power chips to save money. It was crippled in that it only would run apps from the Windows Store — an Apple-esque move at which traditional PC users chafed. Thankfully, when Microsoft moved the Surface line of hardware to the high end, it killed off the low-end RT OS.
Microsoft’s other big OS failure came in three stages through the last decade, with Windows Phone 7, Phone 8 and finally Windows 10 Mobile. Maybe someone out there liked having their desktop OS shrunk down to a phone screen, but obviously not enough. Microsoft finally killed the last vestiges of its experiments with mobile in late 2018. Bill Gates blames the feds.
Honorable Mention: Apple’s Project Titan
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It’s taken as a given that Apple’s been looking into battery-powered, self-driving vehicles for a long time. Its autonomous vehicle group even has a name, Project Titan, and has been in existence since 2014. In 2018, the group had 27 cars registered for road testing. However, it recently laid off 200 people and shifted other staff around. Yet, it also bought Drive.AI, a tech for artificial intelligence in self-driving vehicles. Could a car still launch from the Cupertino loop by 2023, give or take? Or license tech out to others to make such a car? Check back again in 10 years.