The Biggest Tech Failures of 2010
As we wrap up 2010, it's a good time to look back. This was a good year for consumer technology, introducing everything from advanced smartphones to cheap e-readers to bold new set-top boxes. And let's not forget the rise of the tablet with the introduction of the Apple iPad.
But you can't really appreciate the highs without remembering the lows, right? And this year was filled with botched experiments and bad ideas. Here's a look at 2010's biggest bloopers and failures in tech.
Google's foray into the social networking/microblogging sphere backfired when people found themselves reconnected with ex-lovers and old coworkers due to an "automatic follow" algorithm. Gmail users weren't too keen on having their most-contacted lists aired to the public, and the Buzz fiasco ultimately ended in a class-action settlement. The service was a tough sell to begin with, providing no Facebook integration and no way to push status updates to other social networks.
Google wasn't the only company to introduce a botched social network this year. The biggest flaw of Apple's Ping--and there are many--is the fact that it's accessible only through iTunes or an iOS app. Want to commit social network suicide? Pull an Apple and shut yourself off from the rest of the Web.
Chalk up the decline of net neutrality to a few key events. First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to stop Internet service providers from throttling peer-to-peer file sharing. Then, Google and Verizon proposed their own net neutrality framework that abandoned wireless regulation and caused a major backlash among tech watchers. The FCC talked of reclassifying broadband to gain more regulatory power, but is now considering softer rules to appease both sides.
McAfee's False Positive
A bad software update from McAfee put computer viruses to shame in April, when it shut down thousands of corporate Windows XP computers around the country. The problem? McAfee's software flagged a critical system file as malicious and dumped it into quarantine. Whoops!
Palm Pre and WebOS
If you thought Palm's Pre would get a second wind on AT&T and Verizon this year, you'd be wrong. Gartner didn't even give the Pre's WebOS its own category when summing up smartphone market share. And if you thought WebOS would make a big comeback under HP, well, that hasn't happened yet--unless you count touchscreen printers.
The HP Slate
Even before Apple released the iPad, HP was positioning itself as a main competitor. The HP Slate was supposed to have everything the iPad didn't--Adobe Flash, front and rear cameras, USB input, removable storage--but plans changed when HP acquired Palm. Suddenly, the Slate went dark, eventually emerging as a business tablet with limited appeal. It was so limited, in fact, that HP expected to sell only 5000 units, but "exceeded expectations" with 9000 orders.
2010 was supposed to be the year of tablets, but instead only one dominated the market. Sure, Samsung's Galaxy Tab is a decent enough rival to Apple's iPad, but most manufacturers decided to wait until next year, when Google will release Honeycomb, a tablet-oriented version of Android. Other Android tablets, such as ICD's Ultra (pictured), simply vanished from public consciousness.
Google Nexus One
Tech watchers had high hopes for Google's own Android smartphone, whose contract-free online-sales model was supposed to stick it to wireless carriers. Just one snag: Google relies on those wireless providers to make Android a success in the first place. When Sprint and Verizon lost interest in carrying the Nexus One, so did Google, and the revolution died.
Plastic Logic Que
Announced, delayed, and killed in the span of eight months, Plastic Logic's Que was just another casualty in the e-reader price war. As lovely as an 8.5-by-11-inch E-Ink display sounds, the $649 starting price tag pretty much guaranteed that the Que would be dead on arrival. Plastic Logic says it's still working on a next-generation model.
Gray Powell and Brian Hogan
Calling Apple engineer Gray Powell a failure for losing the iPhone 4 prototype in a bar is a little too harsh--after all, it was his birthday--so we'll split the award and give him just half. The other half goes to Brian Hogan, the guy who picked up the phone and sold it to Gizmodo for $5000. Hogan failed to cover his tracks, and now "regrets" his "mistake in not doing more to return the phone," says his lawyer. The fact that a lawyer is saying this should tell you just how far that case has gone.
White iPhone 4
Vaporware isn't usually Apple's thing, but the white iPhone 4 went up in smoke after months of broken promises. First it was pushed to July. Then "later this year." And now it's supposedly slated for spring 2011, which raises one question: Doesn't it make more sense for Apple to focus on a pale iPhone 5?
After dropping Jeeves in 2006, Ask.com was never quite the same. The company redesigned its search product several times over the past few years, and in November finally decided to throw in the towel and outsource searches to a third party. Ask.com will now focus solely on its question-and-answer service--at least until it gets the redesign bug again.
Blockbuster's bankruptcy filing was no surprise to users of video rental 2.0--namely, Netflix, Redbox, Hulu, and various set-top boxes and cable on-demand services. Although the company does offer Blockbuster On-Demand and mail-in rentals, this might be a case of "too little, too late," because there's no strategy to make its services any better than what's already available. Blockbuster's rival, Hollywood Video, went bankrupt and closed its doors in February.
We saved the biggest failure for last. Microsoft's Kin phone had the perfect setup for a colossal flop, from heaps of hype (the Verizon-Microsoft collaboration was once rumored to be an iPhone-killer) to a splashy marketing campaign aimed at cool teens and twentysomethings. But the product itself had the limitations of a feature phone--no video sharing, GPS, or apps--despite smartphone data pricing. The Kin was discontinued after just six weeks, though it recently made a comeback with stripped-down features and cheaper subscription plans. We suspect that Microsoft and Verizon are just dumping old inventory.