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10 Tech Flops of the Past Decade

As the last decade pulls away from us in the rearview mirror, we are reflecting on some of the world’s biggest tech flops, and products that won’t be making it to the 2020′s. 

The Verge’s has a full list of 84 projects, but to showcase the variety of missteps we’ve witnessed in the past 10 years, we’ve curated a random list of 10. Enjoy the trip down memory lane! 

13. MICROSOFT KIN

Before Windows Phone, there were the Microsoft Kin — the “social phones” that the company infamously discontinued just six weeks after they went on sale in May 2010 because they were that particularly annoying combination of terrible and expensive. The Kin One and Kin Two were supposed to be the second coming of the popular T-Mobile Sidekick — whose creator, Danger, was snapped up by Microsoft for an estimated $500 million to work on this specific project — and featured a unique interface that put social networking feed front and center and let you drag and drop items to share with friends.

But they also featured a hilariously untenable monthly price tag of $30 per month for a Verizon data plan, on top of your phone plan. They launched without support for Twitter replies or retweets, or YouTube, and without microSD storage even though SanDisk had announced that specific feature. Word was that forces within Microsoft had sabotaged the project in favor of the upcoming Windows Phone. That makes sense, considering Microsoft knew full well that focus groups hated it. The company wound up writing off the Kin to the tune of at least $240 million, not counting what it paid for Danger.

18. BLACKBERRY

At the start of the decade, BlackBerry was on top of the world. Even as the iPhone turned five, BlackBerry-owner Research in Motion had record subscribers and its iconic PDA-style cell phones were still the must-have gadgets of teenagers, business executives, and celebrities alike. But within months of its all-time subscriber high of more than 80 million in the summer of 2012, everything started to unravel. The iPhone 4S had been released the year prior, and Apple’s iOS was adding new features at a rapid clip, while Google’s Android operating system started catching on globally.

Instead of focusing on its strengths, BlackBerry instead released an alarming and inexplicable series of misguided products. From the PlayBook tablet that shipped without an email client to the disastrous BlackBerry 10 OS, the company released one embarrassing flop after another in pretty much every product category imaginable. Even when BlackBerry went back to basics, like with the physical keyboard on the Android-powered Priv, the company realized far too late in the game that it was never going to catch up to Apple and Google. The BlackBerry brand is best known now as a footnote in the history of mobile computing.

25. HP TOUCHPAD

What do you get when you take Apple’s first-generation iPad, replace its metal frame with a greasy plastic body, give it a grainy touchscreen, install a new software platform with next to no third-party app support, and then put it on shelves for the same price as the iPad in July 2011, four months after the iPad 2 was released? You get the HP TouchPad, an unmitigated disaster of a product that not only sold terribly, but also completely torpedoed the webOS mobile device platform.

The TouchPad was such a failure that less than two months after launch, HP announced it would discontinue all webOS devices — phones and tablets included — and slashed the price of the TouchPad from $499 down to a measly $99 for the 16GB model. Only then did it actually start moving off shelves, and the company made another production run in order to use up components it had left over. By 2012, the TouchPad was a faded memory, and in 2013, HP sold all of its webOS assets to LG, which would utilize them for its TV line. webOS for phones and tablets was officially dead as we knew it, and we can blame the TouchPad for its demise. 

32. RED HYDROGEN

RED’s cameras had such an impact on digital filmmaking, that it was easy to buy into the company’s ceaseless hype around its first steps into the smartphone world. According to RED founder Jim Jannard, the Hydrogen One would have a “holographic display” and revolutionize filmmaking with a new and improved 3D format called “4V.” It’d even be able to attach to RED cameras and be used with a RED imaging sensor and compatible lenses. Then, the phone appeared.

It’s hard to sum up exactly what went wrong, because it’s kind of everything: the basics were dated and flawed. And the fancy new features were outright bad — the screen was far from holographic, and the 3D effect looked more like a lenticular lunchbox than a next-gen revolution (let alone something good enough for this generation of mediocre 3D). The fancy accessories never launched, and at $1,300, there was just no redeeming this device. Eventually, Jannard would leave the company citing health concerns and shut the phone project down on his way out.

38. COLOR

All but forgotten today, few Silicon Valley startups ever had as much hype before their debut. Color’s hype stemmed from the massive $41 million its co-founders raised in 2011 to build the app, a photo-sharing service designed to help you explore the world around you. Instead of following individuals, as on Instagram, on Color you would open the app to see what pictures that nearby users had posted. The app was mocked widely at the time for its bizarre user interface, which used strange invented characters for basic functions and was hilariously difficult to navigate as a result. Just a year and a half after launch, Color denied reports that it was shutting its doors — and a month later, confirmed them.

Ultimately, Instagram was just a much better photo-sharing app than Color was — unless you were at a special event, it was almost always more interesting to look at photos from people you knew or had followed for a particular reason than to look at whatever photos people were posting around you. Still, Instagram ultimately offered various ways to view photos and videos by location, too. 

42. ANTENNAGATE

Apple doesn’t screw things up often, but when it does make mistakes, they tend to go big. And none were as big as “Antennagate,” a problem with the iPhone 4 that saw signal strength drop when the external antennas were blocked by simply holding the phone. Then-CEO Steve Jobs infamously advised one customer to “just avoid holding it that way.” The issue escalated, with Apple first issuing a software update to address a “mistake” in how antenna bars were displayed, before eventually admitting to the defect and supplying iPhone 4 customers with free cases. Antennagate would come to define a classic Apple scandal: deny the problem, issue a software update, and then eventually, reluctantly make amends with customers.

57. LILY DRONE

A fully-waterproof drone that can follow you down a mountain, take off when you toss it into the air, then automatically take your picture — even in 2019, that sounds like the best drone ever. But this 2015 idea was a crowdfunding disaster. After years of hype and anticipation, it was revealed that the company’s promo video was a sham, likely faked using footage from GoPros that may have even been carried by a DJI drone instead of the Lily itself.

Lily Robotics never shipped a single unit out of the 60,000 preorders it received, and got sued by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. Even though the company received $34 million from their backers and another $15 million in venture capital, many of said backers never received a promised refund. But Lilly somehow rose from the ashes in 2017 to give us “Lily Next-Gen,” a completely uninspiring drone that couldn’t even get wet. 

69. SAMSUNG’S GALAXY FOLD

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a phone launch like the Samsung Galaxy Fold’s. After just a couple of days my review unit just… broke. And so did the units of several other people because Samsung didn’t tell them to leave the screen protector on. Somewhere north of 50 percent of the most high profile reviewers in tech had busted units.

How Samsung thought this device was ready to launch at all, much less as such a high-profile device, remains a mystery to this day. The company reworked the design and re-released it later, but the damage was (literally) done.

Folding phones may yet still be A Thing, but the first one landed with A Thunk.

79. SECRET

For a brief moment in 2014, an “anonymish” social network was all the rage. Secret showed you messages from your friends and friends of friends, without identifying anyone by name. The result was a relatively safe space to talk about sex, drugs, and other things that would get you kicked off Facebook. It quickly amassed 15 million users and raised $35 million.

But one enduring lesson of the 2010s is that nothing anonymous can stay. Where there is no permanent identity, there is no permanent social network. Just 16 months after launch, Secret’s co-founder tried to save face by pulling the plug himself, sending Secret to the anonymous app graveyard alongside Yik Yak, Ask.fm, Formspring, and many others. The founders pledged to give the money they had raised back to investors — though they may have kept a few million for themselves

84. GOOGLE NEXUS Q

Everyone was confused by Google’s Nexus Q when it debuted in 2012, including The Verge — which is probably why the bowling ball of a media streamer crashed and burned before it even came to market. Priced at $299, plus another $399 for speakers and $49 for cables, the Nexus Q was incredibly expensive for what amounted to a gimmicky paperweight. It only streamed from YouTube, Play Music, and Play Video; had weird connection issues; and required an app to change any of the device’s settings.

Shortly after it was announced, Google pushed Nexus Q’s official launch date, telling those that pre-ordered it that the company ”heard initial feedback from users that they want Nexus Q to do even more than it does today,” and it “decided to postpone the consumer launch of Nexus Q while we work on making it even better.” That launch never came: Google quietly shelved the device (while deflecting discontinuation rumors) and gave away its remaining prototypes for free. 

 

To enjoy the full list of 84 flops, visit: https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/20/21029499/decade-fails-flops-tech-science-culture-apple-google-data-kickstarter-2010-2019

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