Top tech fails of the last decade

Creating a great tech product – whether it’s a piece of innovative software or powerful cutting-edge hardware – is no mean feat.

You don’t have to look any further than the plethora of cancelled projects from tech giant Google to see how difficult it is to turn a new idea into something meaningful and perhaps even lucrative.

Despite its vast resources and capital, the company has repeatedly launched and dropped numerous experiments and start-ups.

One of the recent examples is its Loon Internet-beaming balloons, which were intended to deliver Internet to remote locations, but were likely made redundant by SpaceX’s Starlink service.

However, while SpaceX’s Starlink appears poised for success, one could also ask CEO Elon Musk about how one little mishap relating to his other major company – Tesla – can make a scene.

When Musk showed off Tesla’s Cybertruck bakkie, the supposed bullet-proof car window shattered when hit by a metal ball.

The moment was a viral hit on the Internet and detracted from an otherwise intriguing unveiling.

Since the field of technology is an area where new ground is broken, these types of mistakes can be pretty common.

Below are 10 monumental tech flops from the past 10 years – ranked from least bad to worst.

10. LG CLOi robot

Few real-life scenes are as cringeworthy as the moments in which LG’s former Senior Vice President for Marketing Dave VanderWaal attempted to engage with the company’s LG CLOi robot during CES 2018.

While initially responding to Dave’s greeting and a question regarding his schedule, CLOi subsequently failed to answer three more questions.

This was met a mixture of awkward silence and scattered laughs from the crowd of journalists in attendance.

9. TayTweets

Microsoft’s AI-powered Twitter chatbot Tay caused a furore only hours after her launch back in March 2016.

The bot was designed to imitate the language patterns of a 19-year-old American girl and learn through interaction with real Twitter users.

While Tay initially provided standard responses and could even caption memes, she soon started tweeting a range of insulting, racist, and inflammatory remarks based on inputs she had processed from other users.

Among her most troubling remarks, Tay praised Hitler, called for putting black people in concentration camps, and asked that feminists burn in hell.

16 hours after her debut, and with 96,000 tweets on her profile, Microsoft suspended the account for adjustments and blamed a “coordinated attack” by a “subset of people” that exploited a vulnerability in Tay for the issues. 

8. Google Glass

The initial idea of Google Glass was that it would be a ubiquitous computer capable of performing the typical tasks of a smartphone, supplemented by augmented reality features.

This would, for example, not only allow a user to search for instructions on how to fix a pipe but let them see visualised instructions in the real world on how to repair them.

A user would also be able to get visual navigation shown in their surrounding environment to guide them to a destination.

After killing the initial prototype in 2015, the company shifted it to be aimed more towards enterprise customers than the everyday consumer.

7. Juicero Press

The Juicero Press was promoted as a device that would greatly simplify the process of extracting juice from fruits and vegetables.

The major caveat was that the user would have to buy packets of pre-pressed blends of fruits and vegetable pulp exclusively available from the manufacturer via a subscription service.

The Juicero Press was capable of reading a QR code on the packets – priced between $5 and $7 each – to verify it was legitimate and ensure the contents had not yet expired.

At its launch, the juicer was priced at $699, but shortly thereafter dropped to $400 due to bad sales.

At one stage, a Bloomberg report showed that the contents of the packages could be squeezed out even faster by hand, producing the same quality juice, which proved the Juicero Press was just an overpriced squeezing machine.

6. Quibi

The premise of Quibi was interesting – combine elements of social media and conventional streaming services into a single app.

Instead of the usual 20-minute sitcoms and 40-minute dramas one would get on services like Netflix, Quibi embraced the short attention span of the modern Internet user with short videos of no more than 10 minutes.

The company had enlisted an impressive roster of high-profile actors and celebrities to build its content, after raising $1.75 billion from investors.

Despite launching at a time when Internet usage was at its peak and streaming services saw increased traffic, Quibi never took off, and was shut down only seven months after its debut in April 2020.

5. Nintendo Wii U

As the successor to the highly successful Wii console, Nintendo fans had great expectations for the Wii U, which introduced a controller with a touch screen to which games could be streamed when the TV was in use by someone else.

However, the console ended up as Nintendo’s worst seller since the Virtual Boy from the 90s.

Analysts have blamed the failure on a variety of factors – including its confusing name, an apparent attempt to compete with a rising mobile gaming market, and a lack of games.

Nintendo had only managed to sell 13.56 million units of this console in seven years. This compares to nearly 80 million Switch consoles sold in just four years.

4. Facebook Portal launch

Facebook’s decision to launch a smart display and videophone brand not long after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and a major data leak was not a good move.

The platform provided video chat capabilities via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, with cameras that can zoom in and track people’s movements automatically.

While its capabilities were praised by reviewers, Facebook’s controversial privacy reputation and fears over Portal’s ability to watch and listen all the time did not help in the sales department.

According to data from Strategy Analytics, Facebook Portal product shipments totalled 1 million units in 2019 and 200,000 in the first quarter of 2020 in the US and Canada, claiming only 2% of the combined smart speaker market.

This is opposed to the 45% held by Amazon, and 30% taken up by Google at the time.

3. Windows Phone

When the world’s largest PC operating system vendor announced the launch of its own mobile OS, people paid attention.

Microsoft poured millions into the development and marketing of its Windows Phone platform, which was launched in October 2010.

Core to its issues was the fact that the company had tried to squeeze a UI similar to its Windows 7 desktop OS on to a mobile device.

This bold move introduced an experience that mobile users were not familiar with, with an arrangement of live tiles instead of the static icons presented in Android and iOS.

Microsoft failed to garner sufficient consumer interest to attract third-party app developers, which meant that Google and Apple offered many more apps.

2. Cyberpunk 2077

Arguably the most anticipated video game of the decade was met with severe backlash from disappointed players over game-breaking bugs and graphical glitches after its release in December 2020.

This was despite the fact that the game had been delayed on numerous occasions in order to ensure buyers received a complete product.

Subsequent to its release, it was revealed that publisher CD Projekt Red had put pressure on the development team to rush the game to release.

To make matters worse, it appeared the company was aware of issues on the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game, as it would not provide early versions of these to reviewers before the game’s launch.

Reaction to the launch sent the company’s shares nose-diving. Two class-action lawsuits have also been filed by investors against CD Projekt Red.

Adding to all of this was a hacking incident that saw an attacker steal source code to several of the company’s games, including Cyberpunk 2077, The Witcher 3, and Gwent.

1. Theranos blood testing system

Theranos was once believed to be a cutting-edge health technology company and was even valued at $9 billion at one point.

The company claimed it had developed a breakthrough system that would make blood testing faster and easier.

At the heart of his was a new compact blood testing machine the size of a desktop computer that could supposedly conduct more than 240 blood tests from minute blood samples.

An FDA investigation later uncovered that the company’s technology was highly inaccurate and it was actually using conventional machines and testing methods behind the scenes to fool investors.

In actual fact, the machine could only perform 15 out of the 240 tests, and even for these, it would produce inaccurate results.

Eccentric founder Elizabeth Holmes and former company president Ramesh Balwani are facing charges of wire fraud and conspiracy, with their trial set down for 9 March 2021.

Now read: The tech that will keep South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccines safe from criminals

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Top tech fails of the last decade