The top 15 worst gadgets of the decade that we’d rather leave in the past
From projects that went terribly wrong to ideas that turned out to be not that brilliant, here are some of the biggest fails and flops of the decade in tech.
There are a few reasons for these gadgets to be pitifully listed here. It may have been discontinued for good, it may have been out-teched for a direct competitor, or — gasp! — it may have been canceled even before its launch (poor AirPower). Too bad. Grab a tissue and let’s weep for them.
15. Google Reader (2005–2013)
This goes way back. Most young people — amazed as they are with technology — may never have actually heard of it. But it was a thing and for quite a time. Google Reader was a web-based application connected to your Gmail account, that would basically gather all of your RSS subscriptions to one place — with a much clean and well-designed interface.
The reason why Google killed Reader is still unknown — as it was the most used and favorite RSS reader worldwide on the web. Google claims that the usage of the software was in constant decline, but this is something they have never actually shown through numbers and we just have to go along with it. Life goes on.
14. Vine (2013–2016)
Vine has had its Warhol moment. It became a real hit on the web in 2013 exclusively because of its dynamic looping 6-second videos. There were plenty of profiles dedicated to laughter — challenged as they were to tell a funny story in a dramatic 6-second video — and singing as well. It seems promising, right? The problem is Twitter had spent US$30 million to purchase Vine very in the beginning — precisely in October 2012, when it wasn’t still actually a thing and the company came down to three men only — and never quite knew what do to with it. When Instagram introduced videos — and kept enhancing its new feature throughout the years — , Vine stopped growing until it was finally shut down by Twitter in 2016.
Like everything tech-related we see out there, it is now trending back to revive its legacy under its successor Bite, released just now in January 2020. Let’s see if this one takes off.
13. Selfie Stick (2014–)
You may hate it or you may love it, but you most probably do have an opinion about it. The selfie stick became pretty common worldwide in 2014, a true must-have for some people when traveling solo. At the same time though, it became a real torment for others. The more crowded the place, the more harassment it caused, to the point that the selfie stick was banned from museums, music festivals, and even Disney World. Let’s keep it that way, shall we?
12. Android Tablets (2011–)
When Apple introduced the first iPad back in 2010, several competitors began to rise under Google’s operational system Android. Samsung, Motorola, Huawei, Asus, Lenovo, Amazon, among many other tech companies joined the new device category race. Nevertheless, the competition hasn’t been quite exciting so far, as Android tablets — regardless of the developer company — have never reached the level of performance that the Apple iPad has throughout the years.
When Google itself joined the race — not just with their own built-in Android, but producing tablets as well — , it was expected that they could perform better — specially with Pixel C, released in September 2015, and later on with the 2-in-1 laptop/tablet Pixel Slate, released in October 2018 — but those have also flopped to the point that Google announced that they were done making tablets. Guess the track is clear for the finishing line.
11. BlackBerry Company (1984–2016)
One could say BlackBerry created the concept of smartphones. It was basically “a phone that had some sort of e-mail capability and could access the baby internet”, as Steve Jobs would describe during the launch of the first iPhone at the MacWorld event back in 2007. But more than that, BlackBerry phones were pioneering when it comes to bringing a vast amount of models, all of them with QWERTY keyboard — instead of the terrible keypad that converts numbers to letters during the 90s and the early 00s — , featuring the desired BBM — the exclusive messenger between BlackBerry phones that was a hit between teens — and the status of being considered essential for businessmen. Plus, Barack Obama was a huge fan of them.
When the decade of 2010 started, BlackBerry was still on top of sales when it comes to the smartphone market, but Apple’s iPhone 4 had just been launched — all of the prior generations had been hits worldwide and were already a big deal –, plus there were also the Android phones, although they were still crawling into the smartphone industry. Even so, by 2014, the company was still seen as one of the greatest tech companies in the world — but the numbers showed that the world had dramatically changed and just wasn’t the same as before.
All that led to BlackBerry look for new paths and update their smartphones to compete — or try to — against the new mobile companies of the moment — that simply were not there competing in the smartphone market years ago. BlackBerry did launch a few outstanding products, but the high price barely caught the attention of the consumers as Apple and Samsung managed to do with their smartphone models. In 2015, they attempted for the last time using their own system, BlackBerry 10, on a mobile device and they launched the BlackBerry Leap in March, but it was just another flop to add to the list.
Partnered with Google’s Android in 2016, BlackBerry announced they would no longer fabricate smartphones, outsourcing the production of new phones to international partners — such as TCL Communication — , and focusing only on software development. RIP.
10. Microsoft Windows 8 (2012–2016)
From time to time, Microsoft launches a new lousy Windows version — but usually before and after a good, well-approved version. After Windows 3.1, 95, and 98 were greatly reviewed back in the 90s, there was the Windows ME (Millenium Edition) launch in 2000 that didn’t quite meet everyone’s expectations. But then, just one year later, Windows XP was released and it became probably the best Windows version in Microsoft’s history. After that though, another slip: in 2006, Windows Vista was widely bashed for its terrible user experience. Following the roller coaster, in 2009, Windows 7 was announced and it was just neat. It worked pretty fine and it was another triumph for Bill Gates to celebrate.
However, the ups and downs kept going as Windows 8 came right after and it was horrific. The idea of removing the Start menu button — the world-famous hallmark of the Windows interface — was terribly reviewed by the users and the new concept was a confusing tile-based UI, that clearly tried to simulate a tablet screen — much like the Windows Phone style, as we’ll see on its review.
Windows 8 was so disastrously criticized that, in 2016, Microsoft announced a highly changed new version — Windows 10 — and effectively recovered from their last flop. What’s next?
9. Foldable Smartphones (2019-)
Definitely the biggest announcement we have had mobile-related in the past few years. The foldable screen on a smartphone was a concept that many tech companies have dreamed of and sought through the last few years. Samsung finally did it last year — or kind of. The Galaxy Fold (image above) was launched in April 2019 and it had, in fact, a truly foldable screen. It would be great if it wasn’t for the fact that the screen broke after one day of use, as The Verge’s Executive Editor Dieter Bohn reported.
Within days, Samsung decided to recall all of the Galaxy Fold units — in order to properly improve the product. Five months after its original debut, the Galaxy Fold had its second chance and it was finally relaunched in September 2019 — but, oh well, yet a new case of the screen breaking after one day of use was reported — now by TechCrunch’s Hardware Editor Brian Heater. Even so, Samsung must have considered the relaunch some sort of success, because — as of now, in February 2020 — the company has just launched their second foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Flip. The problem is — what are the odds? — it has also failed on durability tests.
In the meantime, just in November 2019, Motorola announced the reboot of their world-famous Razr V3 — an absolute hit of sales from the 2000s — but now with quite an enhancement: a foldable screen. However, just like Samsung’s foldable phones, Motorola’s new Razr (image above) has failed as well, breaking after 27k folds on the CNET folding test. As reported by Input Mag, it also had the screen broken after just a week of use. Not just that, but users also complained about ‘bumps and lumps’ — to which Motorola responded that “it’s normal”. Plus, the phone is not water-resistant at all, a real risk these days.
If we think over the whole process of adaptability that smartphones went through since the 2000s — when they had fixed, plastic, mini QWERTY keyboards — until last year when tech companies managed to reach to point of actually launching phones with a foldable screen, yes, it was absolutely groundbreaking for the whole tech industry, hands down. However, on the other hand, it felt like 2019 was a false start, as plenty of issues regarding the foldable screens have been reported, most of them within days of use. But it sure is a start.
8. Apple Maps (2012-)
When Apple introduced iOS 6 in 2012, they also released their own map service app. Or… They tried to, at least. Apple Maps was launched with several major issues. They seemed to have been poorly developed overall, to the point that it became a joke worldwide and memes were scattered all over the internet, through Twitter, 9gag, Reddit, 4chan, etc. Silicon Valley had its own Apple Maps jokes and even the London Underground had fun with it as well. If that’s not enough joke to you, there’s a Tumblr — The Amazing iOS 6 Maps — dedicated exclusively to all hilarious errors found on the app.
Comically users had to immediately download Google Maps — that had just become Apple’s new main rival on this unprecedented ground they were now entering in — when they bought a new iPhone or iPad. Apple’s reputation with maps was terribly damaged and it took years to be restored. Recently, in September 2019, they released a new version that has quite improved the maps, the result of a big remake Apple started working on in 2018. It was about time.
7. Microsoft Windows Phone (2010–2019)
The Windows Phones and their colored tile-based UI were actually not all bad — on the contrary, they were actually a bit appealing and worked alright. The problem was Microsoft announcing them, by saying that the iPhone-dependency was finally over, something Samsung sought over the decade and was much more successful than Microsoft ever was.
Another key point was the poor Windows Phone Store. It was frightfully missing important apps that iPhone and Android users could find on Apple’s App Store or Google Play Store. Microsoft spent years trying to persuade the developers to create apps for the Windows Phone Store as well, but they were mostly flawed attempts.
The Windows Phone was finally killed by 2019, with Microsoft announcing that their (few) users should switch to iPhone or Android instead. Okay, if you say so.
6. Smart Glasses (2012–)
Imagine if you could actually see like Marvel’s Iron Man. Well, Google Glass (image above) was quite similar. Or something like that. They were first announced during a Google event back in 2012, with Google’s co-founder and former CEO Sergey Brin saying that the concept would change the world. They were basically a “Google sight” for everything that you would aim your eyes on.
Problem is that people started noticing that a camera staring at them at any moment would roughly cause some privacy implications — specially after tech blogger Robert Scoble posted a somewhat scary photo where he actually wears his Google Glass in the shower. Many people still say nowadays that he and his world-famous shower photo were the starting point to the failure of the device — oh, well.
The technology kept it going later on with Snapchat’s Spectacles (image above) in 2016 — yes, Scoble did it again and posted a photo in the shower with the new gadget as well — , but it never actually became a thing among end-users. Maybe we should keep this technology restricted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
5. Data Privacy On The Web
Data privacy is definitely one of the huge public concerns of the digital age. It was March 2018 when the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted. It was a major operation that has secretly influenced Trump’s election in 2016, Brexit, and many other political cases worldwide — Netflix’s documentary on the Cambridge Analytica scandal is definitely a must-watch.
All that led to #OwnYourData and plenty of data privacy-related campaigns from important people for everyone to ‘wake up’ and reclaim property of their own data. Of course, this is something almost no one could have predicted back in 2010 when the decade started, but it is something that we — and hopefully the tech companies and the governments as well — can work on for the next decade.
4. HTC Facebook Phones (2011–2013)
An old-style smartphone — with plastic, QWERTY keyboard on it — and a Facebook button oddly placed on the bottom of the keyboard. And what is the button for? The purpose was to make it really easy and fast to share everything you wanted on your Facebook profile — one click away. That was HTC ChaCha (image above), announced in June 2011. Okay, moving on. It’s 2013 now and HTC launches an Android device that came from the stores already pre-loaded with Facebook’s own user interface layer, the Facebook Home. And that was the disastrous HTC First (image below) — a.k.a. the Facebook Phone.
The idea to develop a Facebook-customized smartphone was just terrible — and a bit cocky, let’s agree — , but it was also badly developed, with a poor camera and an underwhelming performance of the Facebook Home software. Everything about it failed so terribly that the smartphone was discontinued after just one month, and both ReadWrite and Time magazines named the HTC First one of the biggest flops in the tech industry. Poor Zuckerberg.
3. Apple AirPower (2018–2019)
The product that never was. Apple announced the idea of the AirPower in September 2017, along with the iPhone 8, 8+, and X introductions, and it was originally planned for early 2018. However, things didn’t go as expected for Apple’s hardware developers and engineers.
The concept of the AirPower was to charge simultaneously your Apple devices through a wireless charging pad. The images announced by Apple included an iPhone X, an AirPods case, and an Apple Watch, which sounded great back then, charging everything at once — what could go wrong? Well, the project was intriguingly canceled out of the blue, with Apple’s Senior Vice President Dan Riccio’s unceremonious announcement:
“After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward.”
Truth is that the reason for the cancellation is still a reason for debate. What it roughly seems is that Apple found an unexpected barrier that even their inventive and ingenious engineering teams could not go through, and simply decided it just wasn’t worth it to keep going on that path.
2. Google+ (2011–2019)
The emptiest social network ever. It actually wasn’t that hard to imagine another failure after Google Wave (2009–2010) and Google Buzz (2010–2011) had already flopped as Google’s previous attempts to build its own social network, but Google+ did have a few features that were rather interesting when it was launched back in 2011.
The idea to link with the Blogger service and other features like YouTube and Google Drive, or to separate your posts depending on the privacy that you seek for each post through circles — that were mostly empty though — , or, more importantly, the idea of an official Google’s own social platform was quite promising. Nevertheless, it has never really gotten off the ground.
The circles could be divided into family, friends, co-workers, etc., but most people hadn’t put much effort to properly use the feature — everyone was already on Facebook, why did we need another social network? — , and if they did use the circles, almost no one would actually post something in there — everyone was already posting about their lives on Facebook (or tweeting about it).
One good thing that came out of Google+ though was the introduction of the Google login — as we have now, along with other options like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple logins — for third-party apps, and also for YouTube — remember when you had to use an exclusive YouTube account to login instead of your Gmail account?
Nowadays, Google+ has been entirely discontinued for personal Google accounts — consumer accounts, if you will — since April 2019, yet the project kept going for business accounts — i.e., G Suite — and it was renamed to Google Currents, a social network exclusively for work, intended to compete with Facebook’s Workplace. Suit up and let’s hope it gets off the ground this time.
1. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (2016)
What’s the worst thing that can happen to a new and just launched smartphone? Well, the Galaxy Note 7 exploded. Yes, literally. Released in September 2016, buyers related that, within days of use, some of the sold units overheated, caught fire, and burst into flames — yes, that worrying — , causing serious panic to Galaxy users worldwide.
There were at least 35 reported incidents until Samsung decided to recall all of the Galaxy Note 7 sold units since its release — an unprecedented move, for an unprecedented incident in the brief history of smartphones — and, further on, stopped producing the device at last. A few months later, at the beginning of 2017, Samsung confirmed that the cause of the incidents was the lithium-ion batteries.
The episode has caused a huge black eye on Samsung’s reputation back then — not to mention the speculated US$5.3bn that the South Korean tech giant spent on the recall. A cheap mistake.
One more thing…
Extra: Apple Lightning Connector Port (2010-)
We need to talk about Apple’s stubbornness when it comes to e-waste. Okay, the Lightning connector port was first introduced in 2010 with the iPhone 4 release and it was definitely a great new update, no doubts there, if we compare to the old 30-pin connector, featured on the iPhones 2G, 3G, 3GS, and on the iPad’s first model as well. Nevertheless, during the whole decade, electronic waste has massively increased due to different charging ports that each mobile brand would pick for their devices, consequently causing constant discontinuation of several products year after year.
In 2015 however, the USB-C port has been introduced as the new option to work as the default port for all devices and has been gradually adopted by different tech companies throughout the years — including Apple, which released the 4th generation of the MacBook Pro with the new port in 2016. But that was it. Except for the 3rd generation of the iPad Pro — released in October 2018 — , no other Apple product features the USB-C port, which has seriously irritated the European Parliament, as TechCrunch reported:
“Meanwhile Apple has worked around previous EU attempts to push device makers to standardize charging on Micro USB by expanding its revenue-generating dongle collection — and selling Europeans a Lighting to Micro USB adapter. Thereby necessitating even more e-waste.”
We know pretty well how much Apple adores adapters — hence #donglelife — , but let’s agree it does generate even more electronic waste, and the discussion seems to be quite far from ceasing. The new decade has just begun, let’s see how long more will the Lightning connector port last.