Welcome to the end of 2014!
We’re looking back at the biggest failures in tech. What does it take to be on this list? There’s nothing set in stone, but for the most part, it’s a bad product, or a big stumble from a company during the year.
Flops are not the worst thing in the world. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently said, “Companies that don’t embrace failure, they get in the desperate position where the only kind of thing they can do is make a hail mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence.”
Another way to look at it: If you everything you do is working, then you’re not being bold enough.
With that said… let’s see the flops!
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
Microsoft unexpectedly released a fitness tracking gadget. The snap reaction was to applaud Microsoft for quietly releasing a new fitness gadget. It was a very un-Microsoft move to quickly, quietly release a new product. But that only counts for so much. The product itself was thoroughly trashed by critics. Molly Wood at the New York Times said, 'the band is uncomfortable to wear with the screen on top of the wrist. It feels like trying to fit a round wrist into a square band.'
One of the biggest successes this year was Flappy Bird, a primitive, frustrating iPhone game that went viral. The game's developer pulled the game because it was so successful. He was just one guy and the popularity of the app overwhelmed him. The decision to pull the game only enhanced interest and hype. When he returned with Swing Copters as a follow up, people were expecting a second hit. Alas, it wasn't to be. Swing Copters never really caught on like Flappy Bird.
In the middle of July, Rupert Murdoch dropped a grenade in the media world -- He was offering to buy Time Warner for $US80 billion. By August, he gave up on the deal, and hasn't turned back. It was a strange, brief episode.
Not a good year for Apple's iCloud service! It's not a flop, per se, but Apple had a major scandal on its hands when private photos stored in iCloud were leaked online for the whole world to see. Apple said iCloud wasn't breached. It said it was a phishing attack. Regardless of how it happened, it was not good for Apple, especially since Apple was about to introduce unlimited photo storage in iCloud.
This was really weird. Apple released a software update for the iPhone that bricked the phone. Anybody that rushed to download the software had their phone temporarily ruined. Apple quickly pulled the software and released another update that fixed the problem. It said it hurt less than 40,000 people.
Uber hired David Plouffe to improve its reputation, and help it manage expansion as it fights with governments around the world.
How's that working out? So far, not so good.
Since he was hired, there were a number of stumbles including a report that an Uber executive said it could spend $US1 million to create an investigative unit that would attack critics. Its CEO admitted to messing with its rival's funding efforts. An Uber executive was caught spying on a journalist using Uber. Uber drivers were accused of crimes. Governments from Portland to Germany are shutting down Uber.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone tried another company, Jelly, which was a mobile crowd sourced Q&A app. It didn't gain any traction. It's pretty much dead, and he's on to something else.
Twitter's stock fell about 85% this year. Why? Because Twitter has failed to grow its user base. The good news for Twitter? This might not matter! Two years ago, Facebook's IPO was one of the biggest flops of the year. Since then, the stock has gone to the moon and Facebook is on top of the world. The same could happen for Twitter.
Clinkle was on this list last year, too. This year the product actually launched, with a much smaller scope than promised -- it's basically just a prepaid debit card. And people just ignored it. The company has ripped through executives after raising $US30 million.
Samsung launched a bunch of watches. And nobody bought them. This wouldn't be so bad if the rest of Samsung's smartphone business was doing well. Alas, it is not. It has hit a wall, dragging Samsung's profits down by 60%.
Facebook launched three apps this year: Paper, Slingshot, and Rooms. None of those apps appears to have any traction.
In the short term, it doesn't matter. These are relatively small investments. In the long run, the concern is that Facebook lacks a creative spark to create dynamic new products on its own. It will have to acquire its way to a successful future.
So why highlight Slingshot? Because it was the most confounding of the apps Facebook launched. It was sort of like Snapchat, but you had to 'sling' a picture back to the other person before you opened the picture they just sent you. Facebook bailed on that feature pretty quickly.
King makes Candy Crush, and its IPO was a disaster. The stock priced at $US22.50. It closed at $US19 on its first day of trading, so investors that bought the IPO lost money on day one. The stock is now at ~$US17. The company is already returning money to shareholders through buybacks. The good news, again, is that Facebook's IPO was a mess, and it did just fine in the long run. If King can build another successful game, it might soar past its IPO price.
Amazon finally released a phone this year. It was a dud. Amazon took a $US170 million charge on unsold phones. What went wrong? Amazon didn't do enough to make the phone unique, and the features that were supposed to stand out, like a 3D display and a way to scan products in stores to identify them, didn't catch on. It was just as expensive as an iPhone, but it was a worse product. Amazon has since cut the price of the phone. CEO Jeff Bezos seems undaunted. He recently said, 'Stay tuned' for an evolution of the phone.
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