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Top 10 Tech Fails Of 2012

Dec 29, 2012 (05:12 AM EST)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=240145329


We all make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Tech companies are no exception, of course, and more than a few committed bodacious blunders in 2012. So why not celebrate their follies in a Top 10 list? We've compiled an assortment of some of the most notable tech fails from the past year, with a focus on the biggest players and their superlative shortcomings.

Our selections span a wide range of foibles, including announced devices that never shipped, products that did ship but shouldn't have and services that didn't work as promised. Some of these slip-ups are easily salvageable, while others may pose greater problems in 2013 for the product or company involved.

The major trends of 2012 -- social media, cloud services, media streaming and mobile everything -- are reflected in our choices. Many of these developments will gain even greater significance in 2013. Hardware and software products are "merging into services," writes Gartner analyst Gregor Petri in a recent blog post. This increased complexity provides potential for major missteps from companies delivering these services.

Cloud computing, for instance, presents a unique set of challenges that tech companies are still learning to manage. "With cloud computing rapidly breaking down the walls between traditional industry segments, times are confusing for providers," Petri writes. "Where we used to buy hardware and software from different vendors and solicited help -- to get these two to work together -- from yet a third category of providers, these demarcation lines are now rapidly blurring."

Research firm IDC sees a similar set of trends in 2013, including IT growth based on mobile devices, cloud services, social media, and big data. It predicts that sales of "mini tablets," meaning those with sub-8-inch screens, will boom next year and will account for up to 60% of unit shipments -- up dramatically from 33% in 2012. For cloud providers, rising mobile device sales mean a large increase in the number of cloud users -- both enterprise and consumer -- a development that poses challenges from a cloud reliability, privacy and security standpoint. And as the following slideshow suggests, some cloud vendors are still working out their kinks in their newly launched services.

Which of these 10 tech fails do you think is most egregious? Do you have other examples to add to the list? Let us know below.




The well-publicized iOS 6 Maps fiasco was a major embarrassment for Apple, which in recent years has seemed nearly incapable of making any major flubs. (Mishaps such as the problem-plagued Mobile Me online service were relatively minor.) Before launching iOS 6, Apple had boasted that its new Maps app would surpass the capabilities of the time-tested Google Maps, which was getting the boot for reasons stemming largely from the increasingly icy relationship between Apple and Google. But iOS 6 users immediately found Maps to be a mess, a bug-plagued app brimming with missing or misplaced landmarks, inaccurate directions, a lack of information on public transportation routes or stations, and other woes. The ruckus forced Apple CEO Tim Cook to issue a public apology with a promise to fix Maps. As for Google Maps, it made a triumphant return to the iPhone in December after a 3-month banishment. (The iOS Maps screen grab above is from sarcastically titled The Amazing iOS 6 Maps site.)

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Hyped as the "first social streaming media player," Nexus Q made its curious debut at Google's Nexus tablet launch in July. A spherical black device, the mysterious Q was designed to stream music, movies and other entertainment via Google Play and YouTube to your HDTV, an AV receiver or a pair of bookshelf speakers. Visiting friends toting Android devices could control what's playing on your Nexus Q, and even add their selections to Q's playlist.

But things got weird in October when Google shelved the device without an explanation. Was the Q's $299 price too steep for a media streamer? Did it have insurmountable technical glitches? Did it look too much like a Magic 8 Ball? Despite the Q's weird, brief history, it has retained its landing page on Google Play, which ominously states: "This device is not for sale at this time."

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A noteworthy tech fail often centers on a particular product or service, but Hewlett-Packard earned special recognition in 2012 for doing just about everything wrong. It admitted publicly in November that it had wildly overpaid for Autonomy, an enterprise software company that HP bought for $11.1 billion just over a year ago. Accusing Autonomy of cooking the books prior to the acquisition, HP took a charge of $8.8 billion after writing down the value of its pricey new software unit.

As if that wasn't enough, HP suffered a blow to its ego when Lenovo became the world's No. 1 PC maker in the 3rd quarter, according to Gartner. And HP has yet to gain a foothold in the mobile device market, despite several failed attempts to build smartphones and tablets that people actually want.

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When Nokia's Lumia 900 debuted on the AT&T network in the spring of 2012, the Windows Phone handset had the makings of a viable contender to the iPhone/Android duopoly. Its specs -- 4.3-inch AMOLED display, LTE, and an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens -- were impressive for a $100 phone. But the Lumia 900 soon fell short of sales expectations, perhaps because its display's 800- x 480-pixel resolution was ho-hum relative to the competition. Or maybe its Windows Phone 7.5 software, despite its merits, simply didn't resonate with smartphone buyers.

Whatever the case, the Lumia 900 didn't make an impact. It now costs only a penny with a 2-year AT&T contract, and the Windows Phone 8-based Lumia 920 has replaced it as Nokia's and Microsoft's alleged iPhone killer.

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Earlier in 2012, top TV manufacturers such as Samsung and LG announced plans to launch 55-inch televisions featuring organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays by the end of the year. Super-slim OLED TVs feature vivid colors, deep blacks and superior clarity and contrast compared to today's LCD and plasma sets. But it appears that Samsung and LG may be reconsidering their plans for OLED TVs, which reportedly are proving expensive and difficult to manufacturer, Digital Trends reports. So rather than build $8,000-and-up OLED TVs that few people can afford, manufacturers may switch to 4K sets, which will have nearly four times the resolution of today's 1080p TVs. The big question: Are consumers ready for 4K TV? Their home broadband (with data caps) probably isn't.

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It's too early to call Windows 8 a failure -- or is it? From a design standpoint, the schizophrenic interface is a mess: Two interfaces -- the traditional Desktop and the new, touch-oriented Modern UI -- make navigation exceptionally frustrating, particularly for longtime Windows users. Microsoft's enterprise customers may very well shun Windows 8 and stay with the familiar (and easier-to-use) Windows 7.

Redmond's next move? One option is drop Windows 8's conjoined-UI design and offer either the Modern UI, which is quite good on its own, or the tried-and-true Desktop on future versions of Windows. If Windows 8 sales prove disappointing, Windows 9 may arrive soon that expected.

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Facebook has a long history of privacy blunders that have angered and alienated its one billion users, the vast majority of whom don't seem offended enough to leave the service. So perhaps it's fitting that Instagram, the photo-sharing service that Facebook paid a cool $1 billion for this year, just had a privacy gaffe of its own. After proposing a new terms of service agreement that seemingly would have allowed it to sell users' digital pics to ad agencies, Instagram quickly went into damage-control mode, clarifying in a blog post that it had no intention of allowing user photos to be used in ads.

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After two years on life support, Apple's musically-oriented social network was mercifully put down in September. Pitched as a cool way to uncover new music in iTunes, the service never caught on and languished in social net limbo. During its brief life -- the service debuted as part of iTunes 10 -- Ping lacked Facebook integration, a key factor limiting its appeal, and had some nasty trouble with spam and scams. When it silenced Ping, Apple added Facebook and Twitter integration to iTunes, a wise move that's bound to draw the social music crowd that Ping failed to attract.

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Research In Motion certainly isn't dead -- but is its condition terminal? RIM's decline from smartphone champ to also-ran has been years in the making, with the once-mighty mobile maker steadily losing market share to Android and iOS. More bad news for RIM: the emergence of Microsoft's revitalized mobile platform, including the arrival of large Windows Phone 8 handsets such as the HTC 8X.

RIM has its merits, of course, including an established enterprise ecosystem. And BlackBerry 10, RIM's next smartphone OS, may arrive sometime in January. It's unclear, however, if BB10 has the goods to stop RIM's steady slide to oblivion.

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Insanely great! A cloud service that automatically syncs email, contacts, and calendars across your various Apple gadgets, and stores your music, movies, apps, and recent photos on secure servers? The pitch was appealing, but the reality is that iCloud has fallen short of expectations -- at least thus far. Reports this year of security breaches, syncing issues, and service outages show that iCloud is definitely a work in progress. And that isn't comforting for users expecting iCloud to adhere to Apple's it-just-works philosophy. To be fair, other cloud services such as Dropbox have had their share of snafus, but iCloud's woes are yet another indication of Apple's trouble with online services.

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