Tech Talk: 2014's Biggest Technology Flops

I'm not entirely sure where the year has gone. I am only just managing to write "2014" instead of "2013," and 2015 is only a matter of weeks away now. And as it's fashionable at this time of year, it's time to take a look back and pick apart some of the biggest failures of the year to date. Now... a product failure isn't necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it can be a good thing; it's how the business deals with it. Many of the world's biggest businesses have a string of failures behind them! A failure gives a business the opportunity to learn from it, just as failures in our own lives give us an example to try again but from a different angle. But enough of the fluff, let's get to the chase, shall we?

In at Number 10...

At number ten, it's Swing Copters. Heard of Swing Copters? No? Well it's the follow up to the hugely frustrating and often talked about Flappy Bird. You see, Flappy Bird was so successful that the developer pulled the game, which made even more people take an interest in Flappy Bird. People were selling iPhones at even-more-overhyped-prices than is usual because it had Flappy Birds installed. Yes, for real. So when the developer released Swing Copters... precious little happened actually. It simply didn't catch on like Flappy Bird, where a derived game even features in Android Lollipop!

New At Number 9...

Rupert Murdoch is my number nine following his July announcement that his business, 21st Century Fox, was offering to buy Time Warner for $80 billion. Time Warner did the Grumpy Cat thing and said "no." The combined business would have enjoyed $62 billion in annual revenue and controlled the majority of US television and entertainment including TV channels FOX, TNT, TBS and HBO and movie studios Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Brothers. By August, the deal was off the cards.

Fresh At Number 8...

Number eight has to go to Apple's iCloud. Apple's executives, especially Tim Cook, have loved to put up slides showing that 99% of mobile malware is found on Android devices and that our favorite operating system is a bubbling hellbrew of malware. And how Apple was far more secure. Right until hackers distributed two hundred "personal" (read: naked) images of celebrities taken straight from iCloud backups. And even though this was a password hack and Apple's systems weren't to blame, they still took time to shore up their security.

I wanted to put the iCloud naked picture leak higher than position eight, but then iOS 8.0.1 gets in the way. This update to the iPhone was released shortly after the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Legions of Apple fans, those who had waited in line for hours on end to be amongst the first ten million to have the device, were rewarded with a software update that prevented their device from connecting to the cell network. Although Apple claim that the issue "hurt less than 40,000 people," as I'll on to, Apple appear to have a different way of counting compared with the rest of the world.

AT Number 7...

At number seven, I'm putting Uber's recruitment of David Plouffe. Transport specialist business Uber, infamous for launching their service even in areas where it's considered illegal, hired David Plouffe to improve their reputation and help manage their discussions with governments around the world. Unfortunately, things haven't entirely gone to plan. An Uber executive said that the business can spend $1 million on an investigative unit to attack critics, the Chief Executive Officer admitted to meddling with rival's funding efforts, another executive was caught spying on a journalist. The business is getting plenty of attention but unfortunately its businesses are being shut down across the world.

In At Number 6...

Twitter's stockmarket performance takes spot six, because the business has failed to grow the userbase. Twitter was once the darling of the social media world and people flocked to use the service. Unfortunately, the microblogging website has failed to change with the times; sites, applications and services such as SnapChat have overtaken Twitter's pride of place on smartphones, or we have switched to messaging applications. The share price has tumbled 85% this year to date, reflecting the struggles that Twitter is having in persuading money from users.

At Number 5...

I'm putting Samsung's smartwatches in position five. At the start of the year, Samsung demonstrated the Gear 2 and Gear Fit fitness band, then later we had the Gear S running Tizen and the Gear Live. None of these are bad products, but instead I prefer the "mediocre" or "also ran." Sales weren't great of any of these devices. The Gear Live should have been a better Android Wear device than it was, because Samsung have several generations of smartwatch behind them. Instead, everybody waited for the Moto 360. Luckily, Samsung have the rest of their mobile portfolio to support their business... oh. Right you were.

At Number 4...

I'm putting Facebook Slingshot next on the list, occupying position four. Slingshot was a sort of competitor to SnapChat whereby you would sling your picture to the other person before you opened the picture they send you. It joins Facebook's other two 2014 applications that failed; Paper and Rooms. These have quietly gone away, but were relatively small investments for the social network. No great loss for Facebook except to highlight that the business hasn't created a home-developed application to excite the market for some time now. Luckily, it has deep enough pockets to buy its way into innovative products.

Taking the Third Spot...

Spot three is going to King Digital's IPO. King Digital wrote the wildly successful Candy Crush and launched on the stockmarket priced at $22.50. Unfortunately, the stock price fell to around $19 on the opening day and has settled back to $17 since then. King Digital is already feeding back money to investors through share buy-backs. It may come good in the longer term, like Facebook, or perhaps Candy King's ship has already sailed.

In the Runner Up Position...

My number two flop of the year is going to the Apple iPhone for the fact that the design... bends. Now, let it be known that I am not a fan of Apple products. Traditionally, this has been broken down in my mind as "lovely hardware, too expensive, horrid software" but in 2014, that changed a little. I still don't like iOS for a bunch of reasons that I don't need to go into here, but it boils down to preference. It works fine (barring stupid updates like iOS 8.0.1, above). The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus hardware to my mind just needs a better operating system and it could be desirable, right until the first reports of the 6 Plus bending in a pocket. More reports filtered in and yes, we had the shock! horror! of how easy it was to bend a device with our bare hands. But you see, this kinda doesn't matter (as unrealistic as it is, or otherwise) but it's how Apple covered up the story. First, they claimed that they had been contacted by nine users reporting a bent iPhone. Having worked for a carrier, customers will come in having been referred by Apple for certain issues, because the customer bought the device from the carrier (but for other issues, you can have it replaced at the Apple store). Around and about the same time, some websites started recording unique images of bent iPhones and these numbers were well in excess of nine (in the hundreds). Oh and the small fact that Apple blacklisted a German Apple magazine, Bild, for daring show a bent iPhone video... that we know of. Apple's abuse of their mindshare over the press is appalling. Perhaps bendgate is a trivial thing, perhaps not; but removing access to apple products because a magazine criticised the product is inexcusable.

And The Winner Is...

Well, here we are. And there can be no arguing with what is the biggest flop of the year. The Amazon Fire Phone is in the number one position and deservingly so. Whilst I admire what Amazon are doing, their pricing was, I'm sorry to write, off the wall. There are some great ideas behind the Amazon Fire Phone and the hardware and software has some interesting features that are far more innovative than bundling up a fingerprint and heart rate sensor, but it was just too expensive. From a business perspective, I can see that the Fire line of devices is a way of expanding the Amazon influence into peoples' lives and the Fire Phone doesn't necessarily have to make money in isolation, but it needs market share so it should have been priced to reflect this. However, now they have the Fire Phone on sale for $0.99 on AT&T with a new contract, and unlocked for $229 (Compatible with AT&T and Metro PCS). So at least that's a step in the right direction.

Congratulations Fire Phone. You are the biggest flop of the year.

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About the Author

David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.
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