The 5 Biggest Tech Failures of the Past 5 Years

Let's face it: Most new tech products don't make it on the market. For every iPhone there are more than a dozen smartphone flops, and for every hit app there are thousands that fall into complete obscurity. Some things in tech, however, fail so spectacularly that they leave a dent on the Internet as they crash through the floor. These notable failures should be remembered, both as a source of amusement and as a warning to tech companies not to try this sort of funny business again.

Last week, I highlighted the five most important tech breakthroughs of the past five years. This week, we'll do exactly the opposite, casting a deservedly harsh light on some of the worst flameouts in Silicon Valley over the same time period. In several cases, the failures are spread out across multiple products, which means there's no one launch date -- but that doesn't make the flop any less spectacular.

5. Apple Maps takes a detour into Failistan
Apple
(NASDAQ: AAPL  ) hyped its Maps app with typical Apple fanfare, but the public's reaction was decidedly less accepting. I think my colleague Morgan Housel summed up this reaction pretty well in a tweet last fall:

The product is glitchy in a way that only a rushed-to-market alternative to the most comprehensive mapping effort ever made (that's Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) mapping alternative, if you were wondering) can be. A small group of Aussies nearly died when Apple Maps sent them on a detour into a remote desert, and that's just one of the many directional and visual failures its users found within weeks of launch. Google's triumphant mapping return to iOS saw its Maps app become the most downloaded after Apple basically threw in the towel. Apple wound up firing the exec in charge of its mapping service. The following image is apparently a real screenshot from Maps. Hope you've got four-wheel drive.


Source: mmcmaxi via Flickr.

4. Google is socially awkward
Wave. Buzz. Plus. Google's history of social-media flops actually stretches back beyond these three stinkers, but they're the ones that were launched in the past five years. Wave was Google's effort to build a more robust instant messaging platform, with all sorts of multimedia capabilities. It was shut down a year after its 2009 launch. Buzz, which was an attempt to merge social media with Gmail, was another fast flameout, opening in 2010 and closing in 2011.

Calling Google+ a failure is a bit more controversial. Earlier this year, the company reported 359 million active users. Heck, I've got a Google+ account, even though I barely use it. And maybe that's part of the problem. Only 135 million Plus accounts were actively engaging with the social network, which is far behind Facebook's (NASDAQ: FB  ) active user base of nearly three-quarters of a billion people.

Many people sign up for Google+ simply because it's tied up with Google's other services, like Gmail, YouTube, and (most importantly) the Android platform, and then they largely forget about it. The average Facebook user spent nearly seven hours on the site per month in 2012. The average Google+ user was only on the site for three minutes. Google+ might succeed over the long run if it becomes the de facto social layer on Glass-style wearable interfaces, but as of now, it's hard to call the service anything other than a virtual ghost town with millions of ghosts.


Source: Duncan Hull via Flickr .

3. Facebook can't get anything right after going public
Remember when Facebook was the hottest IPO of the new millennium? Feels like so long ago, doesn't it? It seems like the social leader can do no right since its IPO went so, so wrong.

Graph Search, the company's first major post-IPO product launch, was hyped to the moon early this year as an alternative to the existing search options. If you survey your friends -- the majority of whom probably have a Facebook account -- you're not likely to find a single person who's actually used Graph Search. The only thing it seems good at finding has been criticism.

Then there was Home, the social-OS overlay of Android that proved to be so unwanted that the only true "Facebook phone" went from launch to a $0.99 price point to removal from the market in about two months. Barely a million people have downloaded the app, which is widely panned by downloaders on the Google Play store. Most recently, Facebook launched Instagram Video, a me-too short-form video function that's been widely panned as a Vine copycat that's just a few seconds too long.

Even the companies closely associated with Facebook have flopped since the social network's IPO last year. Zynga (NASDAQ: ZNGA  ) has declined from an all-time high of 311 monthly active users in the quarter following Facebook's IPO to 253 million active users, and daily active users actually peaked at 72 million in the quarter of the IPO and have now fallen by nearly 30%. The company recently had to lay off hundreds of employees as it faces the fact that clicking on cows just ain't what it used to be.


Source: kudumomo via Flickr.

2. 3-D TV was a product nobody really wanted
Can a product (first launched in 2010) that's sold more than 40 million units in a year be a failure? Well, yes, if no one uses the product for its unique purpose. People hate wearing glasses, and for many people, 3-D technology simply gives them a headache, or worse -- 3-D TVs come with warning labels not to let young children watch. The purported benefits of 3-D video gaming have also failed to materialize, as adding a 3-D layer to your favorite action shooter tends to make it less clear and precise. Even Disney pulled out of supporting the format on its ESPN network. If sports fans don't want to watch a LeBron James dunk in stereo-vision, what hope does the technology have to win over the rest of us?


Source: LG via Flickr.

1. Next-gen consoles crash and burn
The Nintendo Wii U was already an unmitigated failure before the unmitigated failure that was the Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox One launch event. Only 3 million of the new consoles had been sold as of last month. Its monthly sales are running well below those of both the Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, even though both of those are more than five years old.

And where do we start with the Xbox One? Microsoft's now getting dinged by its "Xbox 180," as the company was forced to walk back a number of hated policies. Gone is the always-on Internet connection. Discs can be reused. Regional restrictions have been lifted. Still, this backtracking doesn't seem to have soothed the rabid outrage that poured forth against Microsoft after its launch event, which spent so little time talking about, you know, playing games that it's become just another running joke in the clown show that is the Xbox One.

Don't expect the PS4 to be the savior of consoles, either. There's nothing revolutionary in Sony's entrant, and where the prior generation of consoles only had to be better than their predecessors, today's consoles compete with cloud-based gaming (in the form of Valve's Steam service and others), mobile gaming, and a renewed surge of smaller console makers like Ouya that prefer to build low-cost hardware to run the Android OS. Gaming is thriving on more platforms and in more diverse forms than it has in decades. Game consoles? Not so much.


Source: William Grootonk via Flickr.

Do you agree with the selection of these flops? Got any others you'd like to add? Let the world know with a comment.

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Read/Post Comments (20) | Recommend This Article (36)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 5:56 PM, normgarry wrote:

    Neither Xbox1 nor PS4 has been released yet. No fails there.

    Apple Maps was a disaster. Google Map app is awesome.

    FISKER KARMA was a tremendous Fail.

    Facebook IPO was nothing short of a scam.

    ONLIVE and Ouya should be on this list of fails.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 6:06 PM, lhookerr wrote:

    How are next gen consoles (2 haven't even been released yet) the biggest tech flop in the last 5yrs!? I understand that the Wii U has failed miserably, but two console that haven't been released made the list? Did you not notice that the Xbox One and PS4 set Amazon records for Pre Orders? I hate to be so condescending but I can't believe this article was published...

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 6:39 PM, VegasSmitty wrote:

    And the real #1, The Motley Fool!

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 6:57 PM, SRNoyes wrote:

    Google maps would route you to a floating road under the Golden Gate Bridge but that never really mattered to the Google Maps is perfect tech press. After doing a 2000 mile cross country (US) road trip last Fall comparing both Google Maps (Nexus 7) to Apple Maps I found both to have errors and issues.

    Apple Maps was much better at food recommendations. Google Maps had many more landmarks. Google Maps had more street name errors while Apple Maps had more roads simply in the wrong place. In many places, Street View was more than half a decade out of date and so wrong as to be laughable. Apples's fly over is cool and usefull but too limited in where it is available.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 7:30 PM, H3D wrote:

    "The following image is apparently a real screenshot from Maps. Hope you've got four-wheel drive."

    But it's also a con.

    If you visited the same location on Google earth and looked in the same direction, it would look the same.

    That's because its at a location that isn't covered by Apple's superb 3D flyover facility. Instead its just an satellite photo projected onto a model generated from local contours.

    These can work quite well in natural areas, but don't cope well with man made objects.

    Apple recently released about 1000 square miles of detailed 3D model of Paris. It's so far ahead of anything Google have.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 10:52 PM, lanceim59 wrote:

    This is obviously another garbage article by Alex Planes.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 12:03 PM, OceanJackson wrote:

    Putting two consoles that haven't been released yet as the biggest tech failure of the last 5 years...did you know that it's logically impossible, even if you had a time machine?

    So I take it you're making a bold prediction. But I've seen the XBox One and what it can do...and it's the best living room device ever made, hands down.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 4:53 PM, TMFFischer wrote:

    The first week it was issued, Apple Maps steered me wrong once. But, since then, I haven't had any issues with it. And it's still much faster than Google Maps on an iPhone. I suspect the version 1.0 was the worst it will ever be...

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 6:27 PM, ChazCK wrote:

    Game consoles might be on the way out, or at least not as popular. However, I have an issue with 3D. None in my family hates wearing glasses...we love watching 3D movies. We have a 3D TV and would rather watch movies in 3D than 2D. In my opinion, TV manufacturers tried to push 3D just after a big push for HD big screens. A lot of those sold, and budgets couldn't handle a 3D Tv, too. Hopefully, 3d will plod ahead and maybe the networks eventually will start adding 3D content.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 7:04 PM, JadedFoolalex wrote:

    I'm laughing all the way to the printing presses!! I don't have to worry about my paper map being WRONG!!! I don't burn several tons of coal to generate the power to run my phone app or Googleage map or whatever Frankenapp they come out with?? Love you new generation people, Things go better with electricity....HaHAHAHAHA!!!!

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 7:29 PM, wetteral100 wrote:

    Hi Fool"s I like you __displayed

    issues,I had only some other

    reading but I will be back again. Regard Frank- M.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 8:32 PM, gkirkmf wrote:

    Who could forget the HP Touchpad debacle? It certainly deserves consideration for the top 5.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 8:41 PM, chilero wrote:

    I have to agree that you can't put products that haven't been released on a list of "The 5 Biggest Tech Failures of the Past 5 Years".

    You could have put Google Chrome, Linux or possibly even Windows 8 (even though I really like Windows 8).

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 10:29 PM, TheTrendSetter wrote:

    So Alex is taking a little heat for the new consoles being on the list. To give him a little credit (as a big gamer), after 5 years of waiting for a new console I would have expected a lot more as well.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2013, at 10:39 AM, radarcharlie wrote:

    Groupon IPO?

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2013, at 11:05 AM, NanushNanush wrote:

    Does "tech" only mean toys?

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2013, at 11:07 AM, NickPBG wrote:

    Hey, what about Apple's Newton? Perhaps you're too young to remember this personal digital assistant.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2013, at 4:50 PM, Truth2Power wrote:

    You mean "311 MILLION" active daily users for Zynga's record high, and not "311," right? Otherwise Zynga's in far more trouble than I'd thought! :)

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 12:57 PM, mikecart1 wrote:

    How is PS4 a failure when it isn't going to be released until Christmas and everyone on the internet is hyped to buy one? I guess expectations have changed or something lol.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 10:09 PM, don1941t wrote:

    It's hard to see how the Fool can call products that have not even shipped yet failures. In the case of Xbox One, Microsoft deservedly got a lot of heat for not understanding their existing customers. But rather than the old MSFT, this MSFT humbly apologized and said "We hear you." There was a time when listening to customers and giving them what they ask for was a success.

    The Fool is far to eager to bash Microsoft.

    I recommend The Fool look at what has been announced for Xbox One and compare it to anything else that will be available for your holiday shopping pleasure.

    An objective comparison and factual reporting might be refreshing to your readers.

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