There was no shortage of tech flops in 2014 -- products that did not go according to plan; rumors that did not pan out. In some instances, shareholders suffered, though in others, they emerged relatively unscathed.
Although this list is by no means comprehensive, it encompasses 2014's most significant tech failures.
Honorable mention: Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Kinect 2.0
Microsoft's first-generation Kinect, released in 2010, proved to be an immensely popular add-on to its successful Xbox 360 video game console. With the ability to take voice commands and understand gesture controls, Kinect gave Xbox 360 owners an entirely new way to play games.
But the original Kinect was limited -- by its technology and, more importantly, by its install base. Despite its relative popularity, its nature as an optional add-on limited the market for Kinect games: No matter how great a given Kinect-based game was, only a minority of Xbox 360 users (those who owned a Kinect) were ever able to play it. To ensure the popularity of the second-generation Kinect -- Kinect 2.0 -- Microsoft chose to bundle the sensor in with the Xbox 360's successor, the Xbox One.
Unfortunately, this resulted in a more expensive console -- at $500, Microsoft's Xbox One was a full $100 more than the competing PlayStation 4. Moreover, even the improved Kinect 2.0 was still prone to failure, falling short of Microsoft's lofty vision. Most damning, even though every Xbox One owner had Kinect, only a handful of games took advantage of it, and those that did weren't highly regarded.
Microsoft initially claimed Kinect 2.0 was central to its vision for the Xbox One, but chose to unbundle the accessory back in May. Since then, Xbox One sales have improved, which makes the decision to give up Kinect a success rather than a flop. But Kinect 2.0 itself, like its predecessor, has become an optional add-on; a forsaken accessory the majority of Xbox One owners will likely never use.
Microsoft shares have had a solid 2014, and given the relative unimportance of its Xbox business, the failure of Kinect has had little impact on shareholders. Still, it stands out as one of the year's biggest tech flops.
Runner-up: Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire Phone
Amazon introduced several new devices this year, including a high-end e-reader and several updated tablets. But these did not prompt an official unveiling -- only two of its products, the Fire TV and Fire Phone, received a formal introduction.
Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, took time to personally introduce the Fire Phone, but did not bother to show up for the Fire TV's unveiling. That's a bit ironic, given that while the Fire TV appears to have been a success, the Fire Phone has been an abysmal failure.
Initially introduced in June at $649 unlocked (or $199 on contract), the Fire Phone currently retails for just $229 (or $0.01 on contract) and includes a full year of Amazon Prime (a $99 value). Unsurprisingly, Amazon has not divulged specific sales figures, but research firms have pegged the Fire Phone's market share at around 0%. Certainly, Amazon must've sold at least a few Fire Phones, but the rapid price reduction suggests it hasn't sold many.
The failure of the Fire Phone may not have harmed Amazon shareholders directly, but it could have contributed to the broader sell-off seen in Amazon shares this year. In the past, investors appeared more tolerant of Amazon's commitment to long-term investing over immediate profit-taking. With Amazon shares down more than 20% this year, that narrative appears to be changing, and the failure of the Fire Phone may have helped to stretch investors' patience past the breaking point.
Winner: The iPhone 6's rumored sapphire display
Ahead of its official unveiling, Apple's iPhone 6 was widely rumored to sport a display made of sapphire glass. In theory, a sapphire panel might've made the iPhone 6 nearly impervious to scratches. But such a display never materialized: Like the handsets that came before it, the iPhone 6's screen is made of Gorilla Glass.
A sapphire screen might've given Apple's latest handset a unique selling point, but it hardly seems to need it: The iPhone 6 has enjoyed record demand, and Apple's management has said the company is selling everything it can make. Apple shares have surged more than 40% this year, boosted both by the iPhone 6 and by management's commitment to capital returns.
But not all investors were so lucky: Those who owned shares in GT Advanced Technologies (NASDAQOTH:GTATQ) were wiped out. GT Advanced's management appeared to have bet the company on a deal to supply sapphire for the iPhone 6, and when it fell through, it was forced into bankruptcy.
The iPhone 6 is far from a flop, but rumors of its sapphire display certainly were, and some investors -- particularly those who bought shares at around $20 -- paid the price.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com and Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.