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The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

Posted May 21, 2009 12:01 AM by Kaplin

TIME magazine recently published their list of The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade. After reading through the list, I was left feeling abashed and confused at some of the choices. Here are my reactions to TIME's picks of the biggest technology failures:

10. Windows Vista
Vista, Vista - where do I begin? I'm not the hugest fan of the operating system, but Vista got a bad rap from the start. The file system and location of options takes time to get used to, but the OS has its merits as well. Either way, the public's opinion is set in stone and Microsoft is rushing Windows 7 to market in 2009 to sweep the failure of Vista under the rug.

9. Gateway
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this computer manufacturer as my first two PCs were both Gateways. Tinkering around on them (software and hardware-wise) during high school was what sparked my obsession with computers and electronics.

A string of bad decisions drove the value of the company down until they were eventually bought by Acer in 2007.

8. HD DVD
Not much to say here that hasn't already been said in my post on Why HD DVD Should Have Won The Format War. Anyone want to buy a few discs? I still have a stack. Excuse me while I go cry.

7. Vonage
TIME might have labeled Vonage as a failure because the company is losing money, but from a technology standpoint they were pioneers in helping free the consumers from the grip of the telecom giants and forced them into offering unlimited long distance calling plans. Sure, other companies such as Skype and Magic Jack now offer similar or even better services, but Vonage paved the way for the rest of them and I still have it at my house.

6. YouTube
How they consider YouTube a failure, I don't know. Again, here it looks like they are viewing this only as it relates to profit because YouTube is still far and away the most popular site for sharing and watching video with over 100 million registered users and 5.5 billion videos served in April 2009.

There was also a recent report that after a few years of patience, record labels who have deals with YouTube to have music videos up on their site are finally starting to see some monetary return on their agreement.

5. Sirius XM
I never bought into the satellite radio phenomenon. My wife loves it and I like to listen when I'm in her car, but personally I couldn't see the point of paying for radio. Content via radio, internet radio, and downloadable podcasts are widely available without a monthly fee; plus the fact that an iPod can now carry an entire music collection with over 30,000 songs. One of the biggest draws of satellite radio was 'no commercials', but that is no longer true with many of the stations.

4. Microsoft Zune
Microsoft's problem with the Zune was it was released "too little, too late." Apple already had a stranglehold on the market and had convinced the public to buy their DRM-d music from iTunes.

The new Zune HD is coming out shortly, which will work in conjunction with your Xbox 360. There are also strong rumors of a Microsoft Zune Phone, but it doesn't seem like they'll be able to put a dent in Apple's market share.

3. Palm
Palm is another pioneer in their industry who has been outdone by competitors who came to market later, but with better product offerings.

Much hype has been made about the upcoming Palm Pre and it looks like an awesome device, but with one major shortcoming - they chose Sprint for their exclusive network. Meanwhile, Sprint has been hemorrhaging customers to AT&T and Verizon. Even T-Mobile customers have been on the rise due to their Android phones, but Sprint is in a bad way right now. Sprint and Palm are hoping that they can save each other, but in the end it seems like they will be driving the nail in each other's coffin.

2. Iridium
Iridium was such a failure that I hadn't even heard of them. The satellite phone company created by Motorola launched 66 satellites into space to setup their network, but landed only 10,000 subscribers. The ridiculously high prices of handsets ($3,000) and high usage fees ($5 per minute) caused their $1.5 billion in debt to catch up with them very quickly.

One of the Iridium satellites still floating in orbit, collided with a Russian satellite only a few months ago.

1. Segway
South Park pretty much covered everything there is to say about the Segway in their spoof of it in the episode "The Entity".

If anyone else remembers the weeks before the Segway launch, hype surrounding this "revolutionary personal transportation device" was astounding considering the public had barely any details of what the device actually was.

In the end, people in rural areas still needed a car while urban consumers couldn't really drive a Segway down the sidewalk without running people over. The high price tag made it more of a novelty device for those with money to burn.

What did you think about TIME's picks? Post your reactions to the list and your biggest electronic letdowns below.

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#1

Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/21/2009 7:40 AM

I agree that some of the items on Time's list are curious - YouTube is a failure, really? Although I can't think of any off the top of my head (blame it on no coffee yet today), I would think that there were much bigger failures in the decade. I'd like to know who Time was trying to please with these picks - advertisers, etc. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

Vista isn't that surprising as its appeared on many 'failure' lists since its inception, but few months ago I bought a new laptop that came with Vista and I love it. Like Kaplin said, the OS def. takes some getting used to. The most problems I've had with it that it asks you before it does a lot of things like view/move files, download, etc. I could turn that feature off, but I think it could prevent me from doing/downloading anything that could harm my computer.

Never did buy a gateway, but I always wanted one when I was a kid because of their cow-patterned boxes. My current computer is a Acer though, and since they own Gateway now, I assume that they have to be pretty sweet machines.

I didn't get the sense that Vonage would revolutionize home telephone, but I know people who have it and like it.

Satellite radio is cool, but I would never pay for radio.

The Zune had no chance.

Palm is.... idk, but I heard from former Sprint subscibers that their service is terrible.

Iridium - I've never heard of it either!

As for Segway, I'm not sure how I missed all the hype surrounding the product. I guess for me it just didn't seem logical that everyone would want to ride around on such a dumb-looking 'transportation device'.

Good article, amusing commentary!

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/21/2009 8:40 AM

With all the build-up and hype over the Segway, I really thought we were going to get a hover-board or something. So when they finally showed it, I was really disappointed.

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/21/2009 9:50 AM
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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/21/2009 10:31 AM

"You have to wonder about a business plan based on the notion that people want to interact with a soda can," while Debbie Barham of the Evening Standard quipped that the CueCat "fails to solve a problem which never existed."

Lol! I hadn't heard of this product either, but I guess the quote above explains why. Nice call, stevem.

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/21/2009 10:26 AM

I have Vista and don't love it or hate it. I'm tired of Windows in general, I guess.

We use Vonage, mostly because it's cheap - it has its flaws but you really can't beat the price.

I'm not sure why YouTube made Time's list - doesn't make sense to me. So many people use it as a resource, whatever the reason.

Sirius is the one that confuses me the most. Yes, they are in some financial trouble, but subscribers (like me) are very loyal. My current car came with a 6 month subscription and I haven't listened to regular radio in that vehicle since. Yes, I could listen to my iPod, but Sirius allows me to discover new music and listen to a variety of music with ease. No more commercials or annoying dj's. And if that does happen, I just switch to another channel. With local radio, it seems as if they all go to commercial at the same time.

I've never had an mp3 player that wasn't an iPod and honestly, I don't know why they keep trying with Zune. Obviously some people like it, but it doesn't seem to make much of a dent in Apple's market share.

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/22/2009 12:06 AM

Vista should be at first place seeing how quickly they came with Windows 7.

Blu-ray won because the money Sony put in to sway the competition (that is why they are so much in the red)

Youtube a failure? maybe it was a mistake and should have been Yahoo for not getting together with microsoft

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/22/2009 2:55 PM

Blu-ray won because the money Sony put in to sway the competition (that is why they are so much in the red)

or because 1920p is coming' round the bend

and Hi-Def is integral to the Blu-Ray process

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/24/2009 9:24 PM

i hope it will not be to late to get sony out of the red

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#14
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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/26/2009 1:02 PM

Blu-ray won because the money Sony put in to sway the competition (that is why they are so much in the red)

I thought Blu-ray won because the porno industry chose to go with Blu-ray... oh wait maybe that was VHS vs. BETA....

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/26/2009 4:05 PM

The porn industry had already invested in HD...we are not ruled by porn...beta wouldn't been better too.

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/26/2009 8:21 PM

we are not?.....

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#7

Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/22/2009 2:04 AM

Kaplin

Not very computer orientated my favorite but the voting glitch in Florida with the punched holes that did not come out and had to be checked for "are they in or out" must be the biggest technical blunder of all time. I can't recall what they were called at the moment (lack of something). Not only the technicality of it but the consequences of that failure. The rest is history. I think I'll go bush on the weekend, Ky.

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

01/21/2011 9:37 AM

hanging chad although they really hanged Al

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

01/21/2011 4:04 PM
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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/22/2009 6:50 AM

I can think of a bunch of government projects more worthy of this list than YouTube. One example is the NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) plan to install security cameras in its system post-9/11. Truckloads of money spent, and it's still not done.

Or the plan to have screens show GPS driven information on when the next bus will arrive at MTA bus stops- someone failed to consider that the GPS satellites might be hard to connect with from the bottom of NYC's concrete canyons. Fail!

Or the FAA's plan to upgrade our 1950s era air traffic control hardware. Fail!

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/22/2009 10:10 AM

Just some brief comments on the Iridium Satellite Network. It is still operational! There are 66 active satellites in polar orbit, and a few spares parked in higher orbits that can be positioned to fill in when one of the 66 fails (like crashing into an unused Russian satellite).

Iridium was an economic failure, but it was a fantastic technical achievement. It was bought out by some spy agency for pennys on the million $, and is being used as a secure wireless phone and data network world wide.

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/22/2009 2:48 PM

GA, Iridium Satellite Network definitely not a tech failure

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/22/2009 3:00 PM

Clean Coal, sonic or ultrasonic insect repellers

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

06/08/2009 12:21 PM

Water or compressed air powered cars .

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

05/31/2010 1:11 PM

Iridium sadly put themselves out of business, except of course that it wasn't supposed to be a cell phone and still is in wide use around the world.

Of apparent insignificance to many posters, huge chunks of the American landscape has no cell coverage, no FM radio, no local weather information, no access to emergency information; and the weather isn't always 76 degrees and balmy.

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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

12/13/2010 11:57 PM

I have a great story from when the Segway came out. I went to see a friend who worked at Apple the same week as the realease. We had lunch in their cafeteria with one of his colleagues and we naturally segued to the Segway. This guy started ranting about how the Segway meant the end to cars. Entire cities would be designed or redesgined around the Segway as transportation. It would change the world.

I sat respectfully for a while, and then asked him "What about when it snows?"

"What do you mean?" he replied, as if he had never heard of snow.

"When it is 20 deg out and snowing, nobody will want to ride on it."

"Well, they could enclose it, or maybe it won't be as effective in those areas."

"What if you need to go to the grocery store?"

"Well, that's easy. You put a basket on it."

"A basket? I remember the groceries my mom used to bring home and we were just a family of four. For that matter, where do you put the kids?"

Within about 5 questions, we were back to automobiles. I have ridden one though, and it IS fun....

As for tech failures, I like the lists others have posted, and I have some candidates:

- Alternative energy. Although great technical strides have been made with wind and solar, they still haven't solved the cost problem - without cheating. The way they solved it was to get in bed with the government and have us pay for the difference. Jeffrey Immelt can burn in hell!! The sad thing is that the tech is really cool, but they are trying to ignore market forces so they can force the tech in before it is competitive.

- Windows Vista. I just like saying it is a failure. Because it sucks.

- Cisco's automated financial systems. I got to hear their CEO talk about how they could close their books in 30 minutes and he always knew exactly what was going on with their financials in real time. He also talked about how they had automated a lot of the financial decision making, reducing time to decisions and reducing staff. Within a month their stock crashed because their computers did stupid stuff a person would not have.

- Oracle's "database the world" or whatever they called it. I think it was their response to Google or something. They envisioned the entire world's data stored in Oracle databases run by Oracle. Or something to that effect.

- NASA. I grew up idolizing NASA, but they have fallen hard. There is a reason you don't put PhD's in charge of anything. Ask a PhD, and they will tell you I am right. NASA has become a cross between a research organization, a bus line, and a football. NASA was created originally to provide jets and missiles. It wasn't noble. We wanted to control the high ground in the next World War. In the process, NASA became a beacon of hope and the human spirit, and that can never be diminished. What is needed is for NASA to step back into that role, whether in space or right here at home.

- Global warming. Some real science was corrupted and consumed by greed and politics. Now misinformation is spread, scandals are coming to light, and the "leaders" of the global warming movement could care less about preserving the environment. It has truly become more religion than science. I gaurantee somebody will post nasty comments about me just for saying this.

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#20
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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

12/14/2010 7:35 AM

"- Global warming. Some real science was corrupted and consumed by greed and politics. Now misinformation is spread, scandals are coming to light, and the "leaders" of the global warming movement could care less about preserving the environment. It has truly become more religion than science. I gaurantee somebody will post nasty comments about me just for saying this."

Not I, said the little red faced doubter. I'm just glad someone besides me understands that the "science" of global warming (which is neither science NOR global warming) has been politicized for gain, and thoroughly corrupted in the process.

No nasty comments from me on that subject. Now if you want to try another subject, maybe I could accommodate you!

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#21
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Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

12/14/2010 8:19 AM

awesome!

become a member please. so you can be honored properly for your knowledge and wisdom here.

Chris

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#24

Re: The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade

03/16/2011 3:40 PM

Interactive cable TV. It sounded like a great idea of the future. Press a green, yellow or blue button... and you've instantly voted on something, or ordered your groceries or infomercial product, etc.

I've yet to press any of those buttons, or for that matter... I can't remember more than once or twice that I've even been given the opportunity!

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