The biggest technological disappointments of the XXI century
The pace of technological change is unbelievably fast. Right now, we are witnessing some of the greatest innovations developed by humans: augmented reality, 3D printing, electric cars, or advanced medical treatment such as heart transplantation. Obviously not all of the new ideas and devices will be successful. Not all of them have been over the years. Let’s review some of the worst inventions that were out there throughout the last couple of years.
Perhaps you still remember those futuristic looking glasses, presented by the tech giant in 2013. It was surely a breathtaking technological invention, being on everybody’s lips. The glasses cost $1500 and were supposed to be a device for taking phone calls, using social media platforms and so on. Basically a smartphone locked in glass. What could go wrong?
Well, there are several reasons why the launch was a failure and didn’t change the industry like prejudged. From the technical perspective, there were major users’ privacy concerns. Google Glass could record people without their permission or recognise strangers through facial recognition. Moreover, a user could use the device for recording private conversations and then broadcast them. There were also concerns that glasses could be used as spying devices or easily targeted by cyber attacks.
From the marketing side, there are so many aspects that could have been done just better. First of all, Google never explained clearly the core benefits of its revolutionary product and let the public figure it out. The launch also lacked the mainstream advertising campaign, relying rather on the celebrities owning them and letting the public opinion to shape itself. Moreover, Google was teasing us way too long, not launching the product reasonably soon after the premiere and taking the advantage of the momentum and buzz.
Google is not fully finished with the project though. In fact, in 2019 the search & advertising company released the second Enterprise Edition model which should help white-collars with productivity and multitasking. Was it an idea way ahead of its time? Perhaps. Have I ever seen them out in the wild? Nope. Have you ever seen them in person? I am really curious.
They were supposed to be a healthier replacement for classic cigarettes and a solution for breaking the addiction. Ironically, e-cigs turned out to be a highly addictive device popular among… teens. The national US survey reveals that more than 2 million teens are active users of e-cigarettes and a quarter of them vape daily. The phenomenon behind vaping products is that they don’t develop a bad mouth taste, yellow teeth or smell after smoking. Producers offer a whole variety of tastes including fruit, candy or menthol flavors. Moreover, they can be used inside buildings because the cloud disappears quickly (although many facilities banned them, ex. airports) .
Sounds like a perfect alternative to regular cigarettes, right? Only in theory. They still contain nicotine that can harm especially the developing brain of a young person and develop an addiction. What’s more, multiple minors confessed developing depression and getting worse at school too. Until 2016, the e-cigarette sector was not regulated by the FDA at all. Later, despite stricter rules for entering the market were made, some key decisions were delayed leaving the big manufacturers like Juul, SMOK or Vuse untouched. One of these companies, Juul, got sued by the state of North Carolina and settled to pay $40m for advertising their product to minors on purpose. They still face more than 2 thousand lawsuits over their marketing tactics. From the business side, obviously e-cigarettes are a bull’s eye, for the health of millions of people, sadly including teenagers, not so much.
Amazon Fire Phone
After the success of Kindle, the e-commerce giant Amazon created their first and only mobile device back in 2014. The aim was to conquer the mobile devices market and compete with Samsung or Apple. What happened then? Multiple case studies covering this topic, point out the fact that Amazon made wrong assumptions and misunderstood their potential customers.
Besides the high pricing, one of the reasons for the failure is the Fire OS, Amazon’s own operating system that couldn’t access some of the key applications that Google or Apple offered. Its users complained a lot about the lack of multiple apps, caused by the lack of interest from developers to build the platform. The reviews of the device were mixed, stating that it looks more like a prototype and not a finished product or that there are no rational reasons to buy such a limited device.
The final nail in the coffin were the Greenpeace assumptions, that the Fire Phone is the most polluting phone out there, because their servers are powered by non-renewable energy sources. 20 days after the release of the Amazon Fire Phone, no more than 35 thousand devices were sold which contributed to 0,02% of the USA & Canada mobile market. Eventually, after a year Amazon discontinued the production of the first and probably the last phone they created.
“We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost,” said former CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop. There are whole case studies showcasing how Nokia failed to Samsung and Apple in the smartphone race roughly 10 years ago. From being the biggest shareholder of the mobile industry around the 2000s, Nokia lost its dominance and was ultimately sold to Microsoft in 2013 (devices & services departments).
So, apart from terrible senior management lack of timing and huge competition, what happened? Two words would probably explain it: Operating system. Nokia used Symbian in its devices, a now discontinued operating system and computing platform tailored for smartphones. Symbian was an old-fashioned device-based OS that lacked a proper UI and the most crucial thing: applications! It was basically set up to fail and couldn’t even compete with Android or iOS systems that are app-based. As those two systems started to develop, the innovation and buzz created by Apple or Samsung led to a gradual decline in Nokia users taken by the other giants of the mobile market. Eventually Nokia teamed up with Microsoft in 2011 in order to launch the Nokia Lumia series, which turned out to be another disastrous management decision, again because of the wrongly chosen OS. The one from Microsoft had no potential to grow and offer competitive features.
Back in 2013 I had a Nokia Lumia 520. What can I say, I used it only for phone calls and texts. Besides that I had an Ipod Touch that had everything Lumia lacked, and I just carried both of them. Why didn’t I just purchase the Iphone 5? Still no idea.
Yes, tech giants and other big companies can also fail. Sometimes it’s lack of proper advertising and sharing the idea of the product, or it’s bad management up in the company’s board. These mistakes always bring a valuable lesson that one can learn from and perhaps recognize and avoid certain risks.