2016 Biggest Tech Flops

Category: Reference

The year 2016 was full of failure. In politics, pollsters wildly misread voters in the UK and the USA. And in the tech world, there were many unpredictable (or at least unfortunate) events as well. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most impressive technology failures of 2016...

What Went Wrong in 2016 Tech?

Samsung’s flagship smartphone for 2016, the Galaxy Note 7, set the market on fire -- but not in a good way. Following 35 reports of exploding batteries, Samsung told everyone to stop using their Note 7 and return it for a replacement. But several replacements caught fire, too, so Samsung recalled all 2.5 milliion Galaxy 7s sold. Incredibly, some diehards held onto their ticking time bombs, so now Samsung and its carrier partners are pushing out automatic software updates that brick the phone permanently. What really hurt is that Samsung bought the faulty batteries from its own battery-making subsidiary.

If that wasn't enough bad news for Samsung, they also had a problem with their washing machines exploding. In November 2016, Samsung recalled almost 3 million top-loading washers after over 700 of them had exploded, and at least nine people were injured. Elliot Kaye, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, described the issue as a "very serious hazard of the top of these washing machines completely blowing off.” Thirty-four top-loading Samsung washers are affected by the recall.

Tech Fails of 2016 - Exploding Note 7

Volkswagen gave its engineers an impossible mission: come up with a diesel engine that gets as many miles per gallon as gas-powered cars, and also passes emissions tests. You can’t do both at once, said the engineers. Just do it, said executives. So the engineers wrote secret software that disabled emissions-cleaning tech except when a vehicle was being tested. This cheat worked well for ten years, but after the scheme was discovered, Volkswagen owes over $14 billion in fines to U.S. authorities alone. Plus, VW is buying back hundreds of thousands of vehicles equipped with the cheating engine. The scandal widened recently when it was discovered that some vehicles made by Audi (a VW subsidiary) may also have emissions cheating software.

Yahoo ended 2016 with a huge black eye as well. In December, it was revealed that over one BILLION of its users’ accounts had been hacked, in addition to another 500 million breached accounts that were discovered separately in September. Even worse, Yahoo execs didn't tell their own security team about a secret email monitoring program that was installed to let the FBI monitor email messages flowing through Yahoo servers.

Also in December, I published Tech That Spies On You, which warns of toys, TVs and home automation gadgets that are listening to your every word. Some of these gadgets are recording, storing and transmitting your voice commands over the Internet without encryption. In a related story, police are seeking audio data from an Amazon Echo device that was used in the home where a murder took place.

More Flops, Fails and Frauds

Theranos, a medical unicorn beloved by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, turned out to be just a pony with an ice cream cone on its head. Headed by Elizabeth Holmes, the kind of young, blonde female that Silicon Valley desperately needs to boost its CEO diversity cred, Theranos promised an automated test for dozens of diseases and physiological metrics using just a tiny droplet of blood instead of the frightening vials that are usually drawn. Walgreens installed Theranos devices in dozens of its stores. But it turned out that Theranos had faked most of its test data, and could only test for a couple of metrics. The company was banned from lab work and so was Holmes, personally.

The $799 GoPro Karma drone was released on Oct. 23; on Nov. 8, GoPro announced a recall of all 2,500 Karma drones it had sold in just over two weeks. Karma drones were losing power and falling to the ground in alarming numbers. Other drone makers had worked through similar problems before they started selling lots of drones.

The official verdict isn't in yet, but I'm calling Apple AirPods a fail. The wireless ear buds created by Apple look like a cross between a bluetooth headset and an electric toothbrush. Because they are wireless, they have batteries that need to be recharged, and they're also extremely easy to lose.

The Internet of Things, better known as the IoT, is perhaps the biggest privacy and security hazard looming in 2017. In my article IoT Security News Just Gets Worse, I discussed the alarming lack of security in many home automation and so-called "smart" devices that can connect to the Internet. Webcams, baby monitors, DVRs, light bulbs, coffee makers, refrigerators, door locks, door bells, and other gadgets may leave you open to hackers, and facilitate devastating denial of service attacks.

Adobe Flash is a favorite target of hackers and malware writers because it's old, complex, and riddled with hidden bugs. So many critical flaws were found in Flash, that browsers are starting to drop support for it. I say it's time to stick a fork in it.

Remember smartwatches, including the messianic Apple Watch? Well, Apple is still in the watch game, but the Apple Watch is estimated to account for less than 6% of revenue and sales are falling. Other smartwatch pioneers, such as Fitbit and Pebble, are failing or have gone out of business. The Microsoft Band 2 was canned in October. The biggest fail in the smartwatch sector may be the market analysts; one estimates that global smartwatch sales are down 60% for the year, while another claims they’re up 40%.

It could be that gadgets are just doomed. In a New York Times article The Gadget Apocalypse Is Upon Us, Farhad Manjoo argues that the gadget age is over. It's an interesting perspective, and a good read.

The tech scene was littered with other failures in 2016. What was your personal favorite? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "2016 Biggest Tech Flops"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

In line with what Dan said (today), from my parochial viewpoint, Windows 10 is beyond a flop. It is malevolent. Every day I look at the box holding the Foxconn motherboard the Windows 10 "upgrade" turned into a brick.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

People like that word to hype things. "burns up" or "tears itself apart, sometimes launching parts" just doesn't cut it in yellow journalism even though they are more descriptive.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

Thank heavens I didn't buy into the "gadget" aspect of technology! I just wasn't interested. Yes, I have my Smartphone but it is a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Why I got it that version is it was so much cheaper each month with AT&T's Next payment plan. I love my Note 4. It's the right size, fits my hand and works!

I knew about the Note 7 and all of the exploding batteries, but somehow I missed any news of the Top Loading Samsungs washing machines exploding!!! How they don't have batteries??? Is Samsung being sabotage? Just what is going on? Samsung has built its reputation and for years it has been a solid one.

As far as the Smartwatches - I never was interested. I am not into fitness, so why bother? For me, a simple digital watch is fine, as long as the face is large enough for me to see. LOL

I believe that technology should truly help you and mankind. While I won't ever buy a 3D Printer, I have already seen just what it does for mankind, right now. Medicine is using this printer for good and in helping mankind. When I read an article about a 3D printer duplicating a baby's heart so that the surgeons could figure out how to correct the defects and save the baby's life - That to me is what technology is really all about.

Rhetorical question - Why do so many major websites keep using Adobe Flash??? They have to know just how bad it is for their viewers and they have had plenty of time to replace Flash. Don't they care? Maybe that is the real issue, these websites could care less about the safety of their viewers.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

I love my Apple Watch! I wouldn't be without it now. I have a collection of over 100 watches but the Apple is the only one I ever wear! :)

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

I lament the buyout of Pebble by Fitbit.
My Pebble Time is perfect for my needs. It's not too intrusive with notifications and I can tell the time, date, day of the week, temp, weather and also how much battery life I have, all neatly on one watchface.
I can also get turn by turn GPS navigation. My watch will vibrate on every upcoming turn and give me other great visual cues without having to ever take my hands off the wheel.
i also love that I can turn my ringer off and still get notifications of calls and texts without having to pull out my phone unless I need to. This is especially helpful in restaurants or theaters.
The battery life is around 4 days with normal use and it's the only smartwatch you can read in the sunlight.
It was and still is ahead of it's time.

Posted by:

Sarah L
03 Jan 2017

Windows 10 Anniversary Upgrade, that cost me so much money to get my network re-connected and have my computers link to my new printer. I do regret opting for 10. Unsrable & tech help cannot help, so they made things worse. How Microsoft survives as a market leader is a mystery to me.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

I think we can also include Marissa Ann Mayer and her mishandling of Yahoo as a tech failure in 2016.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

@BobD Just curious how Windows 10 bricked your motherboard? Unless you did a bad BIOS update I would be surprised if Win 10 was to blame.

Posted by:

Dave Wingrove
03 Jan 2017

Updating from win 8 to win 10, internet WiFi disconnects randomly, installed Ethernet cable, still same problem. When this happens the computer requires a hard shut down (holding start button down until it expires). Installed Driver Booster as computer claimed drivers up to date, updated Ethernet drivers. Now internet stays on Ethernet as long as computer is being used, if left idle it switches to WiFi internet and a hard shut is then required when turning it off.
Google does not come up with any reliable fixes.
The computer is slow on downloads and as about as reliable as the reticulated power in South Australia. SA government paid for a coal powered power station to be closed at Port Augusta, the the mother of all storms took down 2 of 3 power interconnecter power tower lines leaving the state with out power in the north and west for nearly a week. We have an aging rotten water pipe system with burst mains, house flooding on a weekly basis, a $2billion Royal Adelaide Hospital that is full of building and design faults which is 12 to 18 months behind in opening. We also have a fly ash dust problem at Port Augusta as no one is controlling the waste that has been spread on the ground now the power station is shut.
All I can say is thank Christ Microsoft is not based in South Australia, we as residents don't want any more stuff ups.

Posted by:

Ray McGinley
03 Jan 2017

Re IoT security, one startup (M2M Spectrum) uses licensed 800 MHz for data transmission to ensure security at low cost.

Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
03 Jan 2017

The "exploding" Samsung washing machines don't literally "explode"; heavy loads such as blankets and comforters at the very high RPM spin cycles can pop the tops off, scattering clothes and water all over. We have one of these, but never had a major problem. The washing tub is quite large, and a couple of blankets will _fit_ - but will overload the washer when soaked with water. The fix is better closures to keep the top from popping off at high speeds.

Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
03 Jan 2017

Watches; The watch BAND on my 6-year old Casio watch broke. Amazon will sell me a replacement watch BAND for $10, or a replacement WATCH for $12.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

Then there`s the massive IBM stuff-ups with the Queensland Health system and the looming Centrelink (Department of Human Services) who are billing Millions(?) of their customers for debts that the customers don`t owe. We might be world champs in the stuff-up competition.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2017

I have to disagree with all of those above who have had problems with WIN 10. I upgraded early in the game and solved 90% of my computer problems and increased the stability and speed of my computer significantly. I am NOT a techie and maybe that was why it was so successful. I had one bug that I was able successfully to find a workaround. The occasional problem that has developed has been solved by WIN 10 itself--I just let it do it's thing. No, I would not go back to Win 8. While there may be flaws in WIN 10 that I haven't yet discovered,I will address those if, and when they happen. And, no, again, I do not work for Microsoft!

Posted by:

Max Corrigan
04 Jan 2017

whatever happened too google glasses that could access the internet. or something like?

Posted by:

04 Jan 2017

The IoT - and to some extent 'smart watches' - seem to me attempts by industry to find a 'practical' use for the capabilites of the technology - most of which are abject failures, except for those few people who seem to embrace every new innovation as manna from heaven. Me? I use a pen and paper diary for my odds and ends of appointments; it's far easier than navigating my smart phone. We use am old envelope for writing a shopping list - and we shop, because neither my wife nor I trust some anonymous employee to choose suitable fresh produce.
Innovation for its own sake, just because it can be done, is a waste of time and technology - as many manufacturers are beginning to find out.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2017

My biggest tech problem was caused by listening to Bob and purchasing the IDrive. It was supposed to solve my backup problems and extend my WiFi network. Unfortunately, the WiFi only stays up for a couple minutes, and even then Windows 10 knows it is there, but does not make it available. The bottom line is that the only way to use the box is with a local USB connection. Having it next to the computer halves its value as backup and eliminates its use as a network extender. Hours wasted working on the problem. Calling their "support" yielded a guy who would read me the FAQs on their website, none of which seemed to have any relevance to the problem. He did point me to USB connection since nothing else worked.

IDrive also produces an endless stream of ads and emails entreating me to purchase more storage at their site. Not a company I want to do business with.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2017

Thanks to Bob for this-a fun read.

To those who wrote about the "young blonde"-yes, I agree with what Bob wrote. First, it fills the female hiring requirement. Blondes are more noticeable and yes, they do have more fun (I can vouch for that).

In addition, perhaps they were also trying to dispel the notion of the "dumb blonde". I'm afraid this event didn't help. What a shame, since everyone dreads having blood drawn. It would have been great, if it worked properly and as advertised.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2017

I must say I agree with Barb re Windows 10. I installed it when the upgrade first came out and it's great. My PC works faster and corrects itself of any little hitches - and coming up from Windows 7, there was only a very slight learning curve - and may I add, I am 88 years old.
The only complaint I have concerns Cortana, which I find dreadful - but Siri probably spoilt me for Cortana!!!

Posted by:

07 Jan 2017

I upgraded to Win 10 when it became available, and the only problem I had - once I retrieved my password! - was that I had to boot twice every time the computer was shut down, and that was cured by the infamous update. I'm an 'old bat', soon to be 80, but was programming in COBOL and Fortran in the days of mainframe giganticus. Still build my own computers and manage to stay out of trouble. Apply KISS principle. Usually works! (Tried to post from tablet 30 minutes ago. Gave up)

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