6 Tech Company Screw-Ups Silicon Valley Hopes You Forgot
Even the greatest tech companies suffer failures. Nintendo had the Virtual Boy, Google had Google+, and we had the wildly ill-conceived CrackedCoin. But sometimes tech companies suffer such spectacular failures that our brains simply can't process them, and we all just plain forget. Which is why we've cataloged these boondoggles for the appropriate shaming.
Twitter And Facebook Both Released Dedicated Devices That Flopped Hard
Today you can't even assault your mailman without getting called out for it five minutes later on Twitter. But back in 2009, the site and its mere 140-character posts were both relatively new and still baffling to many. To build hype, Twitter partnered with a company called Peek to create the creatively named TwitterPeek, "the world's first dedicated Twitter device." It would also be the world's last.
For a mere $99, plus $7.95 per month for data after half a year of ownership, you could buy a handheld device that allowed you to use Twitter and absolutely nothing else. Twitter envisioned a world wherein busy people would spend money solely to share their evergreen Jersey Shore jokes instead of waiting to get home and use the service for free on their personal computers, which humans still owned in those ancient days.
To somehow make it worse, the product was targeted at new users to help them become acquainted with Twitter. It wasn't marketed to avid Twitter users who might have somehow been a weird niche market. Shockingly, the demographic of Twitter neophytes with a willingness to spend 100 bucks on a single app was nonexistent, and the moronic ploy was obliterated by the emerging smartphone industry. By 2012 Peek was dead after a brief foray trying to sell something called "the genius cloud" to Asian phone companies.
Facebook observed their rival's failure and, having learned an important lesson, decided to fail in a bold new direction. In 2013 they teamed up with AT&T and HTC to bring indifferent consumers the HTC First, a Facebook-oriented smartphone. It used a new interface called Facebook Home, which let users quickly see and post Facebook updates. You know, for people who think the five seconds it takes to open the Facebook app on a normal phone constitute an unbearable eternity.
The $99 device was an instant failure. It was cheaply made, people were confused by the interface, and by launching next to the Galaxy S4, it looked like a relic of the Bronze Age. It was also based on a lie. All of the companies involved claimed that the Facebook Phone would be unique, but you could download the Home interface onto any Android device you wanted to. Zuckerberg expressed disappointment in the rollout, and when even Mark Zuckerberg is disappointed in an idea, it must have been terrible. AT&T marked the price down to 99 cents in a "promotional deal," and then the phone vanished forever, back into the same terrible dimension they quarantined the "Poke" feature in.
Mattel Tried To Make Extreme Home Computers
Barbie, Hot Wheels, and the crossover Barbie who became a street racer to track down the gangster who ordered Ken murdered were all huge in the '90s, and the use of personal computers was also on the rise. So Mattel saw the perfect opportunity to team up with Patriot Computer and design PCs based on their most popular brands, with Barbie and Hot Wheels versions debuting in September 1999.
The $600 devices were bundled with games, educational software, and either a steering wheel or digital camera, and were marketed to parents as a way to give their children a fun and useful entry into modern technology on Christmas morning. A warning to our contemporary readers: Don't gaze directly at the images that follow, lest their x-treme '90s rattitude compel you to frost your tips and buy Crazy Bones.
It wasn't a terrible idea, and analysts predicted a modest success. But have you ever heard of Patriot Computer? Probably not, and that's because 40,000 of their Mattel computers -- roughly half of their initial orders -- had faulty power supplies.
Consumers that had ordered a blistering 333 MHz processor and gigantic 3 GB hard drive were screwed out of their Christmas gifts, and Mattel, already suffering from publicity issues at the time, was forced to hastily offer irate parents $100 gift certificates and some free toys. Most of the computers were eventually fixed and shipped out, but the damage was done, and Patriot Computer filed for bankruptcy with 3,100 orders still unfilled. And sadly, we now have to paint our own bitchin' flames on our PCs.
Fisher-Price's High-Tech Baby Monitors Failed To Monitor Anything, Harmed The Skin Of Babies
Fisher-Price has built an empire out of reliable baby products, but their sterling reputation was tested by the Sproutling, a monitor that looked like it was for use on babies who were under house arrest for their baby crimes.
The WiFi-connected gizmo would supposedly monitor your precious bundle of joy's vitals and alert you if anything went wrong, like if they rolled over in their sleep. But the band would leave red, scaly patches and a big indentation on lil' ankles, which is exactly why Cracked tests every product we sell on babies before they go to market.
Worse, the poorly developed app didn't do the one thing Fisher-Price promised. It was slow, it randomly logged you out, notifications were sometimes delayed or sporadic, and oh yeah, its "red alerts" wouldn't override a phone's "Do Not Disturb" mode. Meaning that if your baby was in danger, you wouldn't know until the morning. All of these incredible features for a mere $250! In October 2018, just a year after launch, Fisher-Price took the service offline and offered full refunds to any parents who had bought the device hoping to monitor their tiny parolees.
Related: The 6 Most Overhyped Technologies
Oakley Launched MP3-Playing Sunglasses That Looked Ridiculous
Imagine that we're back in 2004. You've just finished watching some hilarious Flash videos about badgers and mushrooms, and now it's time to head outside with your Nokia flip phone and one of these newfangled MP3 players that's capable of holding over 100 songs. But isn't it a pain to carry around two separate devices? How will you survive this technological Dark Age?
Oakley, the company that makes sunglasses for obnoxious rich kids, had a solution: a pair of glasses with a built-in MP3 player and earbuds. They called it the Oakley Thump. We didn't say it was a good solution. Because it was 2004, Thumps were heavily endorsed by both Dog the Bounty Hunter and Lil Jon, who even designed special red camo frames for when you're going undercover at laser tag. The "advanced cranial hardware" was, we were told, perfect for both "hanging out at the beach or boosting in a halfpipe." If all of this doesn't already sound terrible enough, this is what they looked like:
The audio quality was good for the time, but a pair would set you back $395-$495 (depending on whether you bought the introductory 128 MB version or the elite model with a titanic 256 MB). An iPod Shuffle could be purchased for a fraction of the cost and way more storage, so you were essentially paying extra for the privilege of looking like a colossal douchebag.
There was also the issue of what to do when you wanted to listen to music at night or while inside. The lens could flip up, but that did little to address the product's "trust fund kid with ill-advised neck tattoos" vibe. This feature was later removed, possibly because it was too convenient.
Various Thump models were sold until 2007, at which point the brand was quietly discontinued. But let's take a moment to appreciate their foreshadowing of a world in which we need to charge seemingly every stupid-looking product we own.
Apple Had A Social Network That No One Knew Or Cared About
We started this article with a shot at Google+, but we could do that because at least people have heard of it. It's difficult to say the same about Ping, which was introduced by Steve Jobs in 2010 as a music-oriented social network that Apple claimed would have more followers than Facebook or Twitter. You know, like when MySpace rebranded to focus on music and suddenly blew all its competitors out of the water.
Apple had hoped to gain an instant user base from their 160 million iTunes users, not realizing that 159 million of them only begrudgingly used the service because it was too much work to migrate their music libraries anywhere else. The problems began before the network even launched. During a conference about Ping, Apple used Lady Gaga's Twitter feed as an example of the kind of content they would have ... while censoring a string of her posts protesting the anti-gay-marriage initiative Proposition 8. Cracked Marketing Tip: The earliest news about your new social network shouldn't be speculation over whether your company opposes gay rights.
Then, within 24 hours of Ping opening to the public, the service was flooded by spammers claiming to be celebrities who were giving away free Apple products. So no one could use Ping without 18 different Rihannas offering them free iPhones in exchange for their social security numbers. Ping eventually got that plague under control, but it was a terrible first impression for an already-disinterested public. By 2012, Ping was thrown into the same corpse pit that contains the bodies of Lisa and Newton, and iTunes was updated to include Facebook and Twitter integration. Absolutely no one uses those features either, but at least they're a lot cheaper.
Kodak Released A Camera-Oriented Smartphone That Took Terrible Pictures
Kodak was gigantic in the days of film photography, but they struggled to make the leap to the digital age. In an attempt to stay relevant, they created the Kodak Ektra, which promised DSLR-quality photography in the slim body of a smartphone. It even tried to look like a hipster's dream, with a faux leather finish and a fake lens frame attached. It was supposed to be retro and sophisticated, but in a testament to the quality of the product, it felt cheap the moment it entered your hands.
The phone's camera app -- it's only selling point -- was incredibly slow. It was hard to navigate, and if you had sausage fingers, you could easily shoot a photo in the wrong mode. It was also a huge drain on the battery, so you couldn't count on a full day of taking pictures with your phone that was built around taking pictures. But the biggest issue was photo quality. There were problems with the white balance, which means that images came out faded.
It also struggled in low-light situations, and its auto-focus was sporadic. So if you were a photography enthusiast who wanted grainy, faded, and often blurry pictures, the Ektra was for you! And no one else!
Software updates managed to elevate the Ektra from borderline unusable to mere mediocrity, but consumers weren't exactly rushing out to spend $400 on a camera-focused phone that took bad pictures. Oh, and the phone parts of the phone were slow and clunky too. Man, we expected better from a photography company that frantically pivoted to shady cryptocurrency schemes.
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