Business Technology

Sunday 26 January 2020

The biggest tech flops of 2013: the story so far

How was it that big-time names such as Microsoft and Facebook could be so wrong, asks Technology Editor Adrian Weckler

Microsoft Surface RT An iPad it sure ain't
Microsoft Surface RT An iPad it sure ain't
Facebook Home Smartphone Still, only a fool would write off Mark Zuckerberg...
Blackberry Z10 Sank without trace. What's more, it took the company with it
Motorola Razr M Right phone, wrong time – or a simple lesson in how to brand a product line?
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

WE were told that they were to be the next big thing. But many of the year's big tech launches have turned out to be flops. Here are four of the most hyped but least successful tech gadgets and services of 2013:

BlackBerry Z10

WHEN BlackBerry finally launched its updated operating system and new devices, there was a glimmer of hope for the brand.

But despite being a far superior phone to anything it had produced before, BlackBerry's Z10 device sank almost without trace – most people I know have never seen one.

Six months after its launch, the company has had to take a near $1bn write-off on piles and piles of unsold stock. Was it bad reviews? Faulty technology? A too-high sales price? Nope: it was simply too late for BlackBerry. Its core market – middle-aged corporate men and cash-strapped teenage girls – had moved on.

In the corporate world, the iPhone has become the new norm. For kids, it is a combination of Android phones and iPod Touch devices. It didn't matter that the Z10 had clever new 'work' and 'leisure' modes. It didn't matter that it had a good number of apps being ported over. Its window had passed at least 12 months earlier. It is curtains now for BlackBerry.

Microsoft Surface RT

WHILE it is too early to really write the obituary for Microsoft's Surface RT tablet (a Surface 2 has been announced), it is safe to say that Microsoft's big hope for an iPad challenger has had a poor first innings.

Irish stores saw two products – the Surface Pro and the Surface RT – land this year to take on Apple's all-conquering tablet. While the niche, high-end Surface Pro (€850) has sold tolerably well, the iPad-baiting Surface RT (€399) has struggled badly.

Although acknowledged as being elegant, its Microsoft Office software has proven to be a poor draw compared with Apple's App Store. It did not help that the device was launched around the same time as Windows 8, itself experiencing a mixed reception.

Overall, consumers experienced more confusion than clarity in relation to the Surface RT. Which tablet model could do what? Could the RT download new software? Where did Windows 8 apps fit into things? And which ones worked with USB devices? Nobody was quite sure. And because nobody else had one, there was nobody to ask.

Facebook Home smartphone

Watch out Apple iOS and Google Android – a new smartphone operating system had arrived. And it was 'social'!

Facebook Home, which 'takes over' your Android phone's home screen to make Facebook your ever-present window, was set to become the default operating system for millions of young smartphone users. This would happen because everybody has a Facebook account and we all want to stay connected as much as possible.

Six months later, it turns out that the option of your phone becoming an always-on reminder of your friends' cat photos and missing persons' appeals may not have been the sure-fire hit that some predicted.

Facebook Home's main hurdle was that it only worked for a small handful of expensive Android phones (and not iPhones). Its other challenge has been an existential one; Facebook's greatest strength – a connection to friends' status updates – is also its weakness when it comes to as crucial and frequent a device as our phone. Few of us like our friends that much.

It would be a fool who would write off Mark Zuckerberg's company in coming back with something stronger for mark II (it is currently beta-testing new Facebook Home interfaces). But so far, it has vanished.

Motorola Razr M

It was Google's first post-acquisition phone. It had the first Intel mobile chip. It was slim, it was cheaper than an iPhone. What could go wrong for Motorola's Razr M smartphone?

As it happened, the market just passed Motorola's phone by. On paper, the handset was a perfect smartphone proposition: a good (4.3-inch) size, a decent battery, a reasonable camera and a price at least €150 cheaper than an iPhone. On top of this, it sported 'pure' Android without all of the annoying widgets and unnecessary app-ware that many Android rivals stuff on their smartphones for us to immediately delete or ignore. They even took out a few billboard ads (including a few in Irish cities). So what went wrong? Quite simply, this: it wasn't Samsung.

'Six months after its launch, the company has had to take a near $1bn write-off on piles and piles of unsold stock'

If there is one case study that shows the power of branding in the tech world, it is Motorola's Razr M. Non-Samsung Android phones increasingly have a tiny share of the market. Motorola was relaunching itself with a fraction of the models – or the marketing budget – available to rivals such as Sony or HTC (itself struggling badly now).

Nobody was ever really convinced that Motorola was doing more than dipping a toe in the water. So few bothered to invest in one. The company has new models in the US, but hasn't re-entered the Irish market since.

Sunday Independent

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