Let’s face it: Most new tech products don’t make it on the market. For every iPhone there are more than a dozen smartphone flops, and for every hit app there are thousands that fall into complete obscurity. Some things in tech, however, fail so spectacularly that they leave a dent on the Internet as they crash through the floor. These notable failures should be remembered, both as a source of amusement and as a warning to tech companies not to try this sort of funny business again.
Last week, I highlighted the five most important tech breakthroughs of the past five years. This week, we’ll do exactly the opposite, casting a deservedly harsh light on some of the worst flameouts in Silicon Valley over the same time period. In several cases, the failures are spread out across multiple products, which means there’s no one launch date — but that doesn’t make the flop any less spectacular.
5. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) Maps takes a detour into Failistan
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) hyped its Maps app with typical Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) fanfare, but the public’s reaction was decidedly less accepting. I think my colleague Morgan Housel summed up this reaction pretty well in a tweet last fall:
BREAKING: APPLE MAPS SAYS HURRICANE SANDY TO HIT CALIFORNIA BY MIDNIGHT
— Morgan Housel (@TMFHousel) October 28, 2012
The product is glitchy in a way that only a rushed-to-market alternative to the most comprehensive mapping effort ever made (that’s Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)‘s mapping alternative, if you were wondering) can be. A small group of Aussies nearly died when Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) Maps sent them on a detour into a remote desert, and that’s just one of the many directional and visual failures its users found within weeks of launch. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s triumphant mapping return to iOS saw its Maps app become the most downloaded after Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) basically threw in the towel. Apple wound up firing the exec in charge of its mapping service. The following image is apparently a real screenshot from Maps. Hope you’ve got four-wheel drive.
4. Google is socially awkward
Wave. Buzz. Plus. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s history of social-media flops actually stretches back beyond these three stinkers, but they’re the ones that were launched in the past five years. Wave was Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s effort to build a more robust instant messaging platform, with all sorts of multimedia capabilities. It was shut down a year after its 2009 launch. Buzz, which was an attempt to merge social media with Gmail, was another fast flameout, opening in 2010 and closing in 2011.
Calling Google+ a failure is a bit more controversial. Earlier this year, the company reported 359 million active users. Heck, I’ve got a Google+ account, even though I barely use it. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Only 135 million Plus accounts were actively engaging with the social network, which is far behind Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)‘s active user base of nearly three-quarters of a billion people.
Many people sign up for Google+ simply because it’s tied up with Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s other services, like Gmail, YouTube, and (most importantly) the Android platform, and then they largely forget about it. The average Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) user spent nearly seven hours on the site per month in 2012. The average Google+ user was only on the site for three minutes. Google+ might succeed over the long run if it becomes the de facto social layer on Glass-style wearable interfaces, but as of now, it’s hard to call the service anything other than a virtual ghost town with millions of ghosts.