Tech Industry

10 tech blunders of 2013

IT had its share of heroes and success stories over the past year, but a number of high-profile mistakes and failures garnered as much (or more) attention.

 

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Nary a year has gone by without some company releasing a new gadget that fails, a website with painful new "features," or some other technology enhancement gone wrong. 2013 is no different. Here are just 10 of the probably dozens of tech blunders we've seen this year.

1: Healthcare.gov

In what is probably the widest-known tech blooper of the year, the U.S. government launched Healthcare.gov, the marketplace for health insurance plans under the new Affordable Care Act. The site crashed soon after its October 1 launch and has been plagued by technical problems, unable to keep up with demand. For IT pros and business leaders, this blunder has been a field study in mistakes to avoid when handling a big project.

Also read: 5 lessons IT leaders can learn from Obamacare rollout mistakes (Tech Pro Research subscription required).

2: Edward Snowden & NSA

If Healthcare.gov wasn't the biggest blunder, the national security leaks by Edward Snowden are a good contender. The blunder here is, I suppose, up to the individual looking at the situation. On one hand, you have Snowden, who released information to the public that could have cost the lives of many -- deployed troops and deep-cover agents, for example -- and violated the trust put in him by the U.S. and other governments. On the other hand, the fact that the NSA and its equivalent agencies in other countries have all this information that they do not share with the public they serve is an upsetting revelation for many Americans. Further, that one man had access to as much information as he did may not have been the best plan by the NSA if it wanted it kept secret.

Also read: Five takeaways from the NSA and Internet surveillance disclosures and watch: Understanding Snowden's impact on IT... in 2 minutes.

3: iPad Mini release

The new full-size iPad, renamed the iPad Air, launched in early November. However, the iPad Mini went on sale a couple weeks later almost by accident. No advertisements, no announcements. In fact, Apple almost appeared to sneak the device into the market.  And possibly for good reason: There may not be enough to supply the holiday season. While there are still some available as of the time of this writing, the holiday season is far from over. Time will tell whether Apple can keep up with demand through the end of the year.

Also read: The 2013 tablet holiday guide

4: YouTube Google+

In November, Google changed the YouTube comments feature to require a Google Plus account. This sparked a backlash and petition signed by more than 200,000 users who do not want their real name on the comments they post. While I can see Google's point in wanting its users to have only one account across their Google experience, I find it bothersome that my name would be on a website (if I ever chose to comment on a YouTube video) when it did not need to be -- and I'm not an Internet troll.

Also read: Putting it together: Google updates Hangouts (and more) for the enterprise

5: Surface 2

Like the Surface RT and Surface Pro last year, Microsoft has had another weak launch of its new Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro tablets in October. Between the lack of a wide range of software in the marketplace, the cost of the devices, and overall usability issues, the Surface tablets can't compete well with iPads and Android tablets. In addition, most Windows users want a full version of Windows, which requires the Surface 2 Pro that costs even more, and you wind up with a device that has little user base.

Also read: Fact sheet: Microsoft Surface Pro 2; Surface 2 design changes make it more difficult to crack open and repair

6: Phablets

Speaking of devices shoved in between two existing form factors, phablets -- simultaneously oversized phones and miniature tablets -- are an interesting phenomenon. For me, having a giant phone I can't fit in my pocket is not going to work. Pair that with a tablet that is barely bigger than my phone (one of the best reasons to have a tablet is so that you've got more screen real estate than your phone), and you have a recipe for a useless device. I just can't see most people holding something nearly the size of an iPad Mini up to their head to make a phone call. It reminds me of the days when people carried boom boxes around on their shoulders.

Also read: Six of the best Android-powered "phablets"

7: Indian Mars Orbiter Mission

While the craft is now on its way to Mars, back in early November it was almost a dud. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), while firing its engines in Earth orbit to attempt to gain a wider orbit, did not succeed in achieving the distance it was expected to reach due to a problem in a fuel thruster.

Also read: Big space missions to watch in 2014

8: PlayStation 4

After selling more than one million units, Sony's PlayStation 4 has succumbed to a rash of dead-on-arrival reports citing the "Blue Light of Death" (reminiscent of the Xbox 360's Red Ring of Death), where the device appears to be turned on but no signal is displayed on the TV. Sony immediately blamed shipment damage as the culprit, given that other issues have been reported that all could be attributed to shipping. While the total number of affected devices is no more than one percent of the total shipped, these appear to be a vocal minority that are unhappy with their new paperweight.

Also read: Faulty PS4 consoles spark new Amazon exchange process

9: United Airlines free tickets

Due to a computer glitch in September, United Airlines customers were able to obtain tickets for little to no money. Many were free, others required payment of the September 11 Security Fee. To United's credit, it did honor any tickets purchased during this glitch, but it has kept quiet about how much money it lost due to the error.

Also read: United Airlines site loophole reoffers uber cheap fares

10: Google Reader

I've written about it before, but Google's announcement and subsequent cancellation of its oft-used, well-liked, and free RSS aggregator, Google Reader, nearly incited a riot back in March. Fortunately for the Internet, many other sites stepped up to the plate with free services, such as Feedly. While Reader may not have been generating much in the way of ad revenue, it was at least a goodwill product that probably cost Google some customers on the other sites in their pantheon.

Also read: You have choices in the aftermath of Google Reader's demise

Other blunders?

What errors, oversights, failures, and/or mistakes in judgment would you add to this list? Share your thoughts with fellow TechRepublic members.

 

 


47 comments
jimtravis
jimtravis

The Surface 2 (RT) supports Flash quite nicely.

Although Google dropped support for Flash awhile ago in Android, many vendors included their own browser with Flash support as a checkbox option.  Kit-Kat did alter, or drop some code needed by Flash; however, a modified version of Flash that works with Kit-Kat is available for side-loading..  I avoided updating some of my Android devices to Kit-Kat because it did break Flash.  I have since updated them, and use Dolphin Browser with the revised version of Flash.  Dolphin is available on the Play Store, the customized Flash app has to be side-loaded.  No jailbreaking / rooting required, very easy to do, and works fine.


Without Flash support, you are limiting yourself to a subset (granted a large subset) of the web.  I have tried apps that run / convert the Flash via a server;  however, my results have ranged from atrocious to barely acceptable.  In all cases, the Flash videos lacked the quality, and sharpness of the original.  Some of the via server apps also will not work using cell data, just WiFi.


An additional million apps could be added to the stores, and there would still be some sites / Flash videos that you could not view.

cybershooters
cybershooters

"Further, that one man had access to as much information as he did may not have been the best plan by the NSA if it wanted it kept secret."

He didn't have access to it, he got access to it, he got a job as a systems administrator and then figured out ways of stealing the information.  From the looks of what has been released, mainly PDFs and scanned images, I think he just used his administrator rights to poke around in the caches on client machines.


I'd say the iPhone 5C was a bit of a blunder, hasn't done well and seems a bit pointless, at least in the US.  Also the Samsung Galaxy watch gadget.

Vijitc
Vijitc

Katie Couric on Yahoo. What?

Vijitc
Vijitc

IOS7 look and feel. A step backwards.

kellj
kellj

It may be a long way from happenings in the US but the catastrophic failure of the new Queensland Health payroll system caused considerable grief that has impacted both QH and the wider IT industry in Australia. It's expected to cost the taxpayers in excess of $1b to sort it out; substantial amount considering that the original project budget was less than $20m.


OK, not really 2013 but the effect still lingers ......

pstorrie
pstorrie

Google Nexus 7 2013 WIFI version, initial set up mandates a WIFI connection to an internt connection and given that there appears to be no USB driver for Windows (that has worked for me to date, supplied by ASUS) to initiate set up through an internet capable PC there were a lot of disappointed people on Christmas day.

techracer7
techracer7

Novopay in New Zealand. Although this payroll project for the Ministry of Education was technically deployed live in 2012, the debacle continued though 2013 with major problems of overpayment, underpayment or no payment of the nation's teachers and support staff. The problems still aren't entirely solved.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novopay

This is a prime example of how NOT to run a software project.
sperry532
sperry532

Let's not forget Marisa Mayer's horrific redesign of Yahoo!'s various interfaces in an effort to win over Google users.

The redesigns (aka NEO) have created multiple problems for users of Mail, Groups, Sports, News, and other areas that were heavily trafficked. Many of the changes render the areas far less usable and/or user-friendly.

Moreover, the Yahoo! Customer Service units actively dismiss complaints from users, both paid and free, as being the "complaints of those who simply don't like change", while ignoring the actual mal- and non-functioning of the sites.

philip.arnold
philip.arnold

As already mentioned, I fail to see how YOUR preference for smaller phones (you probably have an iPhone) means that phablets are a blunder...


If you look at the sales on the Galaxy Note, it clearly ISN'T a blunder at all! For guys who have "manly" fingers, having a small phone is unusable - I have had a 5" screen since the Dell Streak, and would happily switch up to the Xperia Z Ultra (a 6.5" screen) if I had an upgrade coming - just as an example of why small screens don't work for people with larger fingers, I get about 60% accuracy on an iPhone screen unless I type at 1 letter per second or slower, which means typing functionality is nigh on impossible on any smaller screens!

Considering the actual blunders in the tech world in 2013, why you chose some of these is laughable, and it can only be from a personal agenda or points from a purely personal point of view, and if it's either of these, your blog entry should not be on this site, and should be on a personal site, one where you complain how phones bigger than little girly hands are horrible, and how Apple products should dominate because they understand that phone screens should be average resolution and really small :-P

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

The IE11 auto-rollout that broke a LOT of website functionality (Citrix & Articulate e-learning are two things I had to document workarounds for) surely has to be on this list.

Jay_H
Jay_H

Your phablet objection (not pocket sized) is partly based on you personal (gender specific) experience. My wife carries a handbag pretty much everywhere, and the phablet (which she loves) fits just fine.

carlsf
carlsf

Windows 8/8.1.

This release of Windows I/we personally have NOT recieved well.

There are too many changes and the UI is CRAP on any NON Touch computer or Notebook/Laptop

We have made the decision NOT to use this release on our systems (115) and will be using Windows 7 untill this has been fixed with the inclusion of the Windows 7 UI and Menu system, into the next release of Windows (9/10).

We are trailing Linux Mint and Google Docs as a replacement.

If Microsoft have NOT fixed Windows by the time we have finished our trail, we will be a NON MIcrosoft business, and from curent pricing at a very large saving to our business.


It is looking like Goodby Microsoft

WaltBakes
WaltBakes

I think only a thin case can be made that Snowden's leaks risked troops' lives. The good he did far outweighed the supposed harm.

chunghua888
chunghua888

I am not sure why the phablets are a blunder? The Samsung Note 3 phones are selling like hot cakes.

RobinHahn
RobinHahn

2.

blunder ˈblʌndə/nounnoun: blunder; plural noun: blunders1. a stupid or careless mistake. 

"she stopped, finally aware of the terrible blunder she had made"

How is this a 'tech blunder', Wally? The NSA didn't make a tech blunder: they know what they're doing. 

Snowden didn't make a tech blunder: he saw what the NSA were doing flew in the face of - at the very least - the Constitutional rights of American citizens. He didn't commit any sort of blunder at all: he very courageously took action because he's a patriot.

Methinks you're using your blog to propagate your right-wing views. Sad that TechRepublic allow this sort of politicizing to happen on their pages: they're usually better than that.

Stick to tech when discussing "10 tech blunders", Wally. Politics can be discussed in another setting.

jay
jay

I am so puzzled by item number 7 - "Indian Mars Orbiter Mission" is a dud? I thought it was a success and the spacecraft is well on its way to reach Mars by September 2014? I scoured the internet to see if I could find any scientific article declaring it a dud. Couldn't find any.....


Item number 9 - United's free tickets ? is that really such a big deal that it had to be in a top 10 list? Then why not Target's credit card mishap?


A very poorly thought out list 

miauwington
miauwington

2: Snowden's revelations are upsetting for many people worldwide, not just Americans. They should also not have come as the surprise it appeared to be, to anyone who's a bit aware of the world we live in. The argument that it all serves as a measure to protect citizens is imho completely negligible if this grants the power to develop programs like Prism who take this world one step closer to 1984.

Trentski
Trentski

Poor list, poor effort

fire this guy

martinwtaylor
martinwtaylor

Regarding the Surface 2, when will this idea of a lack of applications die a death?  Every major social network, site and app is represented in the Store - I can't think of anything I need that I don't have.  Also, the killer app is Microsoft Office 2013 and it's built-in.  No iPad has that feature, making them useless for business.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

This may not be 2013 but I believe that iPad's and iPhone's inability to play Flash videos and games is a glaring tech blunder.

ccfman2004
ccfman2004

I remember a device that was a portable game/cell phone many years ago that didn't do so well.  Imagine holding something the size of a Taco Bell Taco to you ear to make a call.  I don't even remember the name but I think it was made by Nokia.

skf
skf

@sperry532 You do pay for the free sites with all the ads and the way Yahoo and others use up your bandwidth to bury you in uninteresting ads.  Not unlike cable tv, which has as much advertising as free tv.

cybershooters
cybershooters

@jeb.hogeI wouldn't say it was a major blunder, but yeah a lot of things don't work in it, a lot of Cisco management interfaces don't seem to work properly.  But you can't say it's major these days when you can just use a different browser.

cybershooters
cybershooters

@carlsfWindows 8 was released in 2012, so it doesn't count.  8.1 was an improvement, so I can't say that was a blunder, more of a correction that didn't go far enough.

rondadams
rondadams

@carlsf  Microsoft's attempt to unify the UI for all devices has to be one of the biggest blunders of the decade! The UI is unintuitive and inconsistent at the least, but it was also a step back in functionality and usability for the user. Now they're trying to force it on every platform including their servers, which is an even bigger mistake. If they don't correct this mistake in the next year, they will certainly doom themselves and their future, but I'm not thinking many will cry.

Zudjiian
Zudjiian

@carlsf I have always operated on the rule of thumb, Microsoft software should not be used until it has had minimum 1 year out in the world.

cbeckers
cbeckers

@carlsf Bad enough that enterprise systems are having trouble with Windows 8/8.1, think of the relatively unsupported home user who bought a new machine at a big box store or online for Christmas.  As an experienced computer user, I did just that and am still trying hard to get the new Windows 8.1 machine to talk to our home network printer (routinely accessed from 7 other Windows devices on our home network).  

Predacorp
Predacorp

@carlsf I so agree, I've opted to migrate my office to Win7 and avoid Win8 completely as it would probably cause me to go postal resolving constant familiarization issues with it. I'd rather die than deal with the barrage of phone calls just because Microsoft decieded to force it's Ideas on the market. It's like they never learn...

helzapoppn
helzapoppn

From an IT perspective, the blunder was failing to grasp just how much damage a humble systems administrator can do given unlimited access and zero oversight.

Jay_H
Jay_H

Agree. I've seen NOTHING to indicate he revealed identities, or military secrets. What he revealed is profound corruption, dishonesty and perhaps (if the president and congress are to be believed about not being informed) a silent coup by the intelligence agency.

Years ago J Edgar Hoover spied on large numbers of people (though not this many) and used his information to control Congress and the president.

yawningdogge
yawningdogge

@RobinHahn Whoa, back this truck up for a minute. I'm about as right wing as they come and I completely support Snowden, and I know I'm not the only one.

helzapoppn
helzapoppn

The revelations of Target's security breach probably happened too late in the year to make this list. Otherwise you are 100% right on it deserving a top 10 slot.

ykrsdn
ykrsdn

@Suresh Mukhi What phone are you using? Nowadays no phone and barely any tablet support flash. Only the old Android phones did. But you can always download skyfire for those sites that still only support flash videos instead of HTML5.

inouyde
inouyde

Was that the Sidekick?

kitekrazy
kitekrazy

@cybershooters@carlsf The fact that there's a Windows 8 anything in 2013 is a blunder. They need to ditch the app (crapp) store.  Netflix and Zinio Reader apps suck on Windows Ih8.

cybershooters
cybershooters

@helzapoppnFrom the looks of it he didn't have unlimited access, he just made the most of the access he had.

Zudjiian
Zudjiian

@helzapoppn EXACTLY... sys admin's the world over just lost a notch of respect imho

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

@ykrsdn I am using an iPad2. You just added to my rant. The fact that we have to rely on third party browser, which are not always very good to watch flash videos is a tech blunder. Whatever happened to backward compatibility? 

333239
333239

@ykrsdn@Suresh Mukhi

There are many more ancient technologies than Flash that are still well supported, eg HTML. Jobs did not like it for several reasons, not least that it ran like sh*t on Apple devices and he wouldn't get together with Adobe to fix it.

ykrsdn
ykrsdn

@Suresh Mukhi Flash is ancient technology. Of all modern tablets only the Windows 8 Pro tablets support flash. You can always buy a Surface Pro. Or you can wait until your favorite video streaming site releases an app or upgrades to HTML5 streams. 

Which sites do you use that still only support flash and don't have an iOS app?

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