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.



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 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.