The world never changes quite the way you expect. But at The Verge, we’ve had a front-row seat while technology has permeated every aspect of our lives over the past decade. Some of the resulting moments — and gadgets — arguably defined the decade and the world we live in now.
But others we ate up with popcorn in hand, marveling at just how incredibly hard they flopped.
This is the decade we learned that crowdfunded gadgets can be utter disasters, even if they don’t outright steal your hard-earned cash. It’s the decade of wearables, tablets, drones and burning batteries, and of ridiculous valuations for companies that were really good at hiding how little they actually had to offer. It’s the decade of Google filling up its product graveyard, Apple stubbornly denying obvious missteps, and Microsoft writing off billions of dollars.
Here are 84 things that died hard, often hilariously, to bring us where we are today.
84. Google Nexus Q
Everyone was confused by Google’s Nexus Q when it debuted in 2012, including The Verge — which is probably why the bowling ball of a media streamer crashed and burned before it even came to market. Priced at $299, plus another $399 for speakers and $49 for cables, the Nexus Q was incredibly expensive for what amounted to a gimmicky paperweight. It only streamed from YouTube, Play Music, and Play Video; had weird connection issues; and required an app to change any of the device’s settings.
Shortly after it was announced, Google pushed Nexus Q’s official launch date, telling those that pre-ordered it that the company ”heard initial feedback from users that they want Nexus Q to do even more than it does today,” and it “decided to postpone the consumer launch of Nexus Q while we work on making it even better.” That launch never came: Google quietly shelved the device (while deflecting discontinuation rumors) and gave away its remaining prototypes for free. —Dani Deahl
83. LeEco (formerly LeTV)
LeEco, the “Netflix of China,” was supposed to be the next Chinese tech company to make it big in the US. But LeEco’s two biggest gambles — an acquisition of California TV maker Vizio and a high-profile Tesla competitor called Faraday Future — ended up tarnishing its reputation and massively derailing the company’s plans to launch an electronics business in the US. (There was also that time its self-driving car didn’t make it to its own unveiling.)
Regulatory hurdles scuttled its plans to acquire Vizio, which was to be LeEco’s big entrance in the US television and entertainment market. The result was an embarrassing retreat — and a pair of Vizio lawsuits. (The two companies eventually settled.) As for Faraday Future, funded and eventually helmed by LeEco founder Jia Yueting as a US escape hatch for avoiding billions in Chinese debt, that’s a whole flop of its own. The latest development: Yueting has been removed as CEO, and he may have to head back to China and face his debts if the company files for bankruptcy. —Nick Statt
82. Apple Watch Edition
Apple actually thought that people would want a $10,000 smartwatch. Enough said, really. But in the leadup to the original, unsure-of-what-it-wanted-to-be Apple Watch’s release in 2015, a lavish 18-karat-gold “Edition” model began appearing on the wrists of celebrities like Beyoncé. To no one’s surprise, we would later learn that the high-luxury watch was a passion project of Jony Ive. But not many people could be convinced to spend up to $17,000 on a wearable that would be obsolete in a handful of years — compared to the timelessness of something like a Rolex. And in the case of the original Apple Watch, that meant Beyoncé and co. were stuck with a particularly slow vision of the future.
Bloomberg reported that sales were in the “low tens of thousands” and plummeted just a couple weeks after launch. With subsequent versions of the Apple Watch Edition, Apple switched to a ceramic casing and slashed the price dramatically. —Chris Welch
Originally known as the CrunchPad, the JooJoo was one of the first tablets. Two years before Apple announced the iPad, TechCrunch co-founder Michael Arrington had asked his readers to help him build the $200 slate computer. But a fight with Fusion Garage, the hardware company behind the JooJoo, meant the final $500 product would ship without Arrington’s involvement and just a few days before Apple’s iPad launched. After all that drama, the actual JooJoo tablet was just plain bad, with simple browser-only software that was no match for the power of Apple’s App Store ecosystem and hardware chops. Let’s not even get started on the name. —Chaim Gartenberg
80. Google Reader
In 2019, Google Reader finally got the headstone it deserved. It’s arguably the reason why people tend to talk about Google’s product graveyard. It wasn’t the first or last time Google snuffed out an idea, but it was definitely one of the dumbest — Google’s decision to kill off the beloved RSS reader in 2013, despite protests and likely only to save on server costs that Google wouldn’t notice in a thousand years, was arguably the death of RSS as a news distribution technology. Google News never made up for the gap, and Facebook’s News Feed became a dominant source of information.
It was also just a really good RSS reader. We still mourn its loss today. — Sean Hollister
For a brief moment in 2014, an “anonymish” social network was all the rage. Secret showed you messages from your friends and friends of friends, without identifying anyone by name. The result was a relatively safe space to talk about sex, drugs, and other things that would get you kicked off Facebook. It quickly amassed 15 million users and raised $35 million.
But one enduring lesson of the 2010s is that nothing anonymous can stay. Where there is no permanent identity, there is no permanent social network. Just 16 months after launch, Secret’s co-founder tried to save face by pulling the plug himself, sending Secret to the anonymous app graveyard alongside Yik Yak, Ask.fm, Formspring, and many others. The founders pledged to give the money they had raised back to investors — though they may have kept a few million for themselves. —Casey Newton
78. Magic Leap
When Google suddenly helped put a half-billion dollars in Magic Leap’s coffers, the little-known AR startup suddenly seemed poised to change everything — despite the fact that people knew almost nothing about its product, and Magic Leap worked hard to keep things that way. It illustrated lofty-sounding patents with a grab bag of stolen sci-fi imagery and promised its work would “transcend what can be contained in a physical product.”
Magic Leap impressed so many rich, smart, and powerful people that something amazing had to be going on… but delivering on that hype would have taken a near-miracle. In reality, Magic Leap’s first headset was a lot like the existing Microsoft HoloLens — but with no obvious business model and a less established company backing it up. Magic Leap has now raised $2.6 billion, but reportedly only has 6,000 sales to show for it. —Adi Robertson
77. Google Fiber
It felt like Google had finally heard my prayers: gigabit fiber-optic internet was coming to my hometown of San Jose, California. But Google gave up on fiber before I ever got a chance to use it. The company claims it’s providing internet to 18 metropolitan areas, but it’s been juicing those numbers since 2016, when it started counting Webpass cities where it’s wiring apartment buildings instead of homes. Portions of exciting fiber cities are still waiting for access. Heck, Google’s even pulled out of some cities since — like Louisville, Kentucky, where it wound up paying millions in reparation for ripping up the roads. —Sean Hollister
76. Justice League
Justice League isn’t a flop in one sense: the movie made almost $660 million worldwide. But it also kickstarted a global movement, one that’s raised tens of millions of dollars, to get Warner Bros. to release an entirely different version. The film didn’t appeal to critics, and diehard fans were so upset by Joss Whedon’s version that they’ve taken out billboards in Times Square and bus shelter ads demanding “The Snyder Cut,” a possibly-mythical-but-probably-real version of Justice League that captures Zack Snyder’s full vision for the film.
I don’t know, man, but if people are angry enough to raise money through a public campaign to tell everyone in New York City that your movie sucked — and those are the diehard fans — it’s a flop. —Julia Alexander
75. Microsoft Band
Microsoft’s first attempt at wearable hardware looked more like a prison experiment. The rugged hardware and uncomfortable fit felt like Microsoft simply shipped an engineering sample as a fitness tracker. You could also use the Band to buy a coffee at Starbucks, but not even Starbucks could save this gadget from demise after the second version did little to improve the aesthetics and fit. Eventually Microsoft cut its losses by shutting down the servers, offering refunds to apologize to the remaining loyal Band users. —Tom Warren
Of all the coveted endorsements an energy company could seek, having Obama as your personal brand ambassador is likely top of the list. That was the lucky position Solyndra found itself in circa 2009, when its circular solar panels caught the then-President’s eye. The company had everything the Obama administration wanted: innovative and efficient design, the potential to provide hundreds of new jobs, and billions of dollars in funding from hedge funds and venture capitalists. The only problem was that it didn’t actually have a business plan. In 2011, the company went bankrupt, thanks to skyrocketing costs and a nearly non-existent customer base. The nail in the coffin came when China stepped in to provide exceedingly cheap solar panels. —Zoe Schiffer
73. Valve’s Artifact
When Valve announces a new game, there’s a level of anticipation and hype most companies can only dream of, and Artifact was the first Valve game in four years — just the idea that Valve was making something new made it seem like a potential hit. Then, they brought on Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield to design the game, revealed that it would be based on the wildly popular Dota 2, and also that it would take advantage of Valve’s Steam Marketplace to let players buy and sell cards easily. None of it was enough for players to take to the game’s pay-to-play in-game economy.
Despite critical praise for its game design only a tenth of its initial 60,000 players stuck around two months after launch, and only a few hundred players remained two months after that. That’s when Valve announced they’d be halting updates in order to completely redesign the whole thing. Never has a Valve game burned out so quickly. —Michael Moore
Neil Young has spent years decrying MP3s, iTunes, and digital music as a whole, insisting that the compressed sound quality has ruined the listening experience compared to CDs and vinyl. In 2012, Young sought to solve the problem himself, announcing the Pono music player and a storefront that would sell hi-fi, lossless audio files. The Pono earned some buzz and over $6 million in crowdfunding support, and finally arrived in 2015, but it failed to resonate with a large audience any better than an unplugged Gibson Les Paul. Young’s smugness didn’t help, nor did the device’s yellow color and funky design. Even Microsoft’s Zune looked nicer.
But other companies carried forward Young’s obsession with audio quality. Tidal came out of the gate with a lossless streaming tier. And this year, Amazon launched a hi-fi tier of its Music Unlimited subscription service, with Neil Young the first to sing its praises with a healthy dose of hyperbole. “Earth will be changed forever when Amazon introduces high quality streaming to the masses,” he said. Pono itself never changed much of anything, though. —Chris Welch
71. The Google Barge
The barges had all the intrigue of a Dan Brown novel. Four-story structures were floating off the coast of San Francisco, and Google wouldn’t say what they were for. People speculated they would feature invite-only demos, luxury parties, and showrooms for Google’s new technologies.
Alas, it was not to be. The company hadn’t obtained the proper permits to dock the barges near San Francisco. Then the coast guard stepped in with pesky fire safety concerns and the project was effectively killed. It turns out, the barges had about 5,000 gallons of fuel on board and no good way to ensure they wouldn’t go up in flames. —Zoe Schiffer
70. Fake AI
To be clear: AI had a hell of a decade. But lurking in the shadow of its success like a knock-off Gooci handbag or a pair of Abibas sneakers was the squalid phenomenon of Fake AI. Companies saw the hype and misunderstanding that surrounded artificial intelligence and thought to themselves: “A-ha, we can sell that.” They produced AI toothbrushes, AI smart beds, AI alarm clocks and dishwashers, promising that “advanced machine learning algorithms” would adapt to the problems in our life, while cranking out the same old products relying on IF/OR functions. In short: they sold a lot of tat.
It’s not quite a flop in the classical sense, in that a lot of these products are still out here and presumably selling fine; but it’s a flop of expectations, with companies talking up products that could never match their over-hyped image. Sadly, as long as AI succeeds, Fake AI will flop along behind it. —James Vincent
69. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a phone launch like the Samsung Galaxy Fold’s. After just a couple of days my review unit just… broke. And so did the units of several other people because Samsung didn’t tell them to leave the screen protector on. Somewhere north of 50 percent of the most high profile reviewers in tech had busted units. How Samsung thought this device was ready to launch at all, much less as such a high-profile device, remains a mystery to this day. The company reworked the design and re-released it later, but the damage was (literally) done. Folding phones may yet still be A Thing, but the first one landed with A Thunk. —Dieter Bohn
68. Arsenic life
In 2010, four days before the paper was released, NASA scheduled a press conference on an “astrobiology discovery.” Speculation ran wild. “Has NASA discovered extraterrestrial life?” the internet asked. Well, not quite: a group of researchers claimed to have found an alien-ish lifeform in (where else) California: a bacteria that used arsenic rather than phosphorus in its DNA — a big deal, since all other life on Earth uses phosphorus. The much-hyped discovery, it turned out, wasn’t so much a discovery as an error. The bacteria, found in arsenic-rich Mono Lake, almost immediately triggered skepticism among some academics. (“I was outraged at how bad the science was,” one researcher told Slate.) By 2012, study of the bacteria showed it did prefer phosphorus, after all — avoiding arsenic whenever it could. So much for arsenic life. —Liz Lopatto
67. VR movies
Live-action film was a huge component of early VR, and it sounds wonderful until you stop to think about the drawbacks. Pro: a massive screen floating right in front of you! Con: it looks like it’s covered in fine mesh. Pro: a 360-degree experience where the action happens all around you! Con: you have to follow it by spinning in a chair. Pro: immerse yourself in media with no outside distractions! Con: you’re not actually interacting with that experience, and good luck eating popcorn in a VR headset.
Throw in the expense and inconvenience of 360-degree cameras, the difficulty of making money off short films, and the niche status of VR, and it’s not surprising they didn’t take off. You can still find 360-degree movies at film festivals, but VR cinema companies like Jaunt have either pulled out of the market or shut down — so they’re more like a sub-sub-genre than a medium. —Adi Robertson
65. The attempt to phase out incandescent light bulbs
Federal efficiency standards were set to basically wipe wasteful incandescent lightbulbs off store shelves by 2020, saving people money on their electricity bills and helping to stop the climate crisis. They’d already been proven out over the course of the decade, as CFLs and LEDs took the incandescent’s place in many American homes. Then in 2019, President Trump threw a lifeline to the incandescent by rolling back Bush and Obama-era efficiency standards.
Why? Because consumer choice is more important than saving the planet, Trump decided. And according to the president, “[a more efficient bulb] doesn’t make you look as good.” That’s right, he unfairly blamed the bulb for giving him an “orange” look. “Being a vain person, that’s very important to me,” he confessed in December. —Justine Calma
64. EverQuest Next
Massively multiplayer online games are stale. It’s been 15 years since World of Warcraft was released, and a “WoW killer” never materialized. The only thing that’s come close is World of Warcraft — yes, in 2019 Blizzard re-released their classic MMO to re-capture lapsed adventurers. But for a brief moment this decade, there was some hope that a classic name in MMOs would inject some new life into the genre. EverQuest Next was supposed to be a huge leap forward in massive multiplayer games. It promised dynamic worlds that could be torn apart like in Minecraft, but with traditional narrative elements from fantasy roleplaying games that would respond to the ways players changed the world. Dig too deep, and the world might be invaded by creatures from the abyss; abandon a settlement, and orcs might take over. Instead of pre-programmed narratives, EverQuest Next promised the potential for a world with its own emergent behaviors.
Unfortunately, Sony sold off the division that created EverQuest to an investment firm in 2015, which rebranded the property as the Daybreak Game Company. Eventually Daybreak canceled EQ Next, and its ambitious vision was lost. We’re hopeful that as AI advances in games that we’ll see some of its ideas return, but for now, it’s just another flop. —TC Sottek
Aereo founder Chet Kanojia had a straightforward goal: let customers watch live, over-the-air TV streams from the major broadcasters and other networks for a small monthly subscription. The company took a novel approach, leasing an individual antenna and DVR to every single customer. In this way, Aereo argued it was providing access to the TV content that consumers are already entitled to — but with more freedom.
However, it wasn’t long before Aereo attracted the ire of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC and found itself in a legal battle. The end came when a Supreme Court decision found Aereo’s “behind-the-scenes technological differences” did not distinguish it from traditional cable providers, the company was found to have violated copyright law, and it was forced out of business. History has a way of repeating itself, and we saw a very similar spat between the broadcasters and non-profit Locast in 2019. —Chris Welch
62. Google Tango
It takes two to tango, but Google never found enough partners for its early foray in augmented reality to make an impact on the dancefloor. It’s a shame, as Project Tango always had bags of promise.
Launched in 2014, Tango took a fresh approach to AR that focused on locating a device’s position in space (like the human sense of proprioception) to provide a scaffold for visual overlays. Google’s plan was to build the core tech then let phonemakers and developers produce the actual consumer products.
But in the end, only two firms — Lenovo and Asus — took Google up on its offer, creating devices that absolutely failed to live up to expectations, and in 2017 Google shut down Tango in favor of its more traditional augmented reality framework ARCore for normal phones. —James Vincent
61. Leap Motion
“We’re pretty sure we’ve seen the next big thing in computing” — that’s how The Verge described Leap Motion’s controller in 2012. (Narrator: It was not the next big thing in computing.) While Leap Motion proved that swiping and pinching the air felt really cool, it lacked the utilitarian reliability of a mouse or keyboard. The company got a boost from VR’s resurgence, because the market for a good motion controller was literally up for grabs. But despite repeatedly demoing a system for consumer headsets, it never got hardware makers like Oculus and HTC to sign on, so almost nobody in the VR world could use it. The company ended up merging with another specialized hardware company and mostly disappearing from public view. —Adi Robertson
60. Flappy Bird
Call it the anti-flop; the flip-flopper; or just … the Icarus of the App Store. Whatever epithet you choose, you have to admit that Flappy Bird was a work of art: a game so ludicrously simple and perversely difficult that it operated less as entertainment and more as spiritual provocation. Without any story, character, or perceivable sub-text at all, Flappy Bird managed to scream at players: “Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you doing this to your life?” It soared to the top of the app store charts in January 2014 and hovered there like a malignant spirit for weeks, reminding us all of our folly while earning its creator, Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen, $50,000 a day.
Eventually, guilt overwhelmed Nguyen and he pulled the game from iOS and Android, saying it had become too popular and too addictive for its own good. Flappy Bird flapped its last and quickly flopped out of existence. —James Vincent
59. ISIS (the mobile wallet)
You know what sounds worse than a mobile wallet initiative backed by phone carriers? A mobile wallet called ISIS. It was the year 2012, and little did AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon know they would be competing in SEO with a violent, extremist militant group responsible for thousands of gruesome civilian deaths globally. The whole thing got so awkward that the carriers had to rebrand it, less than two years after launch.
The name wasn’t the only terrible thing about the wallet formerly known as ISIS, though. Using the app required a special SIM card, and if your credit card wasn’t supported by the system, you had to buy a special prepaid credit card in order to put money into your account. Synergy! You love to see it. In 2015, the whole project was scrapped in favor of preloading Google Wallet onto Android devices. —Natt Garun
Few companies have dominated the 2010’s like Netflix has, but there is a dark spot on its nearly pristine decade: Qwikster. There’s a good chance that Qwikster is something that you can barely recall. Though perhaps you can remember the awkward Reed Hastings video announcing a separate streaming company within Netflix? Qwikster, Netflix’s attempt to split off streaming from its DVD rental business, was announced in September 2011. By October, the company had pivoted away from its pivot. If something happens but doesn’t really happen, is it still a flop? Yes. The pivot to a pivot and never uttering the word Qwikster again is the definition of one. —Julia Alexander
57. Lily Drone
A fully-waterproof drone that can follow you down a mountain, take off when you toss it into the air, then automatically take your picture — even in 2019, that sounds like the best drone ever. But this 2015 idea was a crowdfunding disaster. After years of hype and anticipation, it was revealed that the company’s promo video was a sham, likely faked using footage from GoPros that may have even been carried by a DJI drone instead of the Lily itself.
Lily Robotics never shipped a single unit out of the 60,000 preorders it received, and got sued by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. Even though the company received $34 million from their backers and another $15 million in venture capital, many of said backers never received a promised refund. But Lilly somehow rose from the ashes in 2017 to give us “Lily Next-Gen,” a completely uninspiring drone that couldn’t even get wet. —Vjeran Pavic
56. Uber’s IPO
In late 2018, Uber was expected to go public at a whopping $120 billion, nearly double the company’s valuation in a fundraising round just a few months before, and a sum that would have made the ride-hailing company more valuable than General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler — Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers — combined. That didn’t happen. Instead Uber went public at $45 a share, which valued it at about $75.46 billion. That’s a lot of sawbucks, but it also registered as a 38 percent drop in value from those early, drunken projections. And don’t worry, it’s gotten much worse since then. The stock is now trading at about $30 a share, a roughly 30 percent drop from the IPO. Uber lost a truly stomach churning $5.2 billion in the second quarter of the year. And its path to profitability looks about as far-fetched as Uber’s plans to launch an air taxi service in 2023. —Andrew Hawkins
55. The “Facebook Phone”
The early 2010s were a good run for Facebook, a company that got so cocky it thought releasing a phone with a dedicated Facebook button akin to the Netflix button on every smart TV remote. It partnered with HTC to launch the Status and Salsa, two phones that premiered to nearly no fanfare, then tripled down on the concept with the HTC First, an Android device with a custom Facebook Home skin. Strangely, it turns out that while people liked using Facebook at the time, no one wanted to admit to using it so often that they needed Facebook timeline photos splattered across their wallpaper at any given moment.
You would think the embarrassment of these phone failures would stop Facebook from releasing any more hardware, especially considering increased privacy revelations in recent years. But as we’ve seen with the Portal, Zuck isn’t quite ready to give up. —Natt Garun
It’s a fad that tech companies would rather we forgot: in 2016, established firms and startups alike fawned over the possibility of chatbots. At minimum they would make customer service easier; in their full glory they could be the future of computing. “Conversation as a platform” would have as “profound an impact as … previous platform shifts,” predicted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Needless to say: it didn’t happen, and no chatbot represented the overpromise more than Microsoft’s own Tay.
Launched on Twitter in March 2016, Tay “learned” by talking to users. Within 24 hours Tay was taught to repeat an array of racist, sexist, and anti-semitic statements and was ignominiously shut down like a hate-filled Clippy recently indoctrinated into the Westboro Baptist Church. Welcome to the internet, Tay. —James Vincent
53. Google Daydream
Google Daydream seemed to have it all. It was a VR platform built right into Android, paired with a cozy-looking mobile headset that solved some of the competing Samsung Gear VR’s biggest flaws — from a clunky setup process to the lack of a real controller. Then it hit the runway, sputtered a few feet into the air, and dropped straight into the ocean. Android phonemakers waited months to support Daydream if they did so at all. Google’s app selection was lightweight at best. And phone-based VR was too fundamentally limited to take off the way that any VR company, including Google, had hoped it might. Less than three years later, the Daydream was just another headstone in Google’s big product graveyard. —Adi Robertson
52. SOPA and PIPA
The Napster party was never going to last. By 2012, Hollywood and the music industry were coming down hard on piracy, and blasting through any parts of internet culture that stood in the way. It wasn’t clear how much would be left by the time they were finished. That came to a head with SOPA and PIPA, a pair of bills that aimed to build privacy protections into the backbone of the internet itself.
It was the kind of bill that routinely skates through Congress, but thanks to a first-of-its-kind mobilization led by Reddit, Congress got cold feet. It turns out, when the internet gets organized, even the content lobby can flop. —Russell Brandom
51. Verizon Go90
I can’t hear the word Go90 without thinking of Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel using it as a scale to determine if a streaming service will survive. Netflix sits at a ten. Disney+, a five. The goal, you see, is to never fully go Go90. To go Go90 is certain death.
Here’s what you need to know about Verizon’s Go90 service: it was a streaming service that wanted to give subscribers access to films and TV shows, but focus on the social aspect. This included leaning into Tumblr, a site that isn’t really a social network anymore. Go90 launched in 2015, and was discontinued three years later. It reportedly cost Verizon $1.2 billion. It’s a flop on top of a flop: it was originally known as Intel’s OnCue, but Intel reportedly sold it for a fraction of the asking price after it failed to attract content partners.
Fortunately, Verizon figured out a much more successful way to keep its name in the streaming world, partnering with Disney to give Verizon subscribers a free year of Disney+ in 2019. The move has supposedly been very successful for both companies. Verizon’s Go90 may have gone full Go90, but the Disney partnership is a solid 5. —Julia Alexander
50. Android tablets
It’s frustrating to watch companies do something, fail resoundingly, then try again and again expecting different results each time. Such was Google’s decade-long run at sponsoring tablets you’d want to buy. It started with 2011’s Motorola’s Xoom, the flagship device for Android 3.0 — the only version explicitly designed for tablets. It had decent specs, but was mired by a high price, lousy software, and a lack of compelling apps. Tragically, that description also fits most of the tablets Google released after it. I remember rooting for Google when it took even the smallest chances, like with the cutting-edge Samsung Nexus 10, or with the smaller, more affordable Asus Nexus 7. But slight improvements in design didn’t mask that Google’s tablets were at a stand-still by literally every other metric. They were going nowhere, and those were the good years.
Instead, Google stubbornly gunned for Apple’s throne with the Nexus 9, the Pixel C, and the Pixel Slate. Every time, it further embarrassed itself as the dents it could make against the iPad, as well as Amazon and Microsoft’s growing hold, kept shrinking. It’s now sworn off tablets altogether. —Cameron Faulkner
Before it was a failure, Vine was a glorious engine of culture. The looping 6-second videos that the app pioneered became a launching pad for comedians and musicians while also introducing countless priceless phrases and memes into the culture. Eyebrows on fleek! A potato flew around my room! Back at it again at the Krispy Kreme! No defunct social network is more fondly remembered.
Unfortunately for Vine, it was purchased in its infancy by Twitter, which might never have known what to do with it, and certainly never figured it out along the way. The New York-based team languished while the Twitter team in San Francisco focused on more pressing problems, including a decade of unprofitability. Vine itself stopped growing when Instagram introduced videos, and advertisers and influencers abandoned the app, and died in 2016 from neglect. It lives on as a series of compilations on YouTube with tens of millions of collective views, and in its spiritual successor, TikTok. —Casey Newton
Apple is usually associated with some of the best engineering and design in the technology world. Usually. AirPower, on the other hand, might be the biggest failure Apple’s had in recent memory, resulting in a product that was reportedly so bad, it never shipped at all. Announced alongside the iPhone X, AirPower promised to be a new kind of wireless charger, that would charge up to three devices all at once (say, an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and AirPods), without having to worry about the specific “sweet spots” of other chargers. But apparently, actually getting that tech to work together was harder than Apple thought, and a year and a half after it was announced, AirPower was unceremoniously canceled by the company. —Chaim Gartenberg
Ouya seemed like a good idea. Pitched at a time when mobile hardware was rapidly improving but games didn’t really make use of it, the startup proposed sticking an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip into a sleek $99 Yves Behar-designed box, packaging it with a game controller, and curating games for a custom version of Android designed for TV screens. It raised more than $8 million on Kickstarter and is still the tenth most funded project in the platform’s history. Unfortunately the controller was terrible, the software was half-baked, and the store didn’t have any games worth playing. (Okay, except Towerfall.) Razer bought the company’s hollowed-out remains a couple of years after launch and tried to keep the storefront going, but shut it down earlier in 2019. Ouya was one of the earliest and highest profile examples of Kickstarter success turning into real-world failure. —Sam Byford
46. Essential Phone
When the Essential Phone debuted, it was a little bit mind-blowing: its screen pushed right against the top of the phone, with just the slightest cutout for the camera — something we hadn’t seen before. It also seemed promising that it came from Android co-founder Andy Rubin, in his first major project since leaving Google, and the titanium frame felt superb. But the company’s promises of camera quality and durability turned out to be hugely overblown, the software started out riddled with bugs, and it wound up shipping nearly two months after Rubin promised — only a month later, the iPhone X arrived with a notched screen as well.
Few bothered to buy an Essential Phone, and the company reportedly canceled development of a second phone less than a year later. Now, there’s another shadow hanging over the company and its new project: revelations about the sexual misconduct allegations that pushed Rubin out of Google in the first place. —Jake Kasternakes
45. Samsung Bixby
Apple had Siri, Amazon had Alexa, Google had Google Assistant. Each was a voice-activated helper that would change how we interact with our devices on a fundamental level. On the other hand, there’s Bixby, Samsung’s also-ran attempt to jump on the voice assistant bandwagon. Samsung tried really hard to get Bixby to work, going as far as adding a mandatory Bixby button to some of its phones. But Samsung’s assistant just wasn’t very good, and with the plethora of other options available on Android — like the native Google Assistant that was bundled by default on every Bixby phone — Samsung’s option mostly served to piss off people who wanted to use the Bixby Button for something else. But unlike many of the things on this list, Bixby still exists today, even if Samsung’s flagship Bixby hardware, the Galaxy Home, still hasn’t shipped. —Chaim Gartenberg
A “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table.” That was how Elon Musk described plans for Hyperloop, a “fifth mode of transport” that he unveiled to the world after months of teasing in 2013. The original whitepaper outlined a system of pressurized tubes that would propel pods across the country at speeds of 700 MPH. But the document proved to be little more than an elaborate back-of-the-napkin sketch, with engineers and transport experts pointing out serious structural problems in the plan, and noting that costs had been drastically underestimated.
A bevy of Hyperloop companies have so far failed to produce even a single mile of fully-operational track, and Musk himself has rerouted his ambitions to simply building tunnels for cars. Talk about going underground. —James Vincent
43. Windows 8
Ever wanted your Start menu and button to disappear? And everything else familiar in Windows to be shifted around? Install Windows 8. Microsoft was chasing the iPad hard, and the company went head on into touchscreens while forgetting what people actually use their PCs for. Windows 8 included a tile-based UI, fullscreen Start menu, and an overall confusing interface for keyboard and mouse users. Thankfully, Microsoft quickly recovered from a disaster with Windows 10. —Tom Warren
Apple doesn’t screw things up often, but when it does make mistakes, they tend to go big. And none were as big as “Antennagate,” a problem with the iPhone 4 that saw signal strength drop when the external antennas were blocked by simply holding the phone. Then-CEO Steve Jobs infamously advised one customer to “just avoid holding it that way.” The issue escalated, with Apple first issuing a software update to address a “mistake” in how antenna bars were displayed, before eventually admitting to the defect and supplying iPhone 4 customers with free cases. Antennagate would come to define a classic Apple scandal: deny the problem, issue a software update, and then eventually, reluctantly make amends with customers. —Chaim Gartenberg
41. WeWork’s attempt to go public
Founded in 2010, WeWork wasn’t originally just a co-working space. Pushed by SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son in 2016 to make the business “ten times bigger than your original plan,” Adam Neumann set off on a pot- and tequila-filled journey to make a Facebook for real life — a community you’d never have to leave. You could send your kid to WeGrow; you could rent a room in WeLive; and obviously, work at WeWork. While the coworking spaces were often popular among startups — making the real estate market more manageable — many of the other choices WeWork made were nonsensical, and when the required filings around an initial public offering came out, well, most of the internet pointed and laughed. WeWork had a sky-high valuation more befitting a company engaged in software as a service than, well, a real-estate concern.
Though the last funding round WeWork had received gave the company a valuation of $47 billion, Bloomberg reported that the IPO would value the company at $20 billion to $30 billion. Then that estimate dropped to $10 billion, per Reuters. Then the IPO was shelved, Neumann resigned as CEO, and took a healthy $1.7 billion payout to leave the company’s board. WeWork has trimmed its wings, selling or shuttering some businesses and laying off employees. Whether the company will recover is an open question. There is, however, some good news: Nicholas Braun, best known as Succession’s Cousin Greg, will play Neumann in a WeWork project — airdate tbd. —Liz Lopatto
40. Google’s Project Ara
The dream of modular smartphones began in 2013 with the Phonebloks concept video from Dave Hakkens. It galvanized our dormant desire for a flexible handheld device that could last forever, or at least a few years longer than the disposable designs that had transfixed Apple and Samsung. Prefer face ID over a fingerprint scanner? Snap your preference into the base frame. More speed? Pop in a new CPU/GPU/memory core. Improved photos? “Okay, Google, eject the camera.” Google’s new Motorola division took the concept and ran with it, before stumbling at the finish line and calling it quits in 2016. Truly, the end of an Ara. —Thomas Ricker
39. Microsoft Kinect
All but forgotten today, few Silicon Valley startups ever had as much hype before their debut. Color’s hype stemmed from the massive $41 million its co-founders raised in 2011 to build the app, a photo-sharing service designed to help you explore the world around you. Instead of following individuals, as on Instagram, on Color you would open the app to see what pictures that nearby users had posted. The app was mocked widely at the time for its bizarre user interface, which used strange invented characters for basic functions and was hilariously difficult to navigate as a result. Just a year and a half after launch, Color denied reports that it was shutting its doors — and a month later, confirmed them.
Ultimately, Instagram was just a much better photo-sharing app than Color was — unless you were at a special event, it was almost always more interesting to look at photos from people you knew or had followed for a particular reason than to look at whatever photos people were posting around you. Still, Instagram ultimately offered various ways to view photos and videos by location, too. —Casey Newton
37. Nikon 1
This list has a lot of bad products on it, but few where the most plausible explanation for their failure was that they were designed to suck on purpose. That could well have been the case with the Nikon 1 system, a range of mirrorless cameras with terrible controls, small 1-inch sensors, and slow lenses that was wholly uncompetitive against the likes of Sony, Fujifilm, and Olympus. Nikon apparently figured that in order to create a truly modern mirrorless camera, you needed a new lens mount, which could have risked erasing the company’s biggest lock-in advantage: its huge line-up of F-mount SLR lenses that dates back to the 50s. The Nikon 1 range, then, was seemingly intended to attract compact camera upgraders without cannibalizing its DSLR business.
The system had its advantages, like great autofocus performance and the best underwater camera ever made, but the image quality was so unimpressive it made no sense for almost anyone to buy. The real nail in its coffin was the Sony RX100, which offered the same size sensor in a smaller, more useful package. Sony is now on its seventh iteration of that hugely successful range, while Nikon finally gave in last year and released its first full-frame Z-mount mirrorless cameras. —Sam Byford
36. Google’s smartwatch ambitions
Google hasn’t had the best time with smartwatches. In the early six years since it announced Android Wear, including its relaunch as Wear OS, it’s powered dozens of devices without producing a single watch to truly challenge Apple — generally delivering huge, hulking watches and/or poor battery life. In 2016, Google reportedly pulled out of a deal to launch LG-made, Pixel-branded smartwatches because it felt they would hurt Google’s hardware brand. And yet it still didn’t look great for the Wear OS brand when LG later released the watches on its own. Some brands like Motorola and Asus gave up on the platform years ago.
Now, Google seems to be taking matters into its own hands (wrists?) after paying millions for Fossil mystery smartwatch tech and $2.1 billion for Fitbit. But each minute that passes without a good Google smartwatch is another opportunity for Apple. —Jay Peters
35. Young Blood
Siphoning blood from young people and injecting it into old people sounds like something out of a fairy tale (the scary kind, not the Disney kind). But starting around 2016, salesmen promised that strapping into an IV of the stuff might help prevent Alzheimer’s, improve skin quality, and enhance athleticism. Peter Thiel was reportedly interested. People lined up to pay one young blood startup, called Ambrosia, $8,000 a liter for blood from people under the age of 25. Then, in February 2019, the FDA stepped in to squash the hype.
Despite the claims, there’s no actual evidence that young blood has any health benefits. And even necessary blood transfusions can have dangerous side effects, so there’s no point in taking the risk. It might be possible to identify helpful compounds floating in the blood of younger people that might eventually become helpful drugs, but that’s many years away. For now, you’re better off spending $8,000 somewhere else. —Nicole Wetsman
34. Amazon HQ2
When Amazon announced it was looking for a location to build a second headquarters, it decided to turn the whole thing into a contest — with cities across the US practically begging the retail giant to select them in hopes of new economic opportunities. But after many, many months of trotting out finalist cities like some kind of pageant, Amazon didn’t actually pick a needy city for a true second HQ. Instead, it opted for two regional offices in New York City and Arlington, Virginia. The former didn’t take the news well. When New Yorkers, already struggling with various infrastructure and housing issues, learned Amazon would be getting more than $1 billion in incentives, they waged a months-long battle against Amazon that culminated in the company abandoning its plans altogether. (Amazon is still building offices in NYC, just not the giant headquarters of Jeff Bezos’ dreams.) It’s as if we never learned you can’t conduct the business of an entire town (or country) like a reality show. —Natt Garun
33. Sony PlayStation Vita
RED’s cameras had such an impact on digital filmmaking, that it was easy to buy into the company’s ceaseless hype around its first steps into the smartphone world. According to RED founder Jim Jannard, the Hydrogen One would have a “holographic display” and revolutionize filmmaking with a new and improved 3D format called “4V.” It’d even be able to attach to RED cameras and be used with a RED imaging sensor and compatible lenses. Then, the phone appeared.
It’s hard to sum up exactly what went wrong, because it’s kind of everything: the basics were dated and flawed. And the fancy new features were outright bad — the screen was far from holographic, and the 3D effect looked more like a lenticular lunchbox than a next-gen revolution (let alone something good enough for this generation of mediocre 3D). The fancy accessories never launched, and at $1,300, there was just no redeeming this device. Eventually, Jannard would leave the company citing health concerns and shut the phone project down on his way out. —Jake Kasternakes
31. Zynga’s acquisition of Draw Something
Zynga was perhaps the biggest winner from the anything-goes era of Facebook’s desktop web era, in which developers could get seemingly infinite traffic by posting stories to your News Feed whenever any person took any action inside their app. But in the early 2010s, desktop Facebook began to wane, and so one day in February 2012, Zynga announced it would spend $183 million on OMGPOP, makers of a popular iOS and Android game called Draw Something. The basic idea was “what if we copied Pictionary in basically every way, but didn’t call it that?” It generated 20 million downloads in its first five weeks, which would still be an impressive feat today. (At the time, Instagram had only 27 million downloads. Foursquare had 15 million.)
The thing is, who wants to play Pictionary for more than a couple weeks? Draw Something printed money for a few weeks — it was supported by advertising and also sold various in-game perks — but by May the user base was in free fall. A year later, Zynga shut down OMGPOP and laid off its employees. It was the start of a brutal few years at Zynga that saw its founding CEO slink out the door. The most amazing thing about all this is that Zynga survived, and it’s basically fine now? Franchises like Farmville and Words With Friends kept it afloat, and Draw Something, somehow, is still in active development. —Casey Newton
30. Game of Thrones’ ending
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Going into 2019, Game of Thrones seemed poised to be the kind of cultural juggernaut with an ending that would be talked about for years. And in a way, it was — just probably not in the way that HBO or the showrunners had hoped. Plot threads were rushed, story beats were thrown out with apparent lack of concern for characterization, past history, or common sense, culminating in a final episode that saw the hottest TV show in recent memory fizzle out with the saddest of whimpers. Things like “subtlety” or “logic” were thrown out the window, as Game of Thrones did whatever the polar opposite of “sticking the landing” is.
It turns out, writing an ending to Game of Thrones that’s actually good is as hard of a task as George R.R. Martin has said all these years. Odds are, we’ll still be talking about Game of Thrones in the years to come — if only to puzzle out just where exactly everything went wrong. —Chaim Gartenberg
When Congress successfully passed President Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, in 2010, it seemed like the hard part was over. But the administration wasn’t prepared for the true opposition: poor web design. The rollout of healthcare.gov, where Americans were supposed to sign up for insurance under Obamacare, was chaos. The site crashed repeatedly, rendering it totally inaccessible. Jon Stewart roasted it as “the weakest link.” Obama told the public that “interest way exceeded expectations, and that’s the good news.” The bad news? Almost everything else. —Colin Lecher
Cybersecurity tends to make the average person’s eyes glaze over, but it seemed like everyone paid attention to the Equifax hack. That’s mostly because of how monumental the consumer reporting agency’s screwup was. More than 143 million Americans’ Social Security numbers were exposed, as well as birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 people were accessed as well.
It was such a colossal disaster that the incident has practically become synonymous with the company’s brand name. Oh, did we mention the that former chief information officer of the company was convicted of insider trading for selling stock before the breach was disclosed? Equifax eventually settled for $700 million, but the mess didn’t end there. Only $31 million was set apart for the $125 per-person payouts, and the Federal Trade Commission had to later issue a public notice that nobody would actually receive that sum due to the sheer volume of affected Americans requesting the cash. What a nightmare. —Nick Statt
27. The FTC’s $5 billion Facebook fine
To Facebook, a company that brought in over $16 billion in revenue in 2019, losing $5 billion is nothing. In July 2019, the Federal Trade Commission ended its year-long investigation into the company over its alleged misuse of user data and privacy scandals (like Cambridge Analytica) with that meager multi-billion-dollar settlement. It’s worth repeating once more: a record-setting $5 billion fine was such a relief to investors that Facebook’s stock price went up.
We’ll never know what would have happened if the FTC had pursued the company in court, instead of opting to end its probe quickly and get some lofty-looking numbers in headlines as an attempt to make the agency appear as though it treated Facebook harsher than what it actually did. If the company was found guilty, it would have at least been forced to admit fault — something it will never have to do for its alleged data abuses throughout the 2010s. —Makena Kelly
26. Everything will.i.am touches
Most famous for winning the competitive battle for being the worst member of the Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am (né William) struck it out on his own in the past decade as a solo artist. He’s responsible for what I believe is the worst song of the decade, ”T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)” which is — and I am not joking here — entirely about boners. One line goes: “I woke up in the morning / hard like morning wood in the morning.”
will.i.am’s other solo act was as a tech entrepreneur, which involved a series of products, decisions, and acquisitions that I would also describe as boners. In 2012, will.i.am founded i.am+, which produced garish iPhone cases with slide-out keyboards and a separate camera. This would be his least bad idea over the next eight years. Next he launched the Puls, a smartwatch which our own Dan Seifert called “the worst product I’ve touched all year.” He followed it up with another smartwatch — this one voice activated, for no apparent reason — called Dial that nobody bought. Then there was the Delorean-inspired car IAMAUTO, a vehicle that was immediately impounded for not being street legal, but did make me better appreciate when will.i.am’s branding is lowercase and separated by periods. i.am+ later acquired Wink, pivoting to a business focused on smart home, AI, and losing gobs and gobs of money. Things got so bad that employees went months without pay. Also, somewhere in there, will.i.am had time to become chief creative officer of a company that 3D prints bullshit.
What does the next decade look like for will.i.am? This December, he launched Buttons, a new company featuring — checks notes — wireless earbuds, which means we can look forward to 10 more years of boners. —Kevin Nguyen
25. HP TouchPad
What do you get when you take Apple’s first-generation iPad, replace its metal frame with a greasy plastic body, give it a grainy touchscreen, install a new software platform with next to no third-party app support, and then put it on shelves for the same price as the iPad in July 2011, four months after the iPad 2 was released? You get the HP TouchPad, an unmitigated disaster of a product that not only sold terribly, but also completely torpedoed the webOS mobile device platform.
The TouchPad was such a failure that less than two months after launch, HP announced it would discontinue all webOS devices — phones and tablets included — and slashed the price of the TouchPad from $499 down to a measly $99 for the 16GB model. Only then did it actually start moving off shelves, and the company made another production run in order to use up components it had left over. By 2012, the TouchPad was a faded memory, and in 2013, HP sold all of its webOS assets to LG, which would utilize them for its TV line. webOS for phones and tablets was officially dead as we knew it, and we can blame the TouchPad for its demise. —Dan Seifert
Juicero promised the world juice sold in a pouch. Not a juice box, how dare you, but a pouch of fresh fruits and vegetables sealed into a QR code-verified pouch that required a $700 machine counterpart to squeeze the pouch and release the sweet, sweet juice. The dream seemed real enough — like Keurig but for juice, got it. But then, investors and Bloomberg discovered that the machine, the lynchpin of the entire Juicero operation, wasn’t even needed. People could squeeze their juice packs by hand. By hand! The company shut down shortly after the damning news.
At least the company offered to refund people for their machine, but wow, juice pouches, not juice boxes, and a machine to squeeze them all funded by venture capitalists. We should have seen this failure coming. —Ashley Carman
23. Steam Machines
In 2012, The Verge exclusively revealed that Valve was building a game console. I predicted it would be a Linux-based PC. Gabe Newell himself confirmed our reporting, and we excitedly wrote “How Valve’s Steam Box will reinvent the game console as you know it.” I still believe it could have played out that way.
But while Valve managed to build an extremely impressive console-sized gaming PC and an intriguing controller to go with it, the company’s overall plan relied on a wide array of partners to do the heavy lifting, and Valve didn’t have enough carrots or sticks to keep them on track. The Steam Machines finally launched in 2014 with a laughable, confusing array of computers, some far more expensive than a console, and they only supported a fraction of the games in Steam’s catalog. Valve’s utter reliance on game developers meant that even games that had been ported to Linux wouldn’t necessarily work on SteamOS. And unlike with the new VR-exclusive Half-Life: Alyx, Valve was unwilling to pledge any games exclusively to the new paradigm.
In the end, Valve’s partners decided to ship Windows instead, or in addition to SteamOS, if they didn’t cancel their console-esque computers altogether. Valve quietly hid the Steam Machine section of its store last year and put the Steam Controller, the last remaining piece of its failed initiative, on $5 fire sale this November. —Sean Hollister
22. Nintendo’s Wii U
The best thing you can say about the Wii U is that had it not flamed out so remarkably, we wouldn’t have the Switch. Nintendo’s Wii successor was a disastrous product on almost every level, from its low-quality touchscreen controller to its bafflingly slow software and its confusing, derivative name. Most damningly of all, Nintendo quickly ran out of ideas for how to make use of its own hardware. The Wii U library includes some of Nintendo’s best games ever, from Super Mario 3D World to Mario Kart 8 to Breath of the Wild, but almost all of them could be played on the GamePad controller without any dual-screen functionality. While it was nice to be able to play some great games around the house, it made for a convoluted waste of hardware.
“Shouldn’t the GamePad just be its own, truly portable system?” wondered everyone. Thankfully, Nintendo agreed in the end. The Wii U became Nintendo’s worst-selling console ever with just 13.56 million sales worldwide, and the Switch eclipsed it with less than a year on the market. —Sam Byford
The biggest automotive scandal of the decade started when a group of West Virginia University researchers stumbled across some abnormalities in an emissions tests of a Volkswagen Jetta and Passat. Since then, almost everyone important at VW has been charged in the so-called Dieselgate. The whole scheme was laughably criminal: VW engineers installed defeat devices — pieces of code labelled “acoustic condition” — designed to help the company’s diesel vehicles trick regulators into thinking they emitted less pollution than they actually did.
VW has paid more than $30 billion in fines since getting caught and has vowed to spend billions more in an effort to become a leader in electric vehicles. In other words, that cloud of diesel smog may have a silver lining to it. —Andrew Hawkins
20. Windows RT
Windows RT started off life dazed and confused, with a ridiculous name that meant nothing to anyone. It powered Microsoft’s first Surface RT tablet, and it had a desktop mode that looked like regular Windows. Except it wasn’t regular Windows, as you couldn’t install all your favorite desktop apps — something that Microsoft didn’t bother to explain to buyers or even its own Microsoft Store employees. If you weren’t confused enough already, the Surface RT was also painfully slow and lacked tablet apps. The Surface RT wound up bombing so hard that Microsoft wrote off $900 million in tablets it couldn’t sell. Microsoft thought everyone would want a Surface RT, but it turned out that everyone actually wanted real Windows. —Tom Warren
19. GoPro Karma
Some things you never forget, and for me, one of those things is that GoPro recalled its first drone on the night of the 2016 election. Yeah, sure, maybe that was just coincidental timing — after all, the drones were literally falling out of the sky thanks to a faulty battery latch design, so something had to be done. But if there was ever a time to drop some bad news, I’m guessing using the most-watched (and most controversial) election as cover would have been a pretty easy call.
Karma was an okay drone, especially if viewed purely as a literal vehicle for GoPro’s excellent cameras (which is how the company always tried to market it). But it lacked the sorts of advanced features that DJI developed on its way to full-on dominance of the drone market, so it’s no surprise that Karma never really took hold. That said, Karma’s demise is also a good example of how failure can be a good thing for a company. GoPro announced the Karma at a time when the company’s product lineup was at its most bloated. When it failed, it helped push GoPro to refocus its efforts on what it’s truly good at: making (basically) one really damn good action camera. —Sean O’Kane
At the start of the decade, BlackBerry was on top of the world. Even as the iPhone turned five, BlackBerry-owner Research in Motion had record subscribers and its iconic PDA-style cell phones were still the must-have gadgets of teenagers, business executives, and celebrities alike. But within months of its all-time subscriber high of more than 80 million in the summer of 2012, everything started to unravel. The iPhone 4S had been released the year prior, and Apple’s iOS was adding new features at a rapid clip, while Google’s Android operating system started catching on globally.
Instead of focusing on its strengths, BlackBerry instead released an alarming and inexplicable series of misguided products. From the PlayBook tablet that shipped without an email client to the disastrous BlackBerry 10 OS, the company released one embarrassing flop after another in pretty much every product category imaginable. Even when BlackBerry went back to basics, like with the physical keyboard on the Android-powered Priv, the company realized far too late in the game that it was never going to catch up to Apple and Google. The BlackBerry brand is best known now as a footnote in the history of mobile computing. —Nick Statt
When so-called “hoverboards” first became a fad in 2015 — with teens, tweens, even full-grown adults zipping down the streets like floating statues while barely moving faster than if they’d just walked — the ridicule was already strong. Where was the Back to the Future levitation we’d been promised? Why would we embrace the WALL-E future where humans are lazy bums? But it quickly developed into full-blown schadenfreude when it turned out the shoddily made contraptions had a tendency to literally burst into flames. Whether it was fear, humiliation, or simply the arrival of more practical electric scooters, it feels like hoverboards fizzled fast: I frequently see them on deep discount online, but rarely in person. —Sean Hollister
16. Faraday Future
Faraday Future was at one point the most hyped EV startup in the world. It hired away top talent from the biggest tech and automotive companies by liberally spending its billionaire founder’s money, and at the same time, insisted on overwhelming secrecy. That combination fueled so much speculation about the startup’s intentions that, at one point, it was thought Faraday Future was a front for Apple’s own secretive car project. Many believed it would take on Tesla, or perhaps even take it down.
Yeah, nope. As The Verge has documented in great detail over the last three years, Faraday Future is now more well-known for rampant mismanagement, sketchy financial dealings, and ceaseless drama. The company does still exist, but it has teetered on the brink for more than two years now, all without shipping one single car. And even if Faraday Future ever does put its gaudy, fast, screen-laden electric SUV on the road, the majority of people who worked on the car have already left the company. —Sean O’Kane
15. Fyre Festival
Every generation gets the scam it deserves; remember Enron? Or how about the original Ponzi scheme, perpetrated by one Charles Ponzi? What about Fyre Festival?
Yeah. You remember Fyre Festival. As far as grifts go, it was very, very good — at least to watch from a distance. The year was 2017: Billy McFarland made up an expensive festival with the washed rapper Ja Rule, didn’t plan anything, got a whole lot of people to pay for the privilege, and then spent the money on himself and influencers to promote the charade. When attendees got to the island and started tweeting pictures of their accommodations (FEMA tents, sad cheese sandwiches), an immediate wave of schadenfreude washed over the ‘net. By and large, the people who got scammed were the kind of people who have money, at least in a conspicuous, Instagrammy way.
It was, in other words, a flop. McFarland got six years. (Despite being something of a co-founder, Ja Rule got off scot free.) The saga spawned a pair of documentaries, a countless number of blogs, and kicked off a rising wave of interest in grifters that’s continued to this day. We’re post-Fyre in so many ways — especially in how we talk about scams now. But at the end of the day / decade, what should be very clear is how much we still enjoy a good scam. Provided we’re not caught up in it. —Bijan Stephen
14. Apple Maps
Tired of defaulting to its competitor, Google, for its mapping services, Apple decided to launch its own version in 2012 alongside iOS 6. It was an ambitious feat given how much of the mapping market Google already had, and it turned out, well, utterly embarrassing for Apple. Apple Maps was buggy, lacked public transit information, and in some areas and countries, offered literally nothing but blank voids or misplaced landmarks. The fumble eventually lead to the firings of multiple Apple executives who led its Maps project, and the company would spend the next decade proving to everyone it could build an actual competitor to Google Maps.
Seven years later, Apple Maps has been rebuilt from the ground up. Yet as of September 2019, detailed transit directions are only offered in 10 cities globally while Google has sent Street View expeditions to space. Good luck catching up with that. —Natt Garun
13. Microsoft Kin
Before Windows Phone, there were the Microsoft Kin — the “social phones” that the company infamously discontinued just six weeks after they went on sale in May 2010 because they were that particularly annoying combination of terrible and expensive. The Kin One and Kin Two were supposed to be the second coming of the popular T-Mobile Sidekick — whose creator, Danger, was snapped up by Microsoft for an estimated $500 million to work on this specific project — and featured a unique interface that put social networking feed front and center and let you drag and drop items to share with friends.
But they also featured a hilariously untenable monthly price tag of $30 per month for a Verizon data plan, on top of your phone plan. They launched without support for Twitter replies or retweets, or YouTube, and without microSD storage even though SanDisk had announced that specific feature. Word was that forces within Microsoft had sabotaged the project in favor of the upcoming Windows Phone. That makes sense, considering Microsoft knew full well that focus groups hated it. The company wound up writing off the Kin to the tune of at least $240 million, not counting what it paid for Danger. —Sean Hollister
12. Coolest Cooler
Coolest Cooler started as one of the highest funded Kickstarter projects ever — raising over $13 million in 2014 for a cooler with a built in party speaker and blender lid. It closed off the decade with its maker, Coolest, shutting down after only delivering two-thirds of the 60,000 coolers it had promised to backers. (Not cool.)
In between, the company made a number of missteps, like angering people by selling the product on Amazon before sending them to backers first, and offering backers the option of “expedited shipping”, for an extra $97. Coolest blamed the increase in Chinese tariffs for its ultimate demise, but the wild saga of its failed Kickstarter stands an emblematic symbol of the risks of crowdfunding. —Dami Lee
MoviePass seemed too good to be true, because it was. It was glorious while it lasted, but offering people the chance to watch one movie a day in theaters, for the low price of $9.99 a month, was clearly an unsustainable business model. MoviePass was hoping that people wouldn’t actually take them up on their offer,but subscribers were doing that and more — people were using their passes as an excuse to use theater bathrooms, or get their parking validated.
Throughout the course of its tumultuous existence, the company ran into a number of disasters, like exposing its customers’ credit card numbers online, forcibly re-enrolling customers even after they’d cancelled their service, and having to shut down the app for several weeks to make updates. Though MoviePass finally perished recently, it inspired theater chains to offer their own, better-run subscription services. AMC Stubs and Regal Unlimited are two of the major ones, and moviegoers have MoviePass to thank for changing the theater experience forever. —Dami Lee
10. Apple’s butterfly Keyboard
Boy did Apple get it wrong with its “butterfly” keyboard, first introduced in the 2015 12-inch MacBook and eventually used on the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The butterfly keyboard is often held up as the peak (or more accurately, nadir) of Apple’s preference to emphasize form over function, as it was specifically designed to allow for thinner laptop bodies. But in doing so, Apple reduced the travel of the keys to a scant 1mm, which many found unpleasant under their fingers, and the keyboard was significantly louder to type on compared to prior MacBook models or other laptops.
But those were just the tip of the failberg for the butterfly keyboard. Once the butterfly keyboard showed up in 2016’s redesigned MacBook Pro, it didn’t take long for owners to complain about sticking keys that would either not work at all or would type two letters at a time. In typical Apple fashion, the company’s initial response was to deny the problem and instructed owners to use canned air to blow out any dust or debris that might be causing the keys to stick. Those that brought their computers to a Genius Bar were often met with high repair bills and long wait times, as the only way to “fix” the keyboard was to replace it entirely.
Apple eventually released four generations of the butterfly keyboard, each one slightly modified to try to improve reliability, and in 2018 it introduced an extended warranty program that provided four years of repair coverage from the purchase date. In late 2019, Apple finally released a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that returned to the scissor switch design that has longer key travel, less noise, and better reliability, though as of this publish, the company continues to sell the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro that still use the ill-fated butterfly keyboard. — Dan Seifert
9. The concept of privacy
Back in 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg caused a minor uproar by suggesting that privacy was passé, but insisted he’d been misconstrued. And yes, the US government had implemented a sweeping wiretapping program in the wake of 9/11 — but its legal violations were supposedly in the past. The following decade, unfortunately, didn’t bear these reassurances out. We soon learned the NSA was conscripting phone and internet companies to spy on the entire country. Our lives were monitored through smartphones, home surveillance equipment, online DNA databases, and everyone from credit card companies to the DMV selling records of our behavior. People still care about privacy — but it’s harder than ever to come by. —Adi Robertson
8. Google’s messaging strategy
Which messaging apps? Take your pick, there have been so many. But the grandaddy of all of Google’s messaging flops in the last decade has to be Google Hangouts. Not because it was itself a terrible product — but because it did a bad job replacing a beloved one and then was left to twist in the winds of Google’s ever-changing corporate priorities and restructurings. It withered and died, converted into a haphazard and little-used Slack competitor that was quickly and efficiently overshadowed by Microsoft Teams. Then Google invested in Allo but didn’t really try and it bombed too. Then Google just gave up: cell phone carriers now control the future of Google’s messaging apps. Guess how well that’s going. —Dieter Bohn
7. 3D TV
Coming off the enormous success that was 2009’s Avatar, 3D TV was supposed to bring a new level of immersion to the way people viewed movies in their living room. But unlike in theaters, where 3D screenings are still fairly common, the effort to bring that same experience home failed miserably. No one wanted to wear goofy 3D glasses during downtime on their couch. And the screen sizes of most TVs don’t showcase 3D in the same way content popping out of a giant movie theater screen can. TV companies continued to back 3D for several years, and there was a decent selection of 3D Blu-rays to choose from. But people just never took to it, and you can only force a feature on people for so long. By the latter half of the 2010s, the industry gave up on the dream and moved toward HDR and other picture enhancements that don’t require glasses. —Chris Welch
6. Fire Phone
One of the most incredible facts about the last decade is that Jeff Bezos has had more success sending rockets into space than creating an Amazon smartphone. The Fire Phone, as it was called, was a truly tremendous flop of a product. Amazon took a nearly $200 million hit, which led to one of its worst financial quarters in history.
The Fire Phone failed in large part because it just felt half-baked. It ran truly awful software, was loaded with gimmicks, and perhaps most egregiously, it didn’t do enough to hide its ultimate purpose of becoming a vehicle for goosing Amazon sales. This was all the more remarkable because Bezos allegedly micro-managed the project from its inception. The man may have built a multibillion-dollar empire that will one day literally let him leave Earth, but that will never change the fact that his company’s smartphone was so bad that Amazon couldn’t even give them away. —Sean O’Kane
5. Google Glass
Google Glass debuted with skydivers. Yes, Google co-founder Sergey Brin stormed the stage during a Google event at Moscone Center in 2012 to bring viewers a livestream of skydivers wearing Google Glass, who wore the glasses while they landed on top of the convention center. These connected glasses would change the world was the conceit. And they could have, until they freaked people out so much that the entire device failed to ever take off. People wearing the glasses became “glassholes;” Robert Scoble alarmingly posed with them in the shower; and concerned citizens worried about the privacy implications of a camera staring at them at any moment. Since it stopped shipping to consumers in 2015, Snapchat resurrected the idea of a camera in glasses with its Spectacles and dodged the fate of Google Glass. Meanwhile, Google kept its Glass dream alive with enterprise versions, but Google Glass’ shadow still hangs over every AR headset targeted at consumers. Maybe the world just isn’t ready. —Ashley Carman
4. Windows Phone
Microsoft shipped Windows Phone with a giant party celebrating the impending death of the iPhone. Oops. Despite its flashy tile-based UI, Windows Phone wasn’t the phone OS to save us from our phones as Microsoft promised.
Instead, the company spent years trying in vain to convince developers to create apps for Windows Phone, and destroying Nokia in the process — first spending $7.2 billion to acquire Nokia’s phone business, then writing off the entire purchase as a failed experiment, cutting thousands of jobs and wasting at least an additional billion along the way. Mistakes were certainly made, especially when Ballmer laughed at the iPhone for lacking a physical keyboard. Guess who’s laughing now?
Bill Gates called Microsoft’s lack of leadership in the smartphone era his “greatest mistake ever,” and Windows Phone let the world watch that mistake play out as a slow-motion train wreck. —Tom Warren
Once valued at $9 billion and seemingly poised to revolutionize medicine with a breakthrough blood test so easy you could do it at the drugstore, Theranos went out of business in 2018 after The Wall Street Journal exposed that the company’s proprietary blood test didn’t actually work — and that CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes had tricked VCs, corporate executives, and customers by using standard lab blood tests instead of the product she was selling. It appears to have been a giant scam. Holmes was later indicted for fraud, and earlier this year, her lawyers said she hadn’t paid them in months.
Theranos was a dark failure and a harbinger of things to come as other highly valued startups couldn’t fulfill their promises to investors. —Ashley Carman
2. Samsung Galaxy Note 7
When Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 first hit the review cycle on August 17, 2016, the reviewers went nuts over how wonderful it was — including, we have to admit, ours. “Galaxy Note 7 reviews have hit the internet this week and the consensus among them is that it might be the best designed smartphone ever,” we gushed. That was before the first phone exploded. Along with part of Samsung’s reputation.
By September 1st, there had been reports of at least 35 phones bursting into flames. Samsung issued a humble and apologetic statement in which the company announced it was recalling the Note 7 and issuing replacement devices. Okay, fine — except they promptly also began catching fire, including at least one on a plane, which caused the TSA to ban all Note 7s. Samsung was in all the headlines, but definitely not in a good way.
Eventually, instead of digging its own grave, Samsung dug one for the Note 7: it recalled all the phones and sent out a software update that made existing devices useless. The company’s decision to finally own its exploding phones and make good by replacing them with different models was probably what saved the company’s rep back in 2016. Now all it has to do is live down this year’s weird folding phone fail as well. —Barbara Krasnoff
1. Ajit Pai
Net neutrality was one of the great success stories of this decade — until one man killed it. In 2015, Americans reclaimed the public utility that built the 21st century, protecting it from the greed of monopolistic gatekeepers that had spent vast resources capturing federal regulators. The Open Internet Order established strong net neutrality rules that would have kept companies like Verizon and Comcast in check for years to come. Then came President Trump, and his new FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai.
Pai spent more of his tenure as FCC chairman trying to score points with right-wing media than crafting sensible public policy. His undoing of net neutrality was capricious, irrational, and unpopular. Pai ignored the millions of Americans who demanded net neutrality in favor of a small set of powerful interests, including Verizon, which he once collected a paycheck from.
Sometimes public policy failures are opaque — layered with confusing complexities and unintended consequences. But in this case, the failure was clear. It wasn’t a poorly-written bill or bad timing. It was simply the result of regressive behavior from a public servant who would rather please internet service providers than serve the public. —TC Sottek