Top ten tech turkeys 2019: The year's absolute worst product and service failures
It’s been an annual custom at ZDNet to point out which products and services from the technology industry win the prize for their sheer incompetence in terms of technical implementation and the spectacularity of their failure — or because they just plain rubbed us the wrong way.
This was a banner year. We experienced such an overwhelming amount of these in our industry that we need an entire category dedicated to just the top winners, which we have grouped by significant technology vendors or segments. (See the full turkey menu here.) So without further ado, these are our Top 10 Tech Turkeys for 2019.
1. Google and Project Nightingale Invades Our Privacy
Up until last week, the Pixel 4 smartphone would have topped our list for its terrible battery life, poor onboard storage, underpowered RAM, and top-tier pricing. It was a terrible follow-on to Pixel 3 which was appreciated for its excellent camera and low-light capabilities but did extremely weak sales in 2019. But Google’s foray into health data privacy — with its $2.1 billion purchase of Fitbit and its “Project Nightingale,” in which it hoovered tens of millions of patient records at Ascension hospital facilities in the US — awards our friends at the Googleplex top billing for the absolute worst technology vendor of the year, and only bolsters our argument that the company should face massive fines and intense US government and EU regulation.
2. Facebook and Twitter Disappoint Spectacularly
Do we know precisely when these highly popular social networks and media services went entirely off the rails — in keeping the bile and toxicity off their platforms and protecting the privacy of their userbases? I don’t know if it was 2019, 2018, 2017, or even 2016. But perhaps we need to re-examine in what capacity we need these as a society, and how they should be used. Twitter finally had to draw the line by banning political advertising on its platform, but it still allows racism and ad hominem from bullies with tens of millions of followers. Facebook continues to demonstrate that, like Google, the company is utterly untrustworthy in every aspect of its business, so why should we introduce its surveillance hardware into our homes, riding atop platforms like Amazon Echo?
3. Apple Airpower Crashes and Burns
While Google and the social media giants take the cake for the spectacularity and the seriousness of their failures in terms of actual impact, the Cupertino Fruit Loop has garnered the most number of products that deserve public scorn, and it’s hard to tell where to begin. The biggest public blunder by far was the failure to launch Airpower, the universal wireless charging device that was so poorly designed and faced with so many challenges Apple had to kill it in its late product engineering phases.
But there were so many others, such as iOS 13, which is still riddled with many bugs even months after its release. The butterfly keyboard on the 2019 Macbook Pro was a complete fail (like the ones before it that debuted in 2015) and replaced six months after its release. No USB-C on the iPhone 11 (sorry, Adrian) was an insult to its userbase, and killing vape apps on its platform is, at best, a prime example of why Apple should be forced to open iOS to third-party app stores and application installs. It should also be taken to task for its well-publicized cooperation with the Chinese government to censor users and app developers on a global basis.
Apple Card, by far, was the company’s most essential services launch of 2019, appears to be using an algorithm that is biased against women when it comes to assigning credit limits. Apple dropped the ball on content this year, as well; There are reliable indications News+ flopped with subscribers, with most discontinuing it within a month after signing up, and Apple TV+ content is some of the worst we’ve ever seen on any of the pay subscription services. That being said, despite this weak start, I don’t think Apple is out of the content game. It can redeem itself in the future by aggressive pricing using service bundling, an idea that ZDNet’s Larry Dignan floated in March, and I expanded upon back in June of this year. I also discussed it more in September. It appears ZDNet may have been prescient.
4. Amazon Alexa Privacy Needs Major Improvement
It could very well be that our ultimate willingness to allow voice-activated, cloud-connected surveillance devices from a giant technology company into our homes might be the tech turkey of the decade when we look back in a few years. Nevertheless, Amazon’s Alexa and Ring devices had so many publicized privacy issues this last year. It’s hard to know where to begin. But at least if you’re going to spy on us with your products, Amazon, make it easier to recharge them; the newly introduced Kindles and the Echo Buds had no USB-C charging ports.
5. Microsoft Windows 10 Patches Were a Catastrophe
We thought there was a good chance that Microsoft was going to have close to a perfect year, which, for the most part, was correct, given the company’s fantastic revenue growth in cloud and its transformation into platform-agnostic software developer and even Android OEM. But it was not to be blunder-free. The imbroglio with the never-ending Windows 10 updates and patches that broke countless end-user and corporate PCs earns Redmond yet another place on our annual turkey platter.
6. Samsung Galaxy Fold, What Were They Thinking?
What can we say? This $2,000 Android phablet that uses super-expensive and bleeding-edge foldable screen technology has an embarrassingly low mean time between failure rate and resulted in canceled pre-sales when review units sent to the technology media broke within days of use. That may even top Apple’s AirPower for a pre-launch trainwreck because people put money down on them. While we are on the subject, I’m putting next year’s mobile turkey on notice: Motorola.
7. The US Government’s Ridiculous Policy On Huawei
There was absolutely no good reason for Huawei to be added to the Commerce Department’s Entity List, preventing the company from doing business with US technology firms like Google, Qualcomm, and Microsoft and making its excellent products practically unobtanium in North America. It has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with trade, as President Donald Trump made abundantly clear. But, hey, it looks like the President is going to allow Huawei to buy its way off the list. How nice of him.
Also, a dishonorable mention for the US government: Although it died in 2017 at the hands of the FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the headstone for Net Neutrality was installed in 2019 in the form of zero-rating, which contributes to the elimination of choice of competing services at ISPs. Nobody within government cares, and consumers continue to feel it in their wallets by Big Telecom. But maybe we need to reconsider what network neutrality means in a post-web word overall.
8. Internet of Things Is a Bust
The entire category failed miserably on privacy, systems integration, and interop from every single vendor. Google has been especially bad with its complete ruining of Works With Nest. Still, all these ecosystems have fallen flat — except Amazon. But, even here, a lot of partner-integrated devices fail on continuing support and integration.
9. Cord Cutting Was Not Supposed To Be More Expensive
Streaming service subscription insanity has replaced the cable bill, with no actual savings realized. Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Disney, ESPN, HBO, Apple TV Plus, and — despite how much I love Star Trek — yes, that includes CBS. How many of these do we need to feed our content habit, and how much money do we have to pay until we’ve managed to spend more on video content subscriptions than we did when we had lousy old cable?
10. Moviepass, Rest In Peace
The downfall of this service was an utter financial catastrophe, but it was virtually ensured from the very beginning. AMC and Regal ran with the concept, too, launching two theater subscription services. They appear to have become very popular with moviegoers. As to whether these services can make money for the two companies, by putting butts in seats and increasing concession revenue, is anyone’s guess.
Apple and Google were responsible for a more than half of our turkey menu. Browse the gallery for the rest of this year’s worst tech fails. Did we miss any significant turkeys? Talk Back and Let Us Know.