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The top 10 tech related failures of 2013

2013 saw a number of major new products and marketing campaigns released as part of the tech industry, and there were quite a few that didn't turn out as well as anticipated. In this feature, we offer our own top 10 list of the biggest tech-related failures in the past year. Hopefully the companies that were involved in these projects will learn from their mistakes. 

10. Facebook Home; an Android skin no one wants or needs

Facebook wanted to offer a different way to view content from its service. The result was Facebook Home, an Android skin that pushed the OS to the back in favor of a series of apps that included CoverFeed, which took over the display to show activities of a user's friends.

Facebook introduced the Home skin in April and even got HTC to release a phone that had the skin pre-loaded on the device. However, the reviews for Home itself were poor, as many people simply didn't want Facebook to take over their entire smartphone OS. While Home is still available for download via Google Play, it only supports a select few Android devices. Facebook has been quiet about the future development of Home since its launch.

9. Google Reader shuts down; many RSS users get upset

RSS feeds are still used by tens of millions of people for viewing news on the Internet. That didn't stop Google from announcing in March that its popular Google Reader RSS feed site would shut down on the first of July. Despite online petitions asking Google to keep the site online, the company went ahead and closed the service.

While Google may not feel that Reader was needed anymore, don't tell that to the folks in charge of Feedly, who said they added millions of users to its own RSS service thanks to Google's decision. While Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are becoming bigger sources for Internet news, the number of active RSS feeds and users remains high and many folks still wonder why Google would ditch such a service.

8. Samsung Galaxy Gear; the future has not arrived

Samsung tried to enter the smartwatch market with the Galaxy Gear this fall, a $299.99 device that was supposed to offer a number of features that are normally put into smartphones. Samsung even offered up a clever TV commercial campaign that showed a ton of fictional TV and movie smartwatches of the past in an attempt to prove that the Galaxy Gear was supposed to be a science fiction product come to life.

The problem? The Galaxy Gear was dependent on a link to a Samsung smartphone for most of its features, rather than a stand-alone device that worked mostly by itself. Samsung has claimed the device has exceeded its expectations in terms of sales, but some reports claim that the Galaxy Gear has seen a large number of returns since it was launched. Any way you look at it, the smartwatch era hasn't started yet, at least not with Samsung.

7. Motorola's highly anticipated Moto X fails to drum up sales

Motorola started teasing the Moto X earlier this year as a major new Android smartphone. The hope was that the Moto X was going to be the device that would take some of the attention away from Samsung's successful Galaxy smartphones.

Motorola and its parent company Google officially revealed the Moto X in August, and really pushed the fact that people could go online to a website to change the color of the device before it was shipped to them. However, many reviewers were not happy that the hardware inside the phone was fairly pedestrian compared to the competition, and that it had the older Android 4.2 OS out of the box.

The smartphone launched in September for a price of $199 with a two year contract but sales were so bad that the price was quickly reduced to $99 within two months. Motorola finally started taking orders for a version of the Moto X with a Bamboo back plate earlier in December, but it may be too late to help boost sales. Perhaps Google should concentrate less on color customization and more on hardware and features for its next version.

6. SimCity launch hit with overloaded servers

SimCity, the revival of the classic urban simulation game from developer Maxis and publisher Electronic Arts was one of the most anticipated games of 2013. However, the team at Maxis decided to do something different with this version of SimCity. Instead of offering a pure single player mode, this new game forced players to sign online to a server to build their cities.

The problems began as people who pre-ordered SimCity encountered long waits to download the full game when it launched in March, due to the fact that there was a large spike in orders just before it was released. Even after players were able to download the game, the servers were so overloaded that many were unable to play SimCity.

EA tried to make amends by offering a free game to those folks who were unable to log in during the launch. However, the company remained steadfast that it would not offer an offline mode for the game, claiming that it was more like a massively multiplayer game than the old SimCity titles. That was little consolation for those players who were unable to build their dream city and shows the dangers of forcing online DRM for a game that can be played by just one person.

5. Google Glass barge still floating without a direction

In October, reports began surfacing of a massive barge with huge containers that was docked on a pier in San Francisco Bay, several miles away from the city itself. The rumors claimed that the barge was being constructed by Google, but for what purpose? At first, it seemed like it was going to be a floating data center, but then other reports claimed that it was to a store (kind of) for the company's upcoming Google Glass project.

Google finally gave a vague statement about the barge a few weeks later, claiming that it was going to be "an interactive space where people can learn about new technology." However, the marketing geniuses at Google that came up with this idea forgot one thing; large floating barges are under the rules of the local Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The group says the barge still does not have a permit to operate inside the city of San Francisco.

At the moment, the barge's construction is reportedly "on hiatus" and may not be completed until spring of 2014, if in fact it is ever finished. We are not sure why Google thinks a floating display for new technology is any cooler than a land locked retail store but this marketing project may never leave its current pier.

4. Healthcare.gov website fails at launch

The U.S. government got a lesson in website backend development with the launch of the Healthcare.gov website. In short, the site, which was set up to help U.S. citizens sign up to receive health care from a number of providers, failed in that basic mission, with most people unable to sign into the URL when it launched in October.

It was perhaps the biggest embarrassment yet for the Obama administration, and it was so bad that Microsoft offered to help the government with fixing the site. In the end, the administration announced earlier this month it had hired Kurt DelBene, the former president of Microsoft's Office division, to "lead and manage" Healthcare.gov. While most of the site's issues have now been addressed, the government will likely need DelBene's experience as it tries to fix the few remaining issues and make steps to improve the site going forward.

3. Poor Surface sales cause a big one time charge at Microsoft

The Surface RT launch in October 2012, followed by the Surface Pro launch in February 2013, represented Microsoft's first entry in the PC hardware space. However, sales of the tablets didn't meet expectations and earlier this year, the company started selling the first Surface models at deep discounts at its events like TechEd and its Worldwide Partner Conference. This summer, the company finally cut the price of the Surface RT down by $150 for regular consumers, with the 32 GB model selling for $349.

The final indication of the poor sales of the Surface came with Microsoft's fourth quarter 2013 fiscal results, when the company announced it would take a one time charge of $900 million. At the time, Microsoft said the charge was due to "Surface RT inventory adjustments." Later, Microsoft revealed that the Surface family of products had generated $853 million in revenue from its launch in October 2012 to the end of June, before the price cuts.

The good news is that Microsoft seems to have found a better balance between supply and demand for the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets, which launched in October. While Microsoft has yet to reveal sales figures, the new models have been hard to find and purchase online since their release due to higher demand.

2. Microsoft's DRM plans for the Xbox One backfire

Microsoft must have thought at one time it was a good idea to treat the physical discs that would be used and sold for Xbox One games as products that were "owned" by the company or third-party publishers. In June, the company revealed that selling used disc games for their new console would be made under a complicated and restrictive system that would require retailers to sign up to become official Xbox One trade-in stores. Oh, and renting disc games at places like a Redbox kiosk or via GameFly was completely out of the question.

Microsoft also said that the Xbox One must be connected to the Internet at least once every 24 hours to play games. This restriction angered many people, especially military personnel who would be unable to connect the console to the Internet for long periods of time while out in the field.

The mass reaction against these DRM restrictions was huge and swift from gamers, who took to the Internet in various ways to protest these changes. A few weeks later, Microsoft caved and announced that Xbox One disc game owners could trade or loan their discs with anyone, with no restrictions. It also took away the 24-hour Internet requirement to play games, although all games must connect to the Internet at least once to be set up. 

1. The BlackBerry 10; the OS that may still sink a company

At the beginning of 2013, everyone in the smartphone industry was eying Research in Motion, as the company got closer to the long awaited launch of the BlackBerry 10 OS and the release of their first BB10 phones. In January, the company not only announced the touchscreen-only BlackBerry Z10 smartphone and the QWERTY keyboard Q10 handset, it also changed the name of the company itself to BlackBerry.

The marketing campaign for the new OS and the handsets was extensive; there were many TV commercials, including a Super Bowl ad that cost BlackBerry $3.7 million just to buy the time for the 30 second clip. It recruited celebrities such as singer Alicia Keys and writer Neil Gaiman to help promote the phones. A few weeks after the Z10 launched in the UK, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins was even quoted as saying sales of the smartphone were "above expectations and their target was thoroughly ambitious."

We don't know what sales figures Heins looked at during that time period, but as the months went on the reception to the new BlackBerry 10 devices were clearly on the negative side in terms of sales. The company was already in a poor financial position but in the fall it decided to cut 4,500 jobs, or 40 percent of its workforce. It also tried to sell itself off but later decided to keep going as a leaner company that would concentrate on the enterprise market under the leadership of a new CEO, John S. Chen.

The massive fall of BlackBerry, thanks to the poor reception of BB10 and their handsets, makes this the easy choice as the biggest tech failure of 2013. While the company is still around, there's still a big question mark as to how BlackBerry can keep going thanks to competition from iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. 2014 could be the year of a big comeback for BlackBerry or the last gasp of a company that once was the undisputed leader in smartphones.

(Dis)-Honorable mentions:

Wii U - Nintendo's next generation game console, launched in 2012, has seen its sales nearly evaporate in 2013, while Sony and Microsoft hit the ground running this fall with successful PS4 and Xbox One launches.

Yahoo Mail - Yahoo tried to revamp its old web email service with a new look and more features, but it got a "thumbs down" from long time users. It didn't help that Yahoo Mail suffered from an outage that kept some users from accessing their emails for days.

Intel's TV set top box - The processor company was in the middle of plans to release an advanced set top box that would be a possible challenger to cable TV providers, but a changing of the guard in the company's management resulted in a delay of the product, and a possible full cancellation in the future.

Ubuntu Edge smartphone - Canonical tried to fund development of its Linux-based smartphone with a crowd-sourced campaign that had a $32 million (not a typo) goal. Needless to say, the effort fell well short of that amount.

Ouya - The $99 game console that runs Android-based games and was funded by Kickstarter backers launched in 2013, but the reviews were on the negative side and there's been no word from the company on how many hardware units have been sold; not a good sign by any means.

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