A look at the year's top 10 worst decisions on products, prices, design, personnel, and acquisitions. See if your list of turkeys matches ours.
Tech Turkeys 2011
What do a bad video game that took 15 years to make, a lost iPhone, a hacked gaming network, and a bunch of companies that can't seem to get their acts together have in common? They've been named to CNET's Top Tech Turkeys list for 2011.
Of course, there's more to our list than that. We have a bankrupt solar panel manufacturer that's led to congressional hearings and a perfectly nice digital recorder cruelly cut by the company that spent $500 million not all that long ago to acquire it. What else do all these things have in common? Mostly, terrible decision-making on products, prices, design, personnel, acquisitions, and what exactly you bring with you for an evening at the tequila bar. Enjoy (the list, not the tequila, but you can like that, too).
10. Duke Nukem Forever takes forever...and is still awful
Development of Duke Nukem Forever seemed doomed even from the start. After it was announced in 1997, then-developer 3D Realms went dark on the title, seemingly removing it from the company's release schedule until 2001, when it was declared it would
be released "when it's done."
"Done" took a while. Duke Nukem Forever remained in limbo for nearly a decade, until the game became a casualty of downsizing at 3D Realms. In 2010, 2K Games finally announced that Gearbox Software was helping resurrect Duke Nukem Forever and promised a release in 2011. The game was finally released in June.
So what does nearly 15 years of development get for you? Widespread negative reviews, if you're Duke Nukem.The game's ugly graphics and weak game play were highly forgettable, and Duke's crude and tasteless jokes weren't amusing even to the loyal Duke faithful.
Nobody understood why Cisco Systems bought the Flip camera company Pure Digital in 2009. And nobody really could fathom it when Cisco killed the 550-person division in 2011 and put the Flip in the ground for good.
Could the Flip have survived? Yes. Either inside Cisco or not, the Flip concept of the super-simple, one-button video camera could have worked. It was working, in fact. Sales were strong. Smartphones (especially the iPhone) were a threat to the Flip cameras, but the Flip designers were not standing still. There was still a lot of innovation left in the line when Cisco axed it, including a one-button live broadcast Flip cam. Cool! The only thing that really didn't make sense about the Flip was what it was doing inside Cisco, notwithstanding the networking giant's $590 million buyout of the company.
But the Flip idea lives on. In sandwiches. The creator of the Flip, Jonathan Kaplan, has started a chain of grilled cheese restaurants called The Melt. Ordering a sandwich from this chain is Flip-like. The product is simple and emotional. The price is on the high side of fair. And behind the scenes there's a bit of technology magic that the consumer might never see--a new combination cooker/microwave that makes a grilled/melted sandwich in a minute.
Fortunately, Kaplan has said he has no plans to sell this outfit to Cisco.
If there's one company everyone can agree was a turkey, it was Solyndra.
Foes of the Obama administration's clean energy strategy are having a field day dissecting the bankrupt solar company that shut down after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee. Even staunch proponents of renewable energy now question whether giving loans to individual companies is a smart idea. For an extra bonus, entrepreneurs are having a hard time even getting private funding for their new ideas.
With naive VCs and government money sloshing around, we knew some money would be lost. But Solyndra, which was unable to compete economically and actually gave out bonuses (!) to executives in its final months, succeeded in a way no one expected: bursting the green-tech bubble.
Has there ever been a piece of software so critically lauded yet so badly handled than WebOS? When HP swooped in to buy Palm and its slick operating system, many rejoiced.
It's hard to imagine they are now. The only time people clamored for an HP WebOS product was when the company offered the TouchPad tablet for $99, igniting a fire sale that drew in an army of bargain hunters. But HP couldn't even get that right, leaving many angry customers with cancelled orders and seeing its own Web site crash under the heavy traffic--a major black eye for a company that's supposed to offer the kinds of IT services that prevent such an occurrence.
Wait, there's more! When then-CEO Leo Apotheker opted to give up on the consumer business, he put the fate of WebOS up in the air. New CEO Meg Whitman has opted to keep the PC business, but WebOS remains a question mark. (Not to mention a $3.3 billion mistake). Please, Meg, let's give the tech industry some clarity on this before the end of the year.
Guy goes into a great tequila bar with an unreleased version of an iPhone and leaves the bar sometime later without the precious, one-of-a-kind, invaluable, lose-this-and-you’re-selling-iPods-in-the-Apple-store-in-Nome, Alaska, little thing. Turns out, same thing happened the year before to another poor Apple employee.
A joke, you say? Indeed not! We only deal in fact in the CNET Turkey List. What happened next also isn't very funny. Apple sent a security detail in search of the missing device, which led to the house of one Sergio Calderon, a 22-year-old San Francisco man. When they got to the house with the escort of local San Francisco police officers, Calderon let them in, later saying he was under the impression that Apple's security team was the police. Not finding the missing device, Apple's team then allegedly threatened Calderon and his family about their immigration status.
Since then, Calderon's gotten a lawyer and is considering filing a lawsuit against the tech giant. Meanwhile, Apple quietly forced its chief of security into retirement, the same one who had been in charge of Apple's security detail in last year's lost iPhone 4 snafu.
We've no idea if the tequila in Alaska is any good.
It's unlikely that Rep. Lamar Smith, unapologetic champion of the most-hated Internet legislation in recent memory, expected that his
Stop Online Piracy Act would attract so much vitriol so quickly.
But after the Texas Republican expanded the government's power to censor allegedly piratical Web sites beyond what earlier versions allowed, SOPA became approximately as popular as "enhanced" airport pat-downs. Nearly 90,000 Tumblr users telephoned Congress to register their disagreement, and hundreds of Web
sites--including that of Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from Silicon Valley--applied a bit of HTML code from AmericanCensorship.org to "censor" themselves in protest last week.
Mozilla, maker of the Firefox Web browser, created a page saying: "Protect the Internet: Help us stop the Internet Blacklist Legislation." So did Wikimedia
(as in, Wikipedia). Even the European Parliament, not known for its deep interest in U.S. copyright laws, overwhelmingly adopted an anti-SOPA resolution.
Smith, whose campaign committee receives more cash from Hollywood than any other source, remains unrepentant. He's planning a rapid-fire committee vote on December 15 that would bypass the House subcommittee charged with overseeing copyright law. "There should be additional hearings" on SOPA, says Markham Erickson, head of NetCoalition, whose members include Amazon.com, Google, eBay, and Yahoo. That's about as likely as Hollywood's favorite Washington Republican becoming a card-carrying member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Memo to Hewlett-Packard: An outfit that employs about 25 million people and generates more revenue than all the companies of the United Kingdom combined (we jest, by not by much) should not careen between executives and business plans like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Overstatement? Not really. Earlier this year, then-CEO Leo Apotheker announced plans to pull out of the PC business. Yes, that was the business HP--two CEOs ago--fought a bitter campaign to enlarge through the acquisition of Compaq. Also, in an apparent effort to look just like IBM without the great ad campaign, HP also spent $12 billion on Autonomy, a software company that specializes in unstructured data. (We'll avoid talking about the WebOS turkey that's already on our list.)
Hilarity ensued: Investors freaked out, Apotheker was canned, the board went on a CEO search, decided board member Meg Whitman was the right person for the job, and determined that being in the PC business wasn't such a bad thing after all.
We in the tech press love a good story, and HP has provided plenty of wackiness over the last year (Heck, the last 10!). We thank them for that. But maybe HP employees and that very real legacy as one of the most admired companies in the country deserve just a little bit better.
Sony, you really stepped in it. And then you kept grinding and grinding your shoe in it.
Here's a reminder of what "it" was: Sony tried to strong-arm PlayStation "modders" who were modifying their consoles so they could do more things with them, like play homebrew and pirated games. After George Hotz, aka "Geohot," hacked his PlayStation 3 and released information on the Web so others could jailbreak their PS3s, Sony took him to court. Sony also demanded to know who had visited Hotz's Web site.
So guess what happened? Down went several Sony sites due to a distributed denial-of-service attack, the first of many. In one of the biggest data breaches ever, names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and possibly credit card data of about 77 million people were exposed when intruders broke into Sony's PlayStation Network and Qriocity services about two weeks after the DDoS attack. So, did Sony swiftly warn customers about the potential for credit card fraud? Nope, they waited a week, and then they shut the sites down. The outage lasted more than three weeks. Lawsuits, not surprisingly, ensued.
Sure, executive Kaz Hirai apologized, and Sony announced a "Welcome Back" program for affected customers. But the apology got lost in the trash when Sony also changed the terms of service for its PlayStation Network and Sony Entertainment Network so customers are now forced to waive the right to sue.
Translation: We're very sorry. We promise to not let you sue us again.
Research In Motion has gone from a widely admired Canadian company to a company that makes its customers hoot, "Will you people please get it together already?"
RIM botched the launch of its PlayBook tablet, largely due to the inexplicable decision to leave out its core BlackBerry services--on a product carrying the BlackBerry name. Its shares dropped nearly 70 percent this year as its market share retreated in the face of the iPhone and Android phones. The company's much-touted network operating center suffered from a number of outages, including a massive global bork that occurred a few days before RIM hoped to generate a bit of hype for its next-generation platform...by renaming it BBX. The list goes on.
It wasn't all bad, of course. But since this is a turkey list, we're focused on the bad. OK, yes, RIM released the well-received Bold 9900. And after a heavy round of discounting, the PlayBook will likely figure prominently in a lot of Black Friday sales. Think anyone will say, "Hey, let's wake up at 4 a.m. to get that PlayBook Johnny really wants for Christmas?" No, we don't either.
We're hoping RIM won't be a repeat customer of our 2012 turkey list, but we’re not counting on it. The company was supposed to add those critical e-mail, calendar, and messenger features into the PlayBook this year, but that's been pushed off. And it looks like the first BBX phone will also come out later than expected.
Now...will you people please get it together already?
It would have taken releasing a flawed product and then blaming that product's problems on the way people were using it (whoops, that was Apple last year) to knock Netflix and its year of muddled merriment from the top of our turkey list.
How do we put this diplomatically? OK, we can't, so let's call it like it is: 2011 was the year Netflix blew it.
All that customer faith built over a decade got stomped into jelly this year. It wasn't the price hike that infuriated as much as the way Netflix appeared so clueless and cavalier in the way it raised them. The move was straight out of the Marie Antoinette school of public relations. After that, the real chaos ensued with missed subscriber-estimates and the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't Qwikster service and the dismal earnings forecast for 2012.
Lest we forget that Netflix's troubles are far from behind it, word comes now that the company is selling off $200 million in convertible notes to help raise money. How's this for a kicker? Netflix is also cash strapped.