The biggest tech turkeys of 2016

This year's most notable flops came from tech's heaviest hitters, proving that anyone -- from Samsung to Facebook to Apple -- can have bad moment. Or two.

James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
James Martin
1 of 40 Screenshot by CNET

Apple’s peach butt emoji disappears (for a while)

Let's start off with a lighthearted turkey, shall we? (Trust me, they get grimmer as we go on.) The peach emoji was a mainstay for sexting thanks to its, uh, suggestive look. But an update to the iOS 10 software changed the peach emoji, making it look less like a butt and more like, well, a peach.

Sexters everywhere wept.

But there's reason to rejoice! Apple is bringing back the original peach butt in the next update to iOS.

2 of 40 Juan Garzón/CNET

Google’s messenger overload

It appears Google got the memo about how hot messaging services were but went a little overboard with them. It introduced Allo in May, the fourth messenger service to come from the search giant. There's also Google Messenger, Hangouts and videoconferencing app Duo. Hit me up on Hangouts? Sorry, I'm on Allo.

3 of 40 Roger Cheng/CNET

Watching sports in VR still sucks

Virtual reality is the future, right? Not if you want to catch a Golden State Warriors game. Blurry video dampens the experience. And there aren't any commentators or graphics, which has become such a critical part of watching sports today.

It took one CNET reporter only 20 minutes to realize it wasn't for him.

4 of 40 Screenshot by CNET

NFL draft prospect Laremy Tunsil’s very bad night

Here's an example of how Twitter can turn on you at the worst possible moment.

Just minutes before the NFL draft began, a video popped up on the Twitter account of draft prospect Laremy Tunsil, showing him smoking weed with a "grass mask," a gas mask attached to a bong. He said the account was hacked, but it didn't matter, as the tweet went viral immediately.

Though the offensive lineman's stock dropped, the Miami Dolphins did make him the 13th overall pick. But some reports say he may have lost upward of $10 million in potential salary.

5 of 40 Scott Stein/CNET

Surface drops the ball

Speaking of the NFL, Microsoft is probably smarting over the high-profile deal it struck to get its Surface tablet on the sidelines at every game.

That backfired when the Surface went offline on the Patriots' sidelines during the AFC championship game in January. In October, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he'd had enough with tablets.

Microsoft drafted other NFL stars to talk about the Surface, but the damage had been done.

6 of 40 Screenshot by CNET

See ya, Vine

Twitter unceremoniously dumped Vine, its service that let people share six-second videos. That was much to the dismay of Vine's (apparently small) fan base.

Still, there's certainly interest in the service from potential acquirers. Suitors include PornHub. Just think of what your feed would look like. Or not.

7 of 40 Getty Images

Is Uber a unicorn or unican't?

For all the hoopla around the world's most valuable startup, the ride-hailing service is reportedly losing money. Uber has raked in $12.9 billion in investment funding, valuing it at $68 billion, but the company could be losing $6.5 million per day. That would mean Uber lost at least $1.27 billion in the first half of 2016.

Uber is credited with shutting down taxi companies, like San Francisco Yellow Cab, and outcompeting rival Lyft in funding, but it appears the company hasn't yet figured out how to turn a profit.

8 of 40 James Martin/CNET

Smartwatches are so 2015

Remember when everyone was building a smartwatch?

Well, it turns out that almost no one is buying them.

The number of wearables shipped in the third quarter fell by more than half from a year ago, according to IDC. The Apple Watch is leading the pack, but that's like calling it the fastest turtle. It's no surprise many Android vendors decided to pull back on their watch plans and Google has delayed Android Wear 2.0.

9 of 40 McDonald's

McDonald’s Un-Happy Meal

This is what happens when a fast-food chain tries to get into the tech world.

Kudos to McDonald's for offering a fitness tracker, called Step-It, as its Happy Meal giveaway. Anything to promote a healthier lifestyle, right?

Unfortunately, reports of burns and rashes triggered a recall, prematurely ending the Big Mac maker's foray into wearables.

10 of 40 Microsoft

Microsoft would like you to forget about Tay

Artificial intelligence was a hot topic in 2016, but practical results have been mixed.

Just take Tay, an AI that Microsoft let loose on Twitter to mine tweets and information.

Of course, the trolls took control and it wasn't long before she was turned into a horny racist. She briefly woke up a week later in a grumpy mood before Microsoft shut her down.

11 of 40 Screenshot/CNET

Facebook declares war on the Philippines

Apparently, it's really, really easy to declare war. The social network did just that by accidentally inverting the colors of the flag of the Philippines, which signals wartime.

Facebook was innocently trying to celebrate the country's independence day.

12 of 40 Gary Hershorn, Corbis via Getty Images

Kanye West asks Zuck for a loan

If you're going to ask the billionaire CEO of a social media network for a loan, at least ask him on the right network. Kanye West made his request to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion on Twitter.

He later realized his mistake. "Now I understand why he didn't hit me back...he doesn't use Twitter," he said on the Ellen Degeneres show. Yeah, that's why Zuck never responded...

13 of 40 Pool, Getty Images

Hulk Hogan body slams Gawker into oblivion

Whether you love or hate Gawker, its demise sets a dangerous precedent. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel showed that with enough money you can take down a media organization that you disagree with.

Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea's privacy lawsuit paved the way for Thiel to step in with his legal resources. The Gawker company ended up at Univision, though Gawker itself was dismantled.

14 of 40 Dave Priest/CNET

Snapchat filters draw ire

Snapchat apparently needs some sensitivity training. In April, the social network released a Bob Marley filter on the marijuana-focused day of 4/20. Critics complained that the darkened skin, dreadlocks and knitted cap amounted to blackface.

How does Snapchat follow up with that? Another filter in August inspired by anime that gave you exaggerated Asian characteristics, or what was tantamount to "yellowface." Snapchat removed the filter.

15 of 40 James Martin

Blame computers for your missed flight

Computers can be great, unless you entirely depend on them.

That was a problem for airlines this year, with an outage stranding more than half of Delta's flights in August, following an outage in July that delayed Southwest Airlines flights. In October, United Airlines had to deal with its own glitch that halted flights worldwide.

16 of 40 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tesla Autopilot leads to fatal crash

Tesla's Autopilot mode, which lets the car automatically speed up and down in traffic, is a great perk. But heed the warning that you should keep yours hands on the steering wheel and attention on the road.

One driver wasn't paying enough attention, and tragically collided with a tractor trailer that drove across the highway ahead of the car. The accident sparked concern over the broader idea of self-driving cars.

17 of 40

T-Mobile One draws backlash

It turns out not everyone wants an unlimited plan.

T-Mobile's decision to move to a single unlimited data plan angered some customers who felt the company was eliminating the choice for a lower-cost option. The reaction on Reddit was fast and fierce.

The company has dialed back the "One" aspect a bit, holding off on eliminating older plans for now. But it has driven a push for more unlimited plans throughout the industry.

Speaking of unlimited, T-Mobile ended up paying a $48 million settlement to the Federal Communications Commission for misleading customers about its policy of slowing down heavy users.

They represented a few rare missteps for a company that has largely been consumer friendly.

18 of 40 Josh Miller/CNET

Verizon’s fees to avoid fees

Verizon finally got with the program and followed T-Mobile and Sprint in eliminating overage fees -- kind of.

Overages are a touchy subject at Verizon; the Federal Communications Commission looked into complaints about excessively high bills due to crazy-high data usage.

But under Verizon's revamped wireless plans, overages still exist if you subscribe to a less expensive tier. To get rid of the overage fees, you have to subscribe to another program called Safety Mode, which costs lower-end customers $5 a month. Needless to say, T-Mobile CEO John Legere had a field day with this.

19 of 40 James Martin/CNET

The FBI showdown that wasn’t

The legal battle between Apple and the FBI was poised to be epic. The confrontation over Apple's refusal to help authorities unlock the phone had the tech industry lined up behind it, while law enforcement backed the FBI. A trial would provide a precedent and set some guidelines for how everyone should act.

But at the last minute, the FBI backed down and said it found a solution, essentially wasting everyone's time.

20 of 40 Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple’s definition of courage

Apple doesn't get off easy on this Turkey list. It's one thing for Apple to eliminate the headphone jack to jam more components into the iPhone behind the Lightning port. It's another thing entirely for Apple executive Phil Schiller to sum up the controversial move with the word "courage."

That's a little tone-deaf when you stack making tweaks to a computer against serving in the military or donating an organ.

Then came the MacBook Pro and its move to just USB Type-C ports. All of a sudden, you couldn't connect your iPhone to your Mac. Sure, Apple offered discounts on dongles, but the fact you've got to carry multiple converters will leave users feeling sore for a while.

It also goes against Apple's long-stated desire to keep things simple and clean.

21 of 40 Blackberry

BlackBerry's Hail Mary goes nowhere

BlackBerry bet the comeback of its ailing mobile devices business on the adoption of Google's Android software, but it proved to be too little, too late.

An AT&T executive admitted the phone was doing worse than expected, and BlackBerry's financial results betrayed little demand for the Priv.

22 of 40 Screenshot/CNET

BlackBerry finally throws in the towel

    While BlackBerry didn't completely scrap the phone business, it did the next closest thing: It outsourced it to whoever was interested.

    The company will let third parties design and build BlackBerry phones, and it will take a cut or a licensing fee.

    While BlackBerry believes it still has a shot in the US, I wouldn't hold my breath for a new device to show up anytime soon.

    23 of 40 James Martin/CNET

    Palmer Luckey’s bizarre political antics

    Facebook gets dragged into the Turkeys once more thanks to the 24-year-old founder of its Oculus virtual reality unit, Palmer Luckey.

    It only ranks so high because of how bizarre it is. In September, Palmer Luckey told The Daily Beast that he was funneling money into a pro-Trump organization called Nimble America. Then he backpedaled on his association with the group, only admitting to sending $10,000. (He also said he planned on voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.)

    It's no surprise Luckey was a no-show at the Oculus developer conference in October.

    24 of 40 James Martin/CNET

    Nobody wants Twitter

    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent out a memo to his staff with a rousing note about how the social network can be the source for where people get news.

    The truth is Twitter was shopping itself around and no one committed. Suitors included Apple, Disney, Salesforce and Google parent Alphabet.

    It says something that no company opted to go forward with a deal. While its latest results showed surprisingly strong profit, the company cut 9 percent of its workforce and is still struggling with how to get people to try out its service.

    25 of 40 Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

    Facebook's human element

    This is the third time Facebook appears on this roundup, and it's a doozy.

    The social networking titan got into hot water when The Guardian reported that the company employed a small editorial team to help dictate what would appear on the trending topics list.

    Worse yet, the report showed Facebook was biased in the stories it did present. Facebook said the report was based on old information, and that an investigation into its Trending Topics feature found no evidence of a slant.

    Still, CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with more than a dozen conservative leaders to smooth things over.

    26 of 40 Photo courtesy of Aftenposten

    Censoring the wrong photo

    But it turns out that relying on just code can backfire too. Consider Facebook's censorship of a famous Vietnam War photo.

    The photo was banned because it features a naked 9-year-old girl fleeing after a napalm attack, but common sense would dictate that its historical significance warrants a place on the site.

    27 of 40 James Martin/CNET

    Does Facebook dictate what news you see?

    Furthermore, after removing the human element, Trending Topics at election time began promoting dubious stories like a hoax piece on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Zuckerberg dismissed the notion that fake news helped drive the election results, but also vowed to clean up the trending items. It's become one of the hottest topics at the end of the year.

    28 of 40 Chesnot/Getty Images

    Pokemon Go excelled at ticking off players

    There's no denying the cultural and technological impact of Pokemon Go.

    The game brought people together like no other mobile game, and it got them going outside. It also showed us the promise of augmented reality, a trend Microsoft has been harping about for a while.

    But the early game was plagued with server issues, bumping people off and keeping them from accessing the account. As Niantic smoothed over those early headaches, the game settled into doldrums with folks encountering many of the same Pokemon over and over.

    If I see another Pidgey...

    29 of 40 Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

    Pokemon No

    One positive of Pokemon Go: It got people walking around in the real world. One negative side: People apparently have no boundaries when it comes to walking around.

    The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Japan's Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Cambodia's Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum were sacred locations that drew tons of (apparently tone deaf) players.

    30 of 40 James Martin/CNET

    Yahoo hack threatens its grand exit

    Yahoo had it made. Sugar daddy Verizon swooped in with a $4.8 billion offer to take over the company.

    But then the company disclosed the biggest hack in history -- at least 500 million accounts lost. Almost immediately after came reports that it participated in a government program to sniff its emails.

    If you were a Yahoo Mail hold out, chances are, you are considering your options now. It's gotten so bad that Verizon called the breach a "material impact" on the deal, and may seek to renegotiate the terms of the deal or call it off entirely.

    31 of 40 James Martin/CNET

    The rise of ransomware

    From a security perspective, we got our butts kicked left and right.

    Yahoo was just the highest profile attack this year -- there were others, including adult dating and entertainment company FriendFinder losing the data of more than 412 million user accounts.

    Beyond simple hacks, 2016 saw the rise in ransomware, where a hacker will lock up your files and demand money in exchange for returning access. Unlike other ransom cases, authorities actually recommend you just pay up.

    Fourteen hospitals have been held hostage this year. Experts, meanwhile, raised concerns that anything with a connection could be hacked. Heck, even connected vibrators aren't safe.

    32 of 40 Screenshot/NorseCorp

    Rise of the machines

    The internet of things certainly has its downside. You can blame connected cameras, digital video recorders and other devices for a massive internet outage that swept across the US in October.

    33 of 40 James Martin/CNET

    Hackers influencing the presidential race

    The hack of the Democratic National Committee, which led to the resignation of multiple officials, including Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and CEO Amy Dacey, brought to light the idea that a foreign government is using cyberterrorism to influence the election.

    Dozens of US authorities agree Russia was trying to tamper with the election.

    34 of 40 James Martin/CNET

    Everyone got it wrong

    Whether you're a fan of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton (or, for many, neither), you have to admit this election was uglier than the normal contest.

    The 2016 election makes it onto our list because of how much that ugliness spilled into social media. But where it failed was how social media (and virtually every other poll and prognosticator) was so off on the predictions of a solid Clinton win.

    35 of 40 Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

    Even sexting became a part of this election

    You know you've hit rock bottom on the elections when disgraced former US Rep. Anthony Weiner's lewd text messages (to an allegedly underage girl) became a relevant topic at the tail end of the season.

    The FBI found some of Hillary Clinton's emails from her private server during its investigation into Weiner, a fact that FBI Director James Comey disclosed with just 11 days before the vote. Then two days before the election, Comey basically said never mind.

    36 of 40 Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images

    Trump has a plan for tech. Really

    What turkey list would be complete without a mention of President-elect Donald Trump?

    Throughout his campaign, Trump demonstrated a startling lack of knowledge about the tech industry, including his vow to force Apple to "build their damn computers and things in this country," which would double the price of its products, according to one conservative estimate.

    There was also his plan to shut down parts of the internet in Syria and Iraq, even if the US has no control over the local infrastructure.

    37 of 40 Screenshot/CNET

    Trump on Twitter

    While social media may have helped Trump get into the White House, his tweeting left a lot to be desired.

    There's one tweet about how he claimed global warming was created by the Chinese -- but then he later denied saying it.

    Then there was the 3 a.m. tweet storm when he lashed out at a former Miss Universe, asking people to "check out" her sex tape.

    Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Trump never said that either. The list of things he tweeted then said he never said will no doubt be fodder for historical scholars for years to come.

    All we know is that things got so bad that his campaign wrested away control over his Twitter account for a few days before the election.

    38 of 40 Sarah Tew/CNET

    Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 recall, take one

    We're finally at No. 1.

    Give Samsung credit for moving quickly to issue an official recall of its flagship Note 7 phone after incidents of the handset catching on fire began creeping up.

    But the company moved too quickly, moving without government authorities, leading to confusion about when and where to exchange the devices.

    Now, if only that were the worst of the problems.

    39 of 40 Crushader/Reddit

    That first recall didn't take

    Those "safe" replacement Galaxy Note 7 units weren't as safe as promised, with incidents of phones heating up on planes and at home.

    Samsung initially blamed the issue on the battery, and even switched its battery supplier. But the problem continued with the replacements.

    All of a sudden, government agencies warned against bringing the Note 7 on buses and planes.

    40 of 40 Sarah Tew/CNET/Illustration

    Samsung's Note 7 explodes in its face

    The continued incidents prompted a rare second recall.

    Samsung finally pulled the plug on the line, and is focused on getting all Note 7s out of the hands of its consumers. Making matters worse was another, unrelated recall for one of its top-loading washing machines.

    There also continues to be reports of other Samsung phones catching fire. Call this an extremely overcooked turkey and the biggest tech faux pas of the year.

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