Top tech turkeys of 2010 (photos)

We offer our unscientific list of the biggest mistakes and bad ideas of the last year, from the Kin to Mark Hurd to several flaps involving the iPhone.

CNET News staff
1 of 11 Josh Lowensohn/CNET

A year of Apple, scandals, and bad ideas

A year of Apple, scandals, and bad ideas

There was that pretty good new smartphone with a pretty annoying problem. There was that (non-Apple) tablet computing device that should have stayed in the napkin doodle stage. There was an aggregation site that coulda been a contender--we herewith present CNET's not-quite-scientific list of top tech industry misfires, misfits, and misbehavior.

As we peruse our list, it occurs to us that Apple has utterly dominated tech news over the last year. From the launch of the iPad to the case of the purloined prototype iPhone to that annoying antenna problem and smoking the peace pipe with the Beatles, Apple has been top-of-mind for all of us. Mea culpa. For what it's worth, it gets on our nerves sometimes, too. To those tech companies that perhaps did not command as much attention we can only offer this advice for next year: Get into a scrap with Apple. We'll be all over it.

2 of 11 BusinessWeek

Digg: Where do we start?

10. Digg: Where do we start?

It's almost painful to write about the decline of social-news site Digg: A few years ago, founder Kevin Rose was mentioned in the same sentences as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Now, well, not so much.

The problems really started a little over two years ago, when Digg, having reportedly snubbed nine-figure buyout offers and fresh off a $28.7 million Series C funding round that CEO Jay Adelson said at the time was going to fuel a "major expansion effort," was revealed to be losing money--lots of it. But it was in 2010 that the mess hit the fan. Its sorely-needed "Version 4" overhaul didn't go over so well with its loyal community. There were not one, but two rounds of layoffs this year, meaning that the company is less than half the size it was when Adelson himself jumped ship in the spring.

As for Digg, it's still alive under the auspices of new CEO Matt Williams (and founder Kevin Rose is still doing something there) , but the outlook isn't too bright for this company with a long track of missed opportunities. There has perhaps not been a better example in years that sometimes entrepreneurs have to throw away idyllic dreams of changing the world and, to be blunt, take the money and run.

3 of 11 Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET

Google TV can't make nice with Hollywood

9. Google TV can't make nice with Hollywood

The Grinch came early to Google TV when all four major networks--plus cable conglomerate Viacom--decided in mid-November to block Google TV users from watching shows streamed from their Web sites. Google had even apparently cut some sort of deal with NBC Universal to feature them as a launch partner in early November when the first devices hit the street, only to watch the Peacock Network turn up its feathers at Google and CEO Eric Schmidt, pictured here.

It's not hard to figure out why they're doing this: TV networks would rather you reserve your big-screen viewing to the broadcast versions of their shows, where they currently make more money than through the streaming versions of those shows. They're happy to accommodate additional viewers on PCs to complement the regular viewing--and you can still watch the shows from your set-top box on Google TV--but the marriage of the big-screen TV to the Internet is not one that old media is quite ready to bless.

You have to wonder what Google was thinking launching in this fashion, on a wing and a prayer that they'd get their buddies in New York to play ball. Google does have a deal with Turner Broadcasting in place, but for now, Google TV is fighting with a half-dozen channels tied behind its back.

That said, we're very happy to remind you that you can get our content on your shiny new Google TV.

4 of 11 Adobe

Apple is really mean to Adobe

8. Apple is really mean to Adobe

We get it: In tech "frenemies" engage in what the experts like to call "coopetition." But what happened between Apple and Adobe earlier this year made everyone who paid good money in the mid-'90s to use Adobe design software on not-so-great Macs a little sad.

Apple indulged an impulse to modify section 3.3.1 of the license for developing iOS programs to block a technology Adobe had just debuted to convert Flash-based applications into native iOS apps. Many of us know what it's like to be picked on by the cool kids, and this brought on some ugly middle school flashbacks.

Apple came to its senses and reversed the ban, but not before damage was done. Apple probably shed no tears at Adobe's whiplash in canceling its Flash-to-iPhone project, then reconstituting it in September, but the move also cast a cloud of uncertainty on Unity 3D, whose cross-platform development tools power more than 1,000 iOS applications.

But as we fantasized about but rarely saw in middle school, every bully gets his comeuppance, and Apple's rough behavior helped Google welcome developers into the Android mobile development fold.

5 of 11 James Martin/CNET

The Microsoft Kin and its eight weeks of glory

7. The Microsoft Kin and its eight weeks of glory

Microsoft's Kin was one of the most short-lived gadgets in recent history, staying on shelves less than two months before being discontinued by the software giant. The phone was designed as something in between a smartphone and a feature phone, but critics and consumers alike panned its pricey data plan.

Microsoft laid on a heavy marketing push, getting the Kin in TV shows and other media. But it was a bust. Instead, the Ballmer gang focused development on Windows Phone 7, which hit store shelves earlier this month.

But this Kin may turn out to be hard to kill. The phone resurfaced on Verizon a few weeks ago after a five-month hiatus with a few changes. Namely, that data plan is gone. So far both Microsoft and Verizon have stayed mum on why the device made its return, and neither company is promoting it again, so we don't exactly know how the Kin escaped from the Isle of Misfit Toys just in time for the holidays.

6 of 11 Rafe Needleman/CNET

JooJoo: The year-long road to nowhere

6. JooJoo: The year-long road to nowhere

The JooJoo tablet was plagued by bad juju from the get-go. It seemed like a good idea when TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington began talking up his dream of building the "Crunchpad" Web tablet, and a partnership with a company called Fusion Garage to bring such a product to market.

But when the JooJoo tablet (at right in the image) was finally announced, in December of 2009, the tech world was already looking forward to the imminent release of Apple's tablet, announced the following month. The iPad shipped in April 2010, before deliveries of the JooJoo could ramp up. Combined with the impossible task of competing with the iPad's fit and finish was Fusion Garage's public and bitter breakup with project instigator Arrington. And did we mention that the actual user experience with the JooJoo was none too great? This tablet was designed purely as a Web client, with its own proprietary OS, and it was slow. And then tablets based on Google's Android started to appear.

Fusion Garage's litigation with Arrington lives on, but the JooJoo tablet is dead. The company has reached a deal to sell its unsold tablets to a third party, which will repurpose them into tablets for vertical industries, possibly with another operating system. The company plans to ship a new line of renamed tablets based on its own fork of Android. They'll be smaller and hopefully cheaper, and they'll support apps. The JooJoo line, however, is gone for good.

7 of 11 TSA

The TSA needs a Barry White theme song

5. The TSA needs a Barry White theme song

It's unlikely that John Pistole, the Transportation Security Agency's dour chief who once warned that terrorism must "always be considered imminent," expected such public vilification over his agency's new airport screening procedures.

But a protest that began with a few bloggers has, since Pistole announced the pat-down or body-scan policy in a one-paragraph note on TSA.gov a few weeks ago, become something closer to public execration. TSA screeners have been twitted by Saturday Night Live, Grammy-winning musician Steve Vaus, and cartoonist Tom Tomorrow. The agency itself has been rebuked by some of the same politicians who voted unanimously to create it a decade ago.

The surprise is that, beyond exempting flight attendants and pilots, the TSA has remained unyielding and impenitent. All Pistole would tell CBS News this week is that he'll continue asking: "How can we be better informed if we modify our screening? Then, what are the risks that we deal with?" That's Washington-ese for "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby."

8 of 11 Apple

Gizmodo-gate (or things not to do with your prototype iPhone)

4. Gizmodo-gate (or things not to do with your prototype iPhone)

Are a few million page views on your site worth threats of criminal prosecution and an acknowledgment that you have no qualms with the questionable practice of checkbook journalism? At Gizmodo's parent company, Gawker Media, the answer is, "Hell yes!"

Here's the story: So a young Apple engineer walks into a California bar with a nifty new phone and loses track of the darn thing. The phone, a prototype of the iPhone 4, ends up with a college student who recognizes the handset for what it is--not something you want to be losing track of in a bar. Now most folks would have handed the phone to the bartender. But what does our young student do? He allegedly sells the phone to Gizmodo, which, in turn, publishes lots of photos of it. Problem is, someone may have broken the law, said authorities in San Mateo County, where Apple reported the phone stolen. That was more than six months ago. The police even raided the home of one of Gizmodo's editors (who then wisely hired his own lawyer), while the student's laptop and other property was seized.

What happens next? That's a fine question. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said he doesn't want to let this slide. The DA's office in San Mateo County hasn't said much of anything. And Gawker czar Nick Denton continues to crow about his great scoop. We're still waiting for the other shoe to drop in this ugly tale.

9 of 11 James Martin/CNET

Google Street View was spying on you

3. Google Street View was spying on you

Seriously, Google's Street View was spying on you, and Google is very, very sorry about it and if all you government agencies around the world investigating this mess would please leave them alone now that they've apologized for it they'd really appreciate it.

Here's what happened: Google has long had its Street View cars collect mapping data by triangulating Wi-Fi hot spots. This isn't that big a deal: lots of other companies have used similar data to help mobile phone users get a sense of their location when GPS signals aren't available. But Google apparently didn't realize (or planned all along, depending on who you believe) that the equipment was also capturing and storing real data: e-mails, passwords, and basically anything sent over an unsecured wireless access point. The total amount of data captured was limited, but it doesn't take much to horrify privacy advocates and delight plaintiff's lawyers. Across the pond, the U.K's information commissioner even said Google's collection of data was "not fair or lawful."

Google issued several statements along the lines of "our bad," and so far has escaped any serious penalties. But it's easily the biggest oopsie by the search giant, and the final accounting may prove expensive.

10 of 11 Stephen Shankland/CNET and Jodie Fisher

HP's Mark Hurd gets canned and gets richer

2. HP's Mark Hurd gets canned and gets richer

Here at CNET, we're still trying to figure out the life lesson in this one.

Mark Hurd, the CEO of the tech company with the largest revenues in the world is unceremoniously dumped by his board of directors because he did something with Jodie Fisher, a very attractive former actress and reality television star hired to schmooze customers at company events. We say something in italics because we have no idea what went on--Hurd settled a sexual harassment claim with Fisher and she's not talking, which derailed the board's investigation. We do know, thanks to months of investigation by a team of Wall Street Journal reporters, that Hurd and Fisher had dinner and watched football in restaurants and hotel rooms around the globe, but they swear they're just friends (or were friends, most likely).

The board said it found no evidence of sexual harassment but was still peeved enough with Hurd's behavior to force him out. He took a severance package worth up to $40 million with him. As a bonus, the HP board was portrayed as a bunch of reactionary prigs in many Silicon Valley circles.

So what happened to Hurd? Naturally, he was offered a new job as president at HP's latest and nastiest rival, Oracle. Tech pundits figure he'll end up running the company if bon vivant CEO Larry Ellison ever decides to retire, proving the old adage that one man's garbage is another man's treasure. Hurd's excellent, or bogus, adventure comes in at #2 on our turkey list simply because it's galling that he so easily landed on his feet.

11 of 11 Apple

It's not the iPhone, it's the way you're holding it!

1. It's not the iPhone, it's the way you're holding it!

Memo to Apple: Don't high-hat your customers, no matter how pesky they become.

Everyone screws up, of course, even companies engaged in the pursuit of insanely great ideas. For Jobs & Co., the gaffe finally came with the odd reception problems caused by the iPhone 4's wraparound antenna. Yes, the problems might have been overstated. And, yes, the tech press may have been getting even for years' worth of "no comments" and other snubs from Apple. But really...telling people they were holding the phone wrong? Poor form. For $199 or $299, they should be able to hold the phone any damn way they please.

On the upside, Apple did finally hold a press conference to acknowledge the problem (albeit one in which Steve Jobs weirdly implied that his company was being unfairly picked on) and eventually fixed things with software upgrades and free rubber band things to prevent you from putting your fingers where they don't belong. But for a company with arguably the best customer service in the world and a CEO who so loves the Beatles, it was an odd, out of tune moment.

When you're on top of the world, every mistake gets amplified, and that's exactly what happened to Apple and its handling of the antenna complaints - CNET's top turkey of 2010.

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