Anyone can name twenty successful tech products off the top of their heads, but the case is not the same when it comes to products that failed in the market. Tech products are like buses in transit, the moment one breaks down, the passengers alight, forget about it and hop into the next available one, oftentimes without caring to know what led to the breakdown.
However, for product designers, it is important to have knowledge of what led to the failure of tech products in the past so as to know pitfalls to avoid on their design journey. Below, we have curated a list of what we consider the top 5 biggest Tech Product failures of all time and what led to their failure.
In 2010, Microsoft in partnership with Nokia announced the production of its first smartphone; the Windows phone which was an embodiment of the Windows operating system. In many ways, the Windows phone was unique. Unlike Google’s Android, the Windows phone was not a replica of Apple’s iPhone Icon grid. It had a distinct metro interface with tiles that offered users live information such as snippets of messages from messaging apps, appointment details from the calendar app, or missed call details from the phone app. It was totally different from every other mobile OS that preceded it.
However, Microsoft’s inability to win third-party app developers over became the death of the windows phone. Over the seven years of the phone’s existence, Microsoft lost the partnerships of heavyweights such as Google and Samsung and a whole lot of other big tech companies who rather shifted their focus to the duopoly of IOS and Android. In 2017, the company threw in the towel, ending a design journey that had the potential to become a game changer in the market.
Google Plus was a social networking service that was developed to rival the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The service was made to incorporate other Google products like Play Music, YouTube, and Drive to name a few. It was successful in its infancy but recorded a fall in its stock in later years. Unlike other big social networking services, Google Plus focused on its users rather than the wider audience. The inability of this product to catch up with its competitors in terms of meeting User's expectations was what ultimately drove the final nail into its casket in 2018.
Related article: How to recover from a failed product launch
The story of the rise and fall of Digiscents’ iSmell device is chronicled today like one of those of the ancient empires. Having raised $20million in 1999, Joel Bellenson set out to develop what would go down as one of the most useless devices in Tech history; a device that promised to bring smell to the internet.
Once plugged to the PC, the device released scents that could be activated automatically once a partnered website or interactive media is opened. Joel had a great idea but failed to ask two important questions; Who would want this device? And what problem would it solve? In November 2001, the iSmell could only produce one smell; Failure. Its irrelevance had knocked it completely off the shelves and Joel’s excitement about a light bulb moment had led him to a dead end.
Microsoft Windows Millenium Edition
Known among critics as the Windows Mistake Edition, Windows ME is undoubtedly the most hated version of the Windows Operating System ever produced. A large percentage of the product’s failure in the market has been attributed to the idea that it was rushed out half-baked and incomplete.
Apparently, Microsoft was not yet ready to release Windows 2000; which would later become known as Windows XP. But it wanted to release a new version to stay relevant in the market. Therefore, Windows ME was a weird fusion of the earlier Windows 98 and XP.
The hurried production process led to several glitches and defects in the product such as an Incomplete Internet Explorer, removal of MS-DOS mode, and system crashes that could even be caused by simply moving the mouse. ME was sold for only one year before XP took over the markets. When it comes to Usability, ME had all the dealbreakers.
In 1975, Sony set out to revolutionize the way people consumed video content. With its Betamax VCR, people could record TV Shows and watch them at their convenience. Sony’s Betamax had huge competition in JVC’s VHS VCR which had a longer recording period of two hours compared to Betamax’s one hour.
However, Sony hinged Betamax’s promos on its superior picture and sound quality. This means users could not record feature-length movies or very long programs, the only benefit they had was the quality.
Meanwhile, Sony Engineers decided to keep the size of the tape down while promoting the picture and sound qualities hoping that it would be enough to convince consumers, but this was not going to be the case.
In the late 1980s, Sony Betamax recorded a very sharp decline in the market. It had failed to employ the basics of human-centered design and was more concerned about making choices for the Users rather than finding out what they needed more.