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Every new year is a time of reflection. Many of us have drawn up New Year resolutions which we hope to keep for better days ahead. The same thing can be said of businesses. This is also the time when businesses take stock of how well they did in 2013. Many executives and business owners will be mulling over their bottom line figures and either celebrating or moaning. In the tech hardware industry, many are most likely doing the latter.

Some products, no matter how brilliant, will simply be remembered for being failures or for how badly the companies goofed up. There were many flops in 2013 but these five take the cake.

Instacube, the Digital Photo Frame for Instagram

instacube

When this Kickstarter campaign was launched in August 2012, it was all the rage. In case you haven’t heard about it, Instacube is a digital photo frame. It displays your feed in real-time and device is completely packaged to look like the Instagram app. The display matches the photo’s 600 square pixels and can toggle through various feeds based on hashtags or friends. After D2M, the company behind Instacube, polled social networks to gauge if there was a market for the device, they found a ready pool of potential buyers.

The product was marketed as the “living canvas for your Instagram and Facebook photos”. Within a few hours of launching the campaign, the company had raised 30% of their goal of $250,000. The first 1,000 campaign backers were offered the device for $100 and the remainder at $150. Delivery was to happen by March 2013. The company exceeded its funding requirements and managed to raise $621,049 by September 21st 2012. However, last year the company had serious trouble fulfilling it Kickstarter promises and bringing its product to market. Even more surprising is that even though the company surpassed its funding goals by more than double, in July 2013 D2M posted a statement on Kickstarter stating that it was seeking an additional $250,000 to $350,000 in development funds and another $600,000 for the first round of production. Kickstarter backers were naturally very irritated and the vitriol can be seen in the comments on the Kickstarter page.

Even though the company says it will issue refunds to unsatisfied backers, they have stated that the refunds can only be honored once the products ship.

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Lesson

There is an established history of companies with ultra-successful crowdfunding campaigns unable to meet promises made to backers. The temptation to make lofty promises when running a crowdfunding campaign is strong but business survival depends on setting realistic and attainable goals.

Ubuntu Edge Smartphone

ubuntu-edge

The Ubuntu Edge smartphone is another crowdfunding campaign that begun as a concept — and remained a concept. Ubuntu Edge was to serve as a smartphone when held in the hand and as a PC when docked with a monitor.

Dual-booting both Linux and Android, the phone was expected to radically shake up the smartphone market. Unfortunately, even though Canonical managed to get pledges worth $13 million (including $2 million in the first eight hours), it was still a long way short of the $32 million needed to start production. At the end of the day, it appeared that investors appeared to shy away from the idea at the very last minute.

Lesson

The idea was great but the company was not able to effectively market the concept and get the word out about the product. Also, may appear that sufficient research wasn’t undertaken to determine if the market was ready for the idea of convergence – which is the main feature that Ubuntu Edge would have offered. There is still hope for this concept if the initial funding attempt is anything to go by but more research and publicity will be required to get the product off the ground.

HTC First (The Facebook Phone )

htc-first

The third flop on our list is the Facebook phone. HTC attempted to turn the Facebook app into a smartphone. The HTC First launched in April 2013 with Facebook home, the Android home screen replacement and Facebook’s attempt to dominate smartphones.

Just one month after the launch, AT&T dropped the price of the phone to $0.99. The sales were so bad that AT&T decided to discontinue the phone. The phone was a disaster and major embarrassment to the folks at both Facebook and HTC.

Lesson

Once again, this was a major failure to conduct effective market research. A simple poll or survey would have determined if Facebook users really wanted to have the Facebook app at the heart of their phones.

Microsoft’s Surface RT

black-friday-surfacert

Microsoft’s bungling with the Surface RT tablet burned a $1 billion hole in their pocket. The company was forced to write-off the money to cover unsold inventory. It appears that customers simply didn’t know what to make of the tablet-cum-PC.

The device is an awkward overlap between a tablet and a PC. It has a keyboard cover, comes with mouse support and a stand. Despite this, the operating system wasn’t Windows 8 but rather, a less feature-rich version known as Windows RT Windows RT - What You Can & Can't Do Windows RT - What You Can & Can't Do Windows RT edition was discreetly launched about a month and a half ago with the flagship Microsoft Surface RT tablet device. Though visually indistinguishable from Windows 8, there are some key differences as to what... Read More . Windows RT does not support older Windows applications. The RT was priced at $499, which did not include $130 for the keyboard cover which made it fairly pricey. Read our review of the Surface RT Microsoft Surface Tablet Review and Giveaway Microsoft Surface Tablet Review and Giveaway The Surface tablet is a flagship Microsoft product -- its first foray into the tablet market as a hardware manufacturer. It’s almost as locked-down as the iPad - the only applications you can install and... Read More for more information.

Lesson

The main lesson here is as old as the hills, assumption is the mother of all mistakes, screw ups and any other choice synonyms you can think up. Never assume you know what customers want. Avoid launching new products that have a steep learning curve. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have fully learned from the failure of the Surface RT because the upgraded device, the Surface 2, still uses Windows RT and is just as confusing for consumers.

BlackBerry Z10 Smartphone

blackberry-Z10

Research in Motion (RIM) and their BlackBerry Z10 are at the top of the list for the worst product flops for 2013. BlackBerry’s decline has been slow and agonizing; when the mighty fall, they fall hard. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone was an ambitious project by the struggling Canadian firm but it ended up burning a $1 billion hole in their bottom line.

Lesson

BlackBerry’s problem has been a failure to adapt and formulate strategic alliances in the face of fierce competition. The company was blinded by its own success and was unable to replicate it. They tried to tell customers what they needed instead of listening. Lack of a unified vision for the company was clearly evident in the serious internal wrangling throughout 2013. This has pushed the company into a downwards death spiral Is the Blackberry On A Downwards Death Spiral? [INFOGRAPHIC] Is the Blackberry On A Downwards Death Spiral? [INFOGRAPHIC] There was a time when every businessman and his dog had a Blackberry. Having one separated the serious executives from the non-serious ones. Everyone started obsessively checking their email every 5 minutes, leading to a... Read More .

What, in your opinion, are the worst product flops of 2013? Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments section below.

Image Credits: reynermedia Via Flickr

  1. dragonmouth
    January 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Most of these items flopped because the developers "know what's best for the customers" and try to ram it down the customers' throats.

    M$ Surface and Ubuntu Edge are/were "me too" products. Microsoft wants to get in on the Tablet gravy train and Canonical wants Ubuntu on one more platform. Both companies were too late to the party.

    • kihara
      January 16, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Well said!

  2. Gee Deezy
    January 14, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Ubuntu Phone - The Ubuntu phone did not have to fail. Canonical, the company that develops Ubuntu, has access to plenty of cash. Instead of saying, "we believe in this product so much that we are going risk our own investment dollars in it," they said ,"we'll leave it up to crowdfunding, that way if it doesn't get off the ground, it won't be on our dime."
    Cowards who didn't even believe in their own product, if you ask me.

  3. Ignacio
    January 14, 2014 at 3:30 am

    I bought a surface Pro (windows 8, not windows RT) and returned it the day after. I suppose all versions of surface are doomed, because of design failures. To me, the most annoying and first problem was the lack of a physical keyboard. The stand that props from behind places the device in a very upright position, where typing only a few words makes your wrists ache. Next was my attempt at installing windows 8.1, which proved to be a total failure. I left the device downloading the upgrade for a few hours, only to find that there was some kind of problem installing. Later I learned that Microsoft was having problems with the 8.1 upgrade specifically for the Surface. I hate it, but I have to make do with my windows computers, only because of the price and compatibility. If I had the money, I'd happily jump into the Mac OS Ecosystem (I already own an iPad and an iPod, and an android phone)

  4. Anonymooser
    January 13, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Here's my feedback.

    1. Ubuntu Phone - flopped because there is no demand for it. Ubuntu was needed as a free OS to compete with the high-priced Windows OS. But in the mobile world, Android is already free and featured-packed, so the need was already being fulfilled. Plus I picked up my Nexus 4 (8 GB) for $240 all-in, which is already an impressive quad-CPU and 2 GB ram, so even from a price perspective the technology is already here.

    2. Surface RT - failed because it was too expensive for the category. No one is going to pay $500 for "a tablet", sans-keyboard cover, when they can get a Galaxy Tab for $200. The only chance they had with this was to compete as "a laptop-replacement": aka. Windows with desktop (so I can run Photoshop); ability to connect external monitor; the keyboard-cover should have been STANDARD with every Surface (as that was the only unique selling point); and total price no more than $400. ASUS Transformer beats the Surface without any competition -- full Windows, undockable keyboard included, all for only $400. Surface had no chance!

    3. Blackberry - very obvious why BBY is doomed for bankruptcy. It all became apparent with the Playbook fiasco. BBY was greedy, they tried to convert people from OSX/Android to BBY OS/marketplace, but because it was so far behind, they had absolutely no chance of converting users. The people who did buy a BBY device ended up getting a doorstop with no usable apps. OSX/Android have cemented in the marketplace, and now no other competitor will ever be able to get a foothold. Not Blackberry, not Windows. Windows would face a similar fate if not for it's business software line and patent library.

  5. vinny
    January 13, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Google Plus, Google glasses, Chromebooks are the biggest failures of 2013.

    • Gary
      January 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      Are you serious?
      Wait! You must be right! 300 million active users on G+, people paying $1500 for a product before it's released, 21% of notebook sales in 2013. You're right that is failure!

    • Kev Q
      January 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

      I don't think I've ever read a single comment that could be more wrong in all my life. All three of the things you mentioned are incredible, ground breaking successes.

    • kihara
      January 16, 2014 at 7:30 am

      Couldn't agree with you more Kev...

  6. Anonymous
    January 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    If this article has taught us anything. It's don't make a product with a screen.

  7. Ebbe K
    January 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    "Never assume you know what customers want. "

    I Steve Jobs had followed that rule, we wouldn't have the kind of smartphones we have today.

    • Howard B
      January 13, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      Jobs also said "Android is a stolen product" when Android devices run on Linux + a Dalvik Java interpreter (completely false) and the iPhone runs in a "walled garden" that funnels 30% of every iTunes purchase directly into Apple's coffers. I'd say that Jobs laughed all the way to the bank. I prefer Google's way...check one box, and I can "sideload" apps from the SD card that Apple won't even allow, or buy/get free apps from Amazon. I can load MP3s without iTunes transcoding them, play almost every video format with iTunes taking hours to format them to what Apple wants to support, and use my existing DVD rips without having to buy them again from iTunes.

      What was that about Jobs being innovative, again?

    • W Cheng
      January 14, 2014 at 2:34 am

      Howard B:

      Regardless, you still can't deny that without Jobs we probably won't be using the smartphone that we are using now. Being profit-minded does not change the fact that his iPhone and iTune are innovative and have changed our lives.

    • Ebbe K
      January 14, 2014 at 7:10 am

      "What was that about Jobs being innovative, again?"

      IOS came out before Android did. and with IOS Apple raised the standard for user interfaces on phones significantly.

      That being said, I agree with you that the Android way is better: the Android user interface can be changed and configured way more than is possible in IOS.

    • kihara
      January 16, 2014 at 7:39 am

      I don't, for one moment, believe that Steve Jobs assumed he knew what customers wanted. There is a big difference between assumption and vision. Vision is the ability to creatively discern the future based on observation of current circumstances. Assumption, on the other hand, is like groping around in the dark...a trial and error strategy like the Surface RT.

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