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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
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.
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
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.
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 )
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.
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
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 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 for more information.
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
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.
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.
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