From online abuse to disappearing headphone jacks, it was a year full of impressive flops.
Tech Fails 2016:
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I’m talking about some of the year’s biggest tech fails on CBC radio stations this week. There are a few weeks left to go in 2016 so anything could still happen, but barring some unforeseen disaster these are likely to be the five we’ll remember most:
There’s little question that Donald Trump winning the U.S. election was the news story of 2016. Unfortunately, it’s looking like the spread of fake news through online outlets such as Facebook and Google played a key role.
The echo chamber effect on Facebook in particular, where users associate primarily with like-minded individuals and attack others, has been building for a while.
Trump’s election, fuelled by the spread of misinformation online, looks to have been the veritable tipping point where all that divisiveness came to a head.
Facebook and Google are now scrambling to figure out solutions to this fake news problem while at the same time trying to avoid admitting that they are indeed media entities, which would incur a number of responsibilities they’d rather not take on.
Whether or not they want to, the companies will need to accept that the often surreal world of the internet is now fully seeping into the very real physical world. It’s a big problem that needs immediate fixing.
Related to the fake news issue is Twitter’s harassment problem. Buzzfeed called the service a “honeypot for assholes” in its examination of Twitter’s decade-long failure to stop some users from abusing others.
While Twitter has maintained that its platform is dedicated to free speech, it became clear this year just how much that position was hurting the service.
With growth stalled and existing members cutting back on their usage, the company shuffled executives, laid off staff, killed the Vine app and explored a sale.
Tellingly, no suitor has yet emerged despite reported interest from Verizon, Salesforce and Disney. The House of Mouse apparently walked away specifically because of the harassment issue. No one wants to sully their image by being associated with the figurative honeypot.
Taken together with the fake news problem, which is largely Facebook’s cross to bear, it’s clear that 2016 was a really bad year for social media. Can the respective companies rehabilitate their images in 2017 or will they go into decline? We’ll see.
A few hardware makers had a bad 2016 too, although no one had it worse than Samsung.
The South Korean company’s problems started in the summer when reports started to roll in about batteries combusting in its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.
Samsung recalled the devices and replaced them with phones that supposedly worked, but those too started melting down. The product was ultimately cancelled and the company is now about to remotely disable any remaining Note 7 devices still in the wild.
Worse still, the company also issued a recall for some of its washing machines after they too were reported to be at risk of exploding.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, Samsung executives are now involved in a government corruption probe in South Korea.
You’d be hard pressed to find any company that had a worse year.
Samsung’s main smartphone rival Apple didn’t exactly have a great year either.
The most notable headlines the company made this year came from its decision to ditch the headphone jack with the iPhone 7. It didn’t help when executives cited “courage” as the motivation for the move.
The company has cut orders on weak demand for the phone and is already looking ahead to next year’s 10th anniversary iPhone, according to reports.
Apple also angered a swath of its most loyal followers with its new MacBook Pro line, introduced in October. Creative types panned the computers as underpowered and limiting, with many now contemplating the previously unthinkable – going PC.
Where does Apple go in 2017? After several years of spinning its wheels, it’s increasingly looking like the iPhone 8 or whatever it ends up being called will be a make-or-break product for the company.
Shomi No Money:
Not to be outdone by multinationals, Canadian cable companies Rogers and Shaw also contributed to the year’s biggest tech fails with their closure of Shomi.
The streaming service, intended as a home-grown competitor to Netflix, closed up shop at the end of November after only two years of operation. The cable companies cited an inability to make money as the reason.
Shomi had its share of fans, if not paying subscribers, who were upset that it wasn’t given more of a chance. Netflix, after all, took many years and a few bumps along the way to turn a profit.
Evidently, Canada’s cable companies are too used to making immediate profit – and lots of it – to properly back a longer-term bet.
It’s unfortunate because the closure contributes to the self-defeatist notion that Canadian companies can’t compete against American rivals. Maybe they can’t, but it doesn’t help when even the biggest and best-resourced players refuse to properly try.