Tech blunders, catastrophes and epic fails of 2012: review

Thanksgiving is over, and we're heading into December. It's time for a look back at all the blunders, catastrophes, epic fails and major screw-ups of 2012.
By Zack Whittaker, Contributor
1 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Google demotes Chrome in search results

After Google blundered an attempt to pay bloggers to publish low-quality posts related to its Chrome browser, the search giant penalized itself by pushing the Chrome browser further down its results list when a user searches for the term "browser." Google said it was a violation of its own Webmaster guidelines, because Google prohibits paying for links, under the risk of having their search results demoted. Google swallowed its own medicine and demoted its own Chrome browser from the top of its search results.

2 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

BlackBerry PlayBook still a gigantic flop

Research in Motion's answer to the iPad, and as one might expect, it failed miserably. Despite avoiding a HP-esque TouchPad firesale-like situation, it was a massive sales disappointment. Its launch was no doubt a management failure -- which ultimately helped result in the ousting of the two co-founders, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.

The tablet, despite its excellent hardware, was marred with problems during its initial 2011 release, and things didn't get a whole lot better in 2012. By September, RIM said it had sold 1.74 million PlayBooks since it first launched. Compare that to the estimated 14 million iPads and 7.5 million Android tablets in the third quarter alone, it's clear to see that the BlackBerry PlayBook was an abysmal failure.

3 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

"Metro," or "Windows 8" as it is now

First it was Metro, and then it was something like Modern. And then it was Metro again. What are we talking about? Actually, for a while, not many were actually sure. Microsoft's user interface design for Windows 8 was initially dubbed "Metro," but after suspected legal troubles the software giant changed the name to "Windows 8," which was also the name of the operating system.

Eventually, Microsoft said that "Metro-style apps," such as those that would run on the Start screen, would be called "Windows 8 apps," as one might expect -- although it should've been called that in the first place; one has to 'love' Microsoft for its overuse of codenames -- and the new Start screen that was dubbed at first the "Metro UI" would in fact be called... the Start screen. How exciting.

4 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Apple v. Samsung battle it out in the U.K. courts

If you're told by a court to do something, you'd better do it or face contempt of court charges -- no matter how big or powerful you may be. Samsung prevailed in a lawsuit brought by Apple in the U.K., which dubbed Samsung's tablets as "not as cool" as the iPad. Apple was told to publish a statement on its Web site stating this, as a result of the tarnished image suffered by the Korean technology giant as a result of bringing the failed lawsuit.

So, Apple did. But Apple embellished the court-ordered statement with additional detail that riled the court. It then re-ordered Apple to include an 'apology' at the bottom of its U.K. Web site explaining that it had stuffed up the first time around.

5 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Oprah tweets love for the Surface… from the iPad

Oprah Winfrey loves the Surface. She even tweeted about it. (I say "she," as it was likely one of her staffers considering how busy she likely is). But whoever did post that tweet didn't think where the tweet was coming from. It turns out that it was being tweeted from no other than a rival Apple iPad. 

Whether or not it was a paid endorsement from Microsoft, we may never know. What is clear is that it was beyond the comfortable realm of 'epic awkwardness.'

6 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Google Nexus Q

The Nexus Q was Google's ball of media streaming goodness that not only flopped, but also cataclysmically failed on a level not seen by the search giant before. On sale for a month at $299, Google pulled the media streamer from sale "to make it even better," not before refunding those who initially bought the product.

Many hypothesized as to what happened with the ill-fated ball of media goodness, but many pegged it down to the price tag. The Apple TV, by comparison, is only $99. Google may have had the title of building the device in the U.S., but the costs were so high that those who could afford it bought it, but it cut out a huge segment of the market. 

7 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

'Hand over your Facebook password, or don't get hired'

Long now are the days where you had to hand over your Facebook password to your prospective employer to make sure you're not a terrorist, an Obama-hater, and so on. CNET reported that some were being forced to fork over the password to their online private life.

This was one of the most high-profile privacy flops during the whole year. However, thankfully, it was rectified after legislators quickly picked up on this, and only a few months later it was made illegal for employers to demand usernames and password for social media accounts.

8 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Nokia's fake demo revealed by news outlets

More awkward to stomach, after Nokia had to eat a whole bowl full of humble pie after it admitted that it faked its Lumia smartphone camera demonstration. While it looked like two people in love on bicycles videoing each other (unsafely, might I add: keep two hands on the handlebars) as they cycled on a sea front, news site The Verge saw a snapshot of a reflection in a window of a DSLR-laden film crew recording the whole thing.

Nokia owned up to the 'mistake' and said the video was produced to "simulate" images using the new optical image stabilization (OIS) technology. Still, red faces all round in Helsinki. 

9 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Apple's crumbling share price 

In just over two months, Apple's share price hit a record high of $700 a share, and then plummeted to $525 a share in mid-November. What happened? A series of mistakes, missteps and a management shake-up caused the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant to fall dramatically only weeks after the iPhone 5 and iPad mini -- along with a bevy of other hardware refreshes -- were launched. The share price fall wiped more than $150 billion off the firm's market cap and many began to question Apple's decision-making processes.

Scott Forstall, the iOS chief, was pushed out of the company, despite prior suggestions that he could one day replace chief executive Tim Cook. Apple is now beginning its recovery, but for a while things looked tense.

10 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Google's $12.5bn acquisition of Motorola, already $13bn

Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion but since its acquisition, the figure has risen to $13 billion thanks to the incurring of restructuring costs. In buying the smartphone-building unit, Google acquired around 17,000 patents, which it needed to fend off legal challenges from its Android mobile operating system, but the division continues to hemorrhage money.

However, a new lawsuit may determine exactly how much those 17,000 patents are worth, and it would be seriously embarrassing for the search giant if those patents did not in fact amount to, or even close to the $12.5 billion the firm paid for Motorola Mobility in the first place.

11 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

U.K. ISPs forced to block The Pirate Bay access; blocks bypassed in minutes

After a lengthy legal battle, the largest Internet providers in the U.K. blocked The Pirate Bay after the Magnet-link and torrent sharing Web site was found to have facilitated copyright infringement. The ISPs reluctantly imposed server-side blocks to prevent users from accessing the site. All in all, more than 95 percent of U.K. broadband subscribers were blocked from accessing the site. 

But, there was a problem. Proxy sites and bypass sites were set up almost immediately and users could, within minutes of the final block by British Telecom (BT) -- which has more than six million customers -- bypass the blocks and access their torrent-sharing site once again. Was this illegal? No, because the Internet providers did what the court said, but the court did not say Internet users were barred from bypassing the blocks.

12 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

The PC is dead. Long live the PC

PC sales have declined rapidly in the past year, in spite of the release of Windows 8 in October. Typically during a year where a new version of Windows -- the most prominent desktop operating system for PCs on the market -- is released, PC shipments fall, but this year is like no other.

The post-PC market, such as tablet, smartphone, and 'phablets' (such as part-phone, part-tablet) has thrived like never before. The iPad still reigns over the tablet space, but the device's market share is dwindling. According to recent figures by Apple, the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant sold more iPads during the first half than PCs sold by any other PC manufacturer. The PC market has crumbled and it may not recover. 

13 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Apple wins $1bn in damages from Samsung in patent litigation

The Apple v. Samsung dingdong finally concluded on the side of the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant, leading to a catastrophic $1 billion in damages heading Apple's way out of Samsung's coffers. It was an embarrassing loss for Samsung after a U.S. court determined that the Korean technology giant had copied the iPad's design. 

Despite Apple losing in some jurisdictions around the world, ultimately the only one that really mattered was the U.S. case. Apple could still seek even more damages from Samsung. But $1 billion may dent the company's finances mildly -- Samsung's operating profit for Q3 was $7.3 billion alone -- the embarrassment of losing such a high profile case will live on for some years to come.

14 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

SOPA, PIPA, CISPA: all dead, but the idea still lives on

This year could have seen widespread Web site blocking, censorship and major changes to the Web that would have affected hundreds of millions of users around the world. From the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to the PROTECT-IP (PIPA) bills, and not to mention Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), these bills were shelved thanks to the sheer power of online protests.

Instead of the catastrophe landing on the doorstep of ordinary Web users, the embarrassment came to Congress after the author of SOPA -- arguably the worst bill of them all -- was shelved by its author, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who clearly didn’t expect much the Web to black out in a 24 hour protest at the controversial anti-piracy bill.

Still, the idea of legislative action lives on, and no doubt there will be more bills along the way -- even if one silly politician thinks it's a good idea to draft a bill that would bar Congress from messing with the Internet.

15 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Google consolidates privacy policy, infuriates Europe

Search giant Google really annoyed the European 27 member-state bloc after it decided to consolidate its 60-plus privacy policies across its services into one, single policy. Google said it would enhance the experience for users, but critics warned that it would make it far easier to collect data on users, and users could not opt-out of the policy without the user pulling the plug on the service altogether.

Only a few services were exempt -- Google Apps, Google Chrome, and Google Wallet -- but for the remaining users of Search, Gmail, Google+ and so on, they remain vulnerable to having their data collected by advertisers (albeit anonymously), which may make it easier 

And Europe wasn't happy, not one bit. After the EU regulators gave their verdict, while Google hadn't directly breached EU data protection laws, it was told to review and change the policy, leaving the search giant rather red faced.

16 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Spinning corporate doors at Yahoo

Former Yahoo chief executive was ousted as the former Web portal giant after he was found to have faked his resume. He claimed that he graduated with a computer science college degree, but one company shareholder discovered that this was far from the truth. Despite ample opportunities to correct the mistake, Thompson failed to, and was ultimately kicked out of the company. Well, he 'resigned,' but plenty of people were lining up to give him a forceful shove if he didn't go quietly.

Former Google executive Marissa Mayer jumped in a few weeks later as Yahoo's new chief executive, making her the fifth chief executive at the company in just two years. That revolving door of top bosses just keeps spinning, but hopefully Mayer can stick around for longer than her predecessors. 

17 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Google vs. Oracle: End result, $0 damages

What a doozie. This turned out to be one almighty calamitous failure for Oracle, which brought the case against Google for using Java APIs in the Android mobile operating system. After Oracle bought Sun, the database and cloud giant failed (just as Sun failed) to reach an agreement on licensing Java in Android. Oracle sued Google, which bought Android some years before, for copyright and patent infringement.

One of the more confusing trials of the decade, the jury eventually found that Google didn't infringe Oracle's Java patents and the Java APIs used by Google were not copyrightable. Google only copied a small amount of code, and the two parties agreed to a $0 settlement in statutory damages.

All that fuss for practically nothing.

18 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

HP accuses Autonomy of fiddling finances 

Another mess for computer maker HP, which is struggling in the face of rival PC makers, such as Lenovo and Apple, as the firm had to swallow a $5 billion charge in its latest quarterly earnings. What happened? HP claims Autonomy "inflated" the value of the company before HP bought it out, a claim the Autonomy management team flat-out denied.

HP's Meg Whitman said during a conference call that Autonomy was "smaller and less profitable than we had thought," suggesting the U.K.-based firm had fiddled its numbers and misstated its revenues before HP bought the company for $1.1 billion.

U.K. and U.S. authorities are now investigating the claims, but this clunker isn't going to be resolved until next year at the very earliest.

19 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Facebook IPO

The world's largest social network, with more than 1 billion active monthly users, filed its initial public offering in May for $38 a share, valuing the firm at more than $100 billion. This was the largest valuation of any newly listed public company to date. But things turned badly wrong as soon as chief executive Mark Zuckerberg hit the magic "let's go public" button at the firm's headquarters in Palo Alto.

The Nasdaq reported technical difficulties at market opening on the day Facebook went public and delayed trading by half an hour. While trading shot up to $48 a share, the closing price was only $0.23 above the IPO price. Many considered this a massive disappointment. Since then, Facebook's shares have dropped significantly to a low of $17 a share only three months after it first went public.

More than 40 lawsuits have been filed in the wake of the IPO, and the IPO is also under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The whole public offering debacle was a mess from start to finish, and frankly overhyped by the entire industry. 

20 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Apple Maps was an abysmal failure 

Apple sparked a controversy when it decided to distance itself from Google in the wake of Steve Jobs' "thermonuclear war" against Android by dropping Google Maps from its iOS mobile operating system. The maker of shiny rectangles instead developed its own in-house mapping service, which after launch it was widely dubbed a massive failure.

It just didn't work. Locations were in the wrong place, companies were missing, and imaging errors turned some famous landmarks into some kind of matrix-defying hashup. Ultimately, Apple chief executive Tim Cook apologized for the screw-up and iOS chief Scott Forstall 'left' the company -- though he's still lingering around the Apple campus until next year.

21 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

BlackBerry crumbling, Nokia not far behind

Research in Motion and Nokia are both sinking, albeit slowly and still bobbing above the surface, but failure to innovate and miserable product launches have contributed to their slow downfall.

The value of RIM's shares has dropped by more than 70 percent in the past 12 months, with its market cap has tumbled from $78 billion to $6.3 billion in three years. Nokia, on the other hand, has seen its shares drop by 90 percent in five years, and its market cap has dropped from $151 billion to $11.8 billion in four years. Still, towards the end of the year, after a declining share price, things are on the up

BlackBerry 10 devices will launch on January 30, according to RIM, but the company will miss out on the lucrative holiday season by launching later in the months after Christmas. Nokia, however, continues to decline -- and even Microsoft, the firm's partner in the Lumia space, is looking for other partners to keep Windows Phone market share momentum going. 

22 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Microsoft faces another antitrust suit in Europe over browser choice 

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is about to feel the full force of the European antitrust gust, as the software giant braces itself for one stormy winter. After failing to include the so-called 'browser ballot' in Windows 7 (Service Pack 1) in February 2011, more than 28 million European users of Windows may have missed out on the chance to change their browser away from the Internet Explorer default.

Microsoft admitted it made a mistake and accepted responsibility for the screw-up. Still, Microsoft faces a fine up to 10 percent of its global annual turnover should it be found flouting European antitrust laws. That figure that could total close to €5.7 billion ($7.3bn).

23 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

AMD's decline

After rumors swirled that AMD would cut 30 percent of its global staff, the chipmaker only cut 15 percent in total. The firm warned after its third quarter earnings that it was in for a rough time, and come the fourth quarter, it was clear that the Intel-rival was sinking and rapidly.

Weeks later, AMD is trying to claw back its cash position by selling one of its campuses in Texas with the aim of leasing it back at a fraction of the cost. With declining cash reserves, mounting debt and negative cash flows from operations from the last two quarters, most of the company's decline can be attributed to the poor PC market. Arch rival Intel is also struggling, so it's not just AMD in the thick of it.

24 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Password leaks: LinkedIn, Last.fm, eHarmony

A series of password encryption screw-ups led to more than 10 million accounts vulnerable from business social network LinkedIn, music sharing service Last.fm, and online dating site eHarmony

The cause of the breaches was not important, as such. What happened, happened, and millions were left frustrated and angry at the lack of communication from the companies. What was the fact that these companies failed to 'salt' user passwords -- a method of additional encryption security -- which would have made it far more difficult to crack. While the passwords that were leaked were illegible to the human eye, running it past a password cracker showed how easy simple, less secure passwords were to crack.

25 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Too soon to tell: Windows 8

Microsoft's latest operating system remains in a bit of a rut: it was criticized left, right and center by analysts, reviewers and the general public alike -- yet Microsoft has sold 40 million licenses to date, which is a massive increase from the 4 million licenses sold in the first three days of the software launching. In just one month alone, that's a 900 percent increase on sales.

But for the business case user, we have yet to see some definitive figures. According to ZDNet's own research, around three-quarters of 1,200 IT buyers have no plans to deploy Windows 8, but half may reconsider it in the future. While many are updating their home PCs and space machines, the general consensus is that the software is not yet ready for the enterprise. That should be a worry to Microsoft as that's where the bulk of its revenues come from. 

26 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Too soon to tell: Google vs. the FTC over search results 'cooking'

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already slammed Google with a $22.5 million fine this year after the search giant was found to have bypassed the security and privacy settings of Safari browsers in order to serve up its Google '+1' button in advertisements. (Google paid off the fine in about 5 hours, according to the firm's second quarter sales earnings.) 

But the FTC has yet to dish out its verdict on whether or not the search company 'cooked' its search results to favor its own products and services over rivals. In October, the FTC was 'close' to announcing a formal antitrust probe into Google, but since then, nothing. Kaput.

However, a recent report suggests the FTC may be looking to settle instead of launching a fully-fledged antitrust suit its way. At this point, it seems like huff-and-puff from the federal regulator and now it's backing down because it could lose the case. Whatever happens, we won't see any resolution to this case any time soon, let alone this year.

27 of 27 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

Too soon to tell: BlackBerry 10

BlackBerry 10 devices will launch on January 30, according to RIM, but the company will miss out on the lucrative holiday season by launching later in the months after Christmas.

However, despite the firm slowly sinking, analysts are warming to the Canadian smartphone maker. Across the board, analysts are encouraging investors to buy into RIM stock. Many are suggesting that preliminary results suggest developed market carriers have a much more positive view on BlackBerry 10 than initially expected. But, while many are tooting at the BlackBerry trumpet, a select few are still stuck in their ways and believe BlackBerry 10 doesn't have a great chance of succeeding.

Until it launches, we will have no idea. What is clear, however, is that BlackBerry 10 really is make or break for the company.

Related Galleries

Holiday wallpaper for your phone: Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, and winter scenes
Holiday lights in Central Park background

Related Galleries

Holiday wallpaper for your phone: Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, and winter scenes

21 Photos
Winter backgrounds for your next virtual meeting
Wooden lodge in pine forest with heavy snow reflection on Lake O'hara at Yoho national park

Related Galleries

Winter backgrounds for your next virtual meeting

21 Photos
Holiday backgrounds for Zoom: Christmas cheer, New Year's Eve, Hanukkah and winter scenes
3D Rendering Christmas interior

Related Galleries

Holiday backgrounds for Zoom: Christmas cheer, New Year's Eve, Hanukkah and winter scenes

21 Photos
Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6: Electric vehicle extravaganza

Related Galleries

Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6: Electric vehicle extravaganza

26 Photos
A weekend with Google's Chrome OS Flex

Related Galleries

A weekend with Google's Chrome OS Flex

22 Photos
Cybersecurity flaws, customer experiences, smartphone losses, and more: ZDNet's research roundup

Related Galleries

Cybersecurity flaws, customer experiences, smartphone losses, and more: ZDNet's research roundup

8 Photos
Inside a fake $20 '16TB external M.2 SSD'
Full of promises!

Related Galleries

Inside a fake $20 '16TB external M.2 SSD'

8 Photos