For every major leap in technology, there have been plenty of face plants, ill-advised cash grabs, and just plan bad tech. So here are the gadgets and technology that absolutely screwed the pooch.
As with our list of most innovative gadgets, you won’t find anything from 2019 on here. The year isn’t done yet, and none of the stinkers have made enough of a stench to earn a place on our list of crummiest stuff.
Somewhere around Avatar’s release in 2009, some Hollywood people decided that 3D was cool again. In lockstep, TV manufacturers figured that if movie theaters were selling more expensive tickets to 3D features, then they could sell more expensive 3D TVs to consumers. This set off a weird moment in TV design that encompassed not only 3D but also expensive curved screens and other gimmicks that were supposed to change the way we watch TV. It didn’t work. Curved TVs looked funny on the wall but basically perform as well as flat TVs. Meanwhile, 3D TVs simply never worked that well. Plus, nobody wants to wear special glasses in their own living room just to see if the dragons in the movie will look a little more realistic than they normally do. Thank God we’re back to caring exclusively about how thin regular old flatscreen TVs can get. — Adam Clark Estes
Few product launches are as disastrous as the launch of AMD Bulldozer. The processor was supposed to be ultra-fast and help secure AMD’s CPUs as affordable and quality rivals to Intel’s. But what finally came out of the foundry was a sluggish mess that ran way too hot. It was a major disappointment for AMD and set the company’s timeline for product releases back by years. That gave Intel the opening to secure over 90 percent of the market for laptops; and for more than half a decade, AMD was considered a budget also-ran instead of Intel’s number one rival. It wasn’t until this year that AMD even got a processor into a big flagship product (the Surface Laptop 3). — Alex Cranz
Sony has always been a company willing to experiment, resulting in some huge successes such as the Walkman, and some real disasters, such as the Sony Tablet P. Given dual-screen devices are gaining in popularity now, it would almost seem like the Sony Tablet P was well ahead of its time—and for 2011, the design was certainly innovative. But the hardware and software weren’t there to back it up. Sony struggled to find compelling ways to utilize the Tablet P’s design, which was further exacerbated by a sizable gap between the two displays that prevented them from ever looking like a single screen when the tablet was open. It was also tragically underpowered, with a single processor struggling to support the dual-screen setup and touchscreen functionality that was frustratingly inaccurate. There’s a good reason Sony never released a follow-up. — Andrew Liszewski
The Canon EOS M was the first in the storied company’s line of incredibly middling APS-C sensor mirrorless cameras. Sure, mirrorless cameras were almost universally only OK when the EOS M came out, but the product stood out for its absurdly half-assed execution with horrible autofocus.
Maybe it’s not surprising that Canon wasn’t keen on jumping into mirrorless digital camera development at the beginning of this decade. As one of the leading manufacturers of DSLR cameras, what was its incentive? As long as it could sell cameras with mirrors, why would it bother tinkering with others.
Mirrorless, of course, turned out to be the future. And Canon is still trailing the company that went all in from the start: Sony. — Mario Aguilar
Based on the popularity of the Switch, Nintendo had the right idea with the Wii U, freeing gamers from having to only enjoy their favorite games in front of a TV. But the execution wasn’t quite there. The Wii U’s primary controller, with its 6.2-inch screen, was bulky, heavy, and occasionally awkward to use as a secondary display that supposed to complement the action on your TV. The console was also dependent on its base station for actually playing games, so while you could wander from room to room (and even keep playing during bathroom breaks) you couldn’t actually leave the house with it. Nintendo simply didn’t offer enough compelling reasons to upgrade to the Wii U, and as a result, while the original Wii sold over 100 million units, the U sold less than 14 million. — Andrew Liszewski
Imagine a device so bad, that after you pre-order it (which you shouldn’t do, pre-orders are bad mmkay?), the company just sends it to you for free, before eventually canceling the device entirely. Well, that’s what happened with Google’s Nexus Q, an ominous plastic orb that was supposed to be part streaming box, part game console, but was actually just a big ball of disappointment. The Nexus Q didn’t have support for third-party streaming services, which meant you were limited solely to Google offerings like Play Movies, Play Music, and YouTube. And with an original price of $300, the Nexus was wildly expensive compared to similar products. When Gizmodo originally reviewed the Nexus Q, we asked who was this thing for? Well here’s your answer: no one. — Sam Rutherford
You can make a lot of tweaks to a photo in the darkroom or with a digital editing tool like Photoshop. But since the dawn of photography, changing or altering a shot’s focus was impossible—until the Lytro came along. The Lytro camera captured one thing most cameras don’t: the direction of the incoming light hitting the sensor, which allows an image’s focus to be adjusted after the fact. It seemed like a technology that would revolutionize photography, but the original Lytro camera arrived with a bizarre design that forced photographers to shoot with a boxy monoscope-like device. Taking beautiful photos (and avoiding noise) with the Lytro also required lots of light, at a time when cameras were getting better and better at shooting in the dark. And editing Lytro shots required special software—you couldn’t tweak them natively in popular photo editing apps. The Lytro’s follow-up, the Illum, arrived with a more traditional and usable camera design, but it was expensive, and it turned out that editing focus wasn’t a feature most photographers actually wanted. — Andrew Liszewski
It is absolutely incredible to think of how far the Surface line of computers from Microsoft has come, because, with the Surface RT launched in 2012, it sure felt like the company screwed up. Not only was it running Windows 8, a major redesign of Microsoft’s OS that was immediately and widely castigated, but it ran a hobbled version of Windows 8 called Windows RT, which forced users to use the Windows Store for all their apps. The device also ran on a Nvidia Tegra 3 processor that seemed surprisingly slow compared to other devices with the same CPU, and the keyboard case, while groundbreaking, was a nightmare to type on. The thing was flashy but pretty miserable to use in anything but a hands-on video on YouTube. Microsoft would later, in oblique ways, acknowledge it didn’t quite nail it with the Surface RT, but it was successful enough for Microsoft to keep making computers. And eventually, devices like the Surface Pro 3 finally convinced us that Microsoft could build a computer people would want to use. — Alex Cranz
The concept video for Google Glass was epic. Seamless notifications, real-time navigation, video recording—it really seemed like the future had arrived. Except they didn’t so much as deliver on those promises as introduce fears of a dystopian, surveillance state nightmare. Famously, a tech writer got into a scuffle at a bar in San Francisco after patrons were angered at the thought they might be recorded. It didn’t help that Glass made you look like you walked out of a pulpy sci-fi flick. Early adopters earned the moniker “glassholes”, partially because, at $1,500, Glass was way too expensive for the average consumer. Worst of all, there was no killer app to compel the average user to even risk getting punched in the face for a dorky-looking piece of hardware. Ultimately, it was a fancy piece of tech that seemed to create more problems than it actually solved. — Victoria Song
While the idea seems solid and a number of big companies put some serious effort into making them a reality, modular phones just never really worked out. Honestly, who wouldn’t love the ability to upgrade your phone’s camera without needing to replace the entire device? Sadly, coming up with a chassis and a range of interchangeable components was just too much to ask, which is why attempts like Phonebloks or Google’s Project Ara never got off the ground.
And in 2016, the LG G5 may have scared buyers away the idea for good by using a design that forced users to turn off the phone, remove its bottom, and detach its battery just to swap in a new mod. Sure, Motorola did release a new Moto Z with support for mods in 2019. But seeing as how the number of new Moto Mods has essentially ground to a halt, there’s not much momentum left in the modular phone movement. — Sam Rutherford
The trashcan edition Mac Pro is a gorgeous machine. A stunning example of the engineering and ingenuity of Apple. The problem was the Mac Pro was simply too over-engineered to do the job Apple built it for: powering the studios of digital creatives. It was impossible to upgrade most of the parts in the Mac Pro easily. The stunning design made it difficult to install newer graphics cards and even Apple struggled to get newer CPUs to work in the device. What was left was an ancient product for sale on Apple’s website for far too long. The old components, inability to upgrade and unique look made the Mac Pro a source of ridicule in the industry. The fact that it also looked like a well-designed trash can definitely didn’t help. — Alex Cranz
Every thought Amazon’s hardware ambitions were unstoppable after the runaway success of the Kindle and the Echo. And then Amazon made the Fire phone. Initially hailed by Jeff Bezos as “gorgeous” and “elegant,” this sad excuse for a smartphone was so unpopular that Amazon was essentially giving them away less than a year after launch. The clunky software was hard to use, and the weird array of cameras on the front that were supposed to create a sort of 3D effect ended up feeling gimmicky if not intrusive. Amazon hasn’t tried to make a phone since. — Adam Clark Estes
Microsoft Health was supposed to be the future. It promised “actionable” context for all that juicy data collected by the Microsoft Band. But on both fronts, Microsoft ultimately failed to deliver. The Band was a piece of semi-rigid plastic that not only scuffed easily but was kinda hard to read as the display was worn inside your wrist. Its battery crapped out after just a few days—a major problem since if the Band died before you had a chance to recharge, your data was lost forever. Plus, despite packing in UV and galvanic skin response and skin temperature sensors, Microsoft didn’t actually make use of them. You ended up paying $200 for a basic fitness tracker that promised to take you to the next level... but ultimately didn’t. — Victoria Song
At first glance, the Macbook seemed to be a true successor to the MacBook Air. It was tiny, gorgeous, and had an incredible, high-resolution display. But the processor powering the Macbook was egregiously weak and the price was simply way too high to make it practical for anyone but the wealthiest Mac users in need of a second computer. What should have been Apple’s slick $1,000 every man laptop was instead an overpriced wimp that was all style and no substance. The worst part was the keyboard, which would eventually find its way to every laptop in Apple’s lineup. The travel of the keys was so shallow it could feel like typing on a rock, and a single crumb could make a key break. Ultimately the Macbook won’t be remembered for putting a stunning retina display in a tiny laptop, it will be remembered for a terrible keyboard that then trickled out to every other laptop in the lineup. — Alex Cranz
Some of us really, really, really wanted Windows on a phone to work from the very beginning. It’s what led us to fawn over Windows Phone’s colorful design in the beginning, even if app developers couldn’t be bothered to build software for the platform’s piddling userbase. After acquiring Nokia, which had become the premier developer of Windows handsets, Microsoft made one last attempt at building a Windows phone outfitted with a mobile version of the Windows 10 platform.
The Nokia 950 was Windows’ last gasp on mobile. And on paper, it made sense: The apps on your desktop in your hand. It just didn’t work very well. Despite its attractive soft-touch hardware, the Nokia 950 couldn’t save Windows on a phone. Maybe that was a good thing. As we look ahead to the innovative Surface devices Microsoft has planned for 2020, we can’t help but wonder if maybe Windows Phone need to die so that a Microsoft phone might live. — Mario Aguilar
Two years before Oculus and HTC helped erase the painful memories of early VR like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, Samsung brought VR to the masses with the Gear VR. It was a simple solution that married the display and performance from a smartphone with a lightweight headset, with no need for wires or finicky IR trackers. But over the years, not much has changed about Samsung’s mobile VR platform (aside from some new controllers), so that now thanks to devices like the Oculus Quest, there’s very little reason for the Gear VR to exist. And with Samsung’s latest flagship—the Galaxy Note 10—lacking support for Gear VR, it seems Samsung agrees. — Sam Rutherford
The Priv was BlackBerry’s (né RIM) last shot at building a phone for the modern era. The company spent most of the last decade struggling to regain its lost glory. Despite largely defining the smartphone as we know it in the first 10 years of this millennium, it struggled to find its place in the post-iPhone world.
The Priv tried to be everything BlackBerry owners loved—business-friendly with a QWERTY physical keyboard—with a modern Android operating system. The device was mostly a failure. The thing is, the whole point of the big screens on smartphones is that you don’t need physical keyboards anymore. And while surely some people appreciated the nod to the classic design, the thing was a nightmare to use in practice. BlackBerry lives on today but under the stewardship of Chinese electronics giant TCL. With Priv, the original company’s hope at relevance died. — Mario Aguilar
Thanks to a battery that was just a bit too big for its britches, the Note 7 was the phone that started 1,000 fires. (Ok ok, the number is actually closer to 100.) But what really turned a blunder into a full-on debacle is that after initial reports of the Galaxy Note 7’s battery starting fires, Samsung issued a recall and replaced the Note 7’s battery with power packs from a different supplier, only to have the phone burst into flames again. Then airlines starting banning it, carriers stopped selling it, and eventually, Samsung issued a second recall complete with little fireproof bags for people to put the phone in before sending it back. Suddenly, the Galaxy Note 7 became a phone that was lost to time. In fact, because the Galaxy Note 6 never existed (Samsung jumped straight from 5 to 7), it’s almost like the Note 7’s bad battery killed two generations with one charge.— Sam Rutherford
When it launched, the LG Watch Sport was supposed to have it all—LTE connectivity, Android Wear 2.0, built-in GPS, NFC payments, and water resistance. Sure, all those specs were impressive. That said, for a fitness-focused smartwatch, it was a chunky, cumbersome pain to actually work out with. The band was stiff and unremovable, presumably because that’s where LG stuffed some extra tech. Combined with the giant, heavy watch case, that made for a wearable that caught on jacket sleeves, suffocated your wrist, and slid up and down your arm during exercise. Added to that, battery life and cellular connectivity were crap. At $350, it was an expensive disappointment for anyone hoping for a good Android smartwatch. — Victoria Song
Apple jumped on the smart speaker wagon a year or two too late, but fans weren’t worried. “If Apple makes an Echo killer, it will be awesome because Apple!” This is not what happened. The HomePod entered an already crowded market with a big price tag, limited features, and the dumbest voice assistant around: Siri. The speaker itself did sound pretty good. But basically everything else about it was wrong. When the speaker launched, you could only control Apple Music with voice commands, and you can’t make phone calls through the HomePod. You can ask Siri questions, though there’s a good chance she’ll give you the wrong answer. All of these downsides in one handsome speaker will cost you $350. — Adam Clark Estes