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The worst technology failures of 2014

Technology Failures - Main Pic

The end of 2014 will soon be upon us, and even though there is still more than a month left for some major newsworthy gaffes and missteps to happen in the world of technology and mobile, we thought it would be interesting to take an early look back on 2014’s most significant “technology failures”, and examine just where it all went wrong for some of the biggest names in tech.

When mobile phone companies, technology behemoths and even governments make a mistake, they usually hope nobody will notice and attempt to sweep their mistakes under the carpet (with mixed results), or may even issue more ill-advised press releases that grab the headlines and make the whole thing even worse.

So, as the year crawls to its inevitable conclusion, let’s reflect on the glorious technical turkeys, faux pax and messy public relations that made 2014 even more interesting than last year.

Here are just a few of our favourites for the worst moments and technology-related failures that happened in 2014, in no particular order…

iPhone 6 “bendgate” not an issue, claims Apple

Shortly after Apple launched its admittedly rather nice iPhone 6 and the phablet-sized iPhone 6 Plus, some users complained of bending and deformation issues. It’s perhaps not surprising that, in its quest for ever thinner devices, the super-slim iPhone 6 would actually bend if you applied enough pressure to its weakest structural points, such as around the volume buttons.

Apple stated that only 9 people had complained, but as evidenced by website One of the Nine there are currently at least 446 bent iPhones in the wild. Apple subsequently tried to convince us that the iPhone is just as sturdy as other smartphones on the market by demonstrating how their conduct industry-standard pressure tests. Various consumer reports also showed that while the iPhone isn’t necessarily the most bend-proof smartphone on the market, it can withstand almost as much stress as other ultra-thin phones.

As most people know by now, it pays to look after your expensive smartphone by keeping it in a case, especially while performing vigorous activities that might involve tight trousers.

You can read more about the bendgate issue in our post “two weeks hands-on with iOS 8“.

Technology Failures - iPhone Bendgate
Despite only a small number of people officially complaining, the iPhone 6 Plus can be bent with a little determination.


Satya Nadella offends women in IT everywhere

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently offended just about every woman in the technology world, after suggesting that women who would like more pay should definitely not ask for a raise. Thankfully, he rapidly issued an apology that appear to do the trick of calming the storm and dampening the very vocal critics.

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along” – Satya Nadella.

The statement in question was uttered at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, after which the audience of mostly women looked distinctly unimpressed. His comments met with stony silence from the crowd and immediate criticism from questioner (and Harvey Mudd College president) Maria Klawe, who coincidentally sits on the company’s board. Oh dear.

Apparently, women make up around 30% of Microsoft’s workforce – figures not dissimilar to other technology companies, where women also struggle to rise to senior positions and receive pay equal to the male contingent. Nadella’s back-peddling statement which was issued in the days that followed helped to clarify what he actually meant:

“Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask”.

Wise words indeed, but no doubt he won’t be invited back to the seminar in a hurry.

Technology Failures - Satya Nadella
Satya Nadella makes an ill-advised statement about the pay of women in IT.


iOS 8.0.1 update turns iPhones into attractive bricks

When Apple launched its new iPhone 6 with iOS 8, there were obviously going to be some teething problems and an update issued within a week or two. Unfortunately, when the update arrived in the shape of iOS 8.0.1, users (especially in Australia for some reason) complained their new devices lost network connectivity and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor has stopped working. Older iPhones such as the 5s seemed unaffected, and to this day we haven’t really had a satisfactory explanation about what went wrong.

Unsurprisingly, iOS 8.0.1 was quickly pulled and the next version released just a few days later. However, the botched update didn’t exactly help iOS 8 adoption levels, which still lag behind iOS 7’s adoption rate at the same time last year.

Apple claimed that around 40,000 people were affected by the problems evident in 8.0.1, but we suspect the figure may be far higher. Hopefully, Apple’s software testing department received a rap on the knuckles for this one and will ensure more thorough testing is carried out in future…

Technology Failures - iOS 8.0.1
iOS 8.0.1 disabled the network connectivity and Touch ID sensor on “some” iPhones.


Amazon Fire Phone flops despite “innovative 3D”

In a recent post we discussed the reasons why Amazon’s Fire Phone resolutely flopped when it was released earlier in this year. Apart from the £399 UK price tag being way too high, one of the problems was that it just wasn’t sexy enough, so it struggled to compete in a crowded market dominated by the likes of Apple and Samsung.

The Fire Phone was revealed with much fanfare, and most of the attention focussed on its gimmicky 3D capabilities using head-tracking cameras. In effect, it was style over substance, as the phone and its OS didn’t really do anything better than its chief rivals iOS and Android.

Amazon ended up with millions of units in unsold inventory and took a massive write down in its last quarter earnings, directly attributed to launching the Fire Phone. Amazon’s executives have since admitted they got the pricing strategy wrong, but it’s unlikely to discourage them from releasing a new and improved version with better hardware at a more reasonable price.

Admittedly, the Fire Phone does have a few unique features such as “Firefly”, which lets you point the camera at everyday objects and then view that item in the Amazon online store. Whether or not consumers used that feature or would be swayed into buying the phone because of it is another matter entirely.

Technology Failures - Amazon Fire Phone
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos launched the Fire Phone to much hoo-ha. Unfortunately, it flopped.


Heartbleed security bug hits the news

It seems like there’s a scary new Internet virus or bug running amok every week, most of which rarely make the headlines. Heartbleed was different because it affected the encryption library called OpenSSL that is used in the majority of web servers, giving hackers the ability to capture sensitive data and passwords.

In truth, Heartbleed was quickly fixed and patched by the majority of IT companies, but since most of the commercial web-based services we all rely on were affected, there’s still a chance there are servers out there which remain vulnerable to attack.

Technology Failures - Heartbleed
Heartbleed didn’t exactly take the Internet down, but it was certainly a serious flaw.


Samsung’s Tizen mobile OS makes no difference to anything

Samsung has achieved amazing success by using Google’s Android operating system on its flagship smartphones, going on to make billions thanks to devices like the Galaxy S range. Unfortunately Samsung has now become overly reliant on Google, which controls Android development and leaves little room for differentiation between smartphone vendors. To counter this, Samsung has been quietly developing its own mobile OS based on Linux, called Tizen.

Tizen is used in Samsung’s Gear smartwatch, which has received mixed reviews and generated hardly any interest among consumers. The company also planned to release a Tizen-based phone in Russia, but so far things have been strangely quiet.

Ultimately, it’s understandable that Samsung wants to reduce its reliance on Android, but so far Tizen has made no dent in the smartphone market. None of its best selling products use it, and most consumers are even aware of its existence. Perhaps one day, Tizen will become a legitimate alternative OS for Samsung, but that dream is still a long way from reality.

Technology Failures - Samsung Tizen OS
Tizen looks the part, but it’s impact on anything so far has been non-existent.


Weak iCloud security leads to leaked celebrity photos

Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities such as Kirsten Dunst and Kate Upton weren’t too chuffed when, one morning, the world awoke to a slew of their personal (and quite raunchy) photos that had been stolen from Apple’s iCloud servers and distributed around the Internet (mainly on 4chan).

Apple said there was no breach in iCloud security and that it wasn’t actually hacked; rather, brute force methods had been used to repeatedly try different passwords until the system let the hackers in. Perhaps no publicity is bad publicity, but the unfortunate incident occurred just days before Apple’s iPhone 6 keynote, prompting hastily-released press statements and red faces all round. At the iPhone event in September there was barely a mention of iCloud security, but despite Apple’s best efforts to sweep the incident under the rug, the Internet remained awash with criticism for weeks afterwards.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook too the rap and wholeheartedly agreed that iCloud security would be tightened up.

Technology Failures - Tim Cook on iCloud Security
Apple CEO Tim Cook explaining how Apple plans to tighten up iCloud security.


More technology failures next year…

2014 has proved a rather eventful year so far, with powerful new smartphones being unveiled, faster 4G networks coming online, and the Internet of Things starting to gather steam. But it’s also had its fair share of embarrassing moments, product flops and security breaches. Next year, we can expect more of the same as mobile devices, networks and computing marches ever onwards towards technological nirvana.

We’ll just end with a small piece of advice to company executives – pause for thought before you put your foot in your mouth, and if all else fails issue an immediate apology letter following the embarrassing faux pas. For technical mishaps, the easiest option is just to claim that it’s not an issue (“you’re holding it wrong”, and “only 9 users complained” spring to mind).

Did we miss any spectacular moments in this year’s worst failures? As always, let us know in the comments below.


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