2013-12-27

Co.Labs

Apps, Phones, And Other Nerd Gear That Failed, Flopped, Or Fizzled In 2013

People were so very excited about these 10 products. Until they actually showed up.



Unfortunately, not every promising product winds up delivering on the promise of high technology. Looking back on 2013, there were more than a few failures of innovation that many of us mistook for potentially great things.

Everpix

For as long as high-speed Internet has been the norm, the online backup space has been continually growing. A relatively new subset of that has been companies that focus on solely backing up a users' photos. Everpix was one of those companies until it shocked its users by announcing that it had run out of money before it could become sustainable. Offering unlimited photo backups from mobile and desktop devices, Everpix was an attractive option for people looking to expand their iPhone’s onboard storage.

The Everpix mobile app was attractive and packed with photo features beyond just extra storage. There were a lot of elements that made for serendipitous rediscovery of your own photos, and a feature that let users sort photos based on which device they were uploaded from.

Even though most people who used Everpix saw the potential and the need for such a service, the company still faced the hard reality many startups do: The storage and personnel costs grew too quickly to make it work. Detailed in a behind-the-scenes look by The Verge, the Everpix team has been open about how it spun the business down.

Bump

Bump was a file transferring service dressed up as a social experience. Two users would touch their phones together to transfer pictures or other data. Bump had been around a while, but 2013 saw the company dissolve into Google. The announcement on Bump’s blog gave all indications that the company had been bought for the talent, rather than the product itself--the dreaded acquihire. The very first line of the blog post made note that Bump’s team was joining Google and later mentioned the product would continue to work until further announcement.

In February of this year Bump was still plugging away, improving the product and adding an accessible web component to the previously mobile only transfer solution. It's hard to fault Bump's traction. Even Samsung's implementation hasn't fared well and Apple's Airdrop hasn't made waves either. I've never seen either in use in the wild.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

If you spend any amount of time in places that sell electronics or watch a fair amount of TV, you’ve seen Samsung heavily marketing its new smartwatch. But if you went by real-life word of mouth, you might not even know Samsung made the Galaxy Gear, because no one is buying them and even fewer people are talking about them. To outside observers closely following the tech space, it appears to be a classic move of another company trying to beat Apple to the punch based solely on rumors. HP fell victim, pre-announcing a Windows slate device ahead of Apple’s first iPad event and failing to capture any interest.

There have been lots of rumors that Apple will be entering the wearable computing market at some point in the near future, most speculating that it will be a watch. It’s possible Samsung is just trolling Apple, trying to be first to market just to be able to say it was first. Whatever the motivation for putting out a watch, the Gear fails to deliver where smaller companies like Pebble have been at least semi-successful.

Sony aimed broader with its smartwatch, working with most Android phones, while the Gear only works with a few of its own devices. Saddled with a camera in the wrist strap and the promise of third-party apps, Samsung’s watch came out of the gate trying to do it all, but not really doing much.

Samsung Shape M7

It’s still early for Samsung’s entry into wireless speakers, but so far it's failed make a dent against the market leader, Sonos. Aiming for the high end, $399 for a wireless speaker places it outside a lot of consumers' budgets. The Shape M7's biggest disadvantage is its limited music source selection. Samsung only lists Amazon, Pandora, Rhapsody, and TuneIn as current Internet options compared to the dozen or more that Sonos makes available.

The biggest reason for the Shape M7’s lackluster debut is that Samsung hasn’t pushed the product the way it's pushed others. There's a good chance you didn't even know about it, given the minimal marketing Samsung has done for it.

HTC First (aka Facebook Phone)

As Facebook grows and captures a sizable portion of the world’s population as active users, the company needs to find new ways to engage people. Making timid entry into the phone business earlier this year, Facebook and HTC partnered to introduce the HTC First, an Android phone skinned with a Facebook layer on top. With modest hardware, the phone was all about the Android launcher, which Facebook called Home. The new software puts status updates front and center and offered "chat heads" intended to get people to Facebook message instead of text.

Whether people didn’t care for the hardware or the software, it’s uncertain, but the device tanked. Roughly a month after announcement and a speculated 15,000 units sold later, the First was discontinued. Such breakneck speeds from cradle to grave usually don’t elicit confidence and will probably give Facebook pause to get into the hardware space on its own. Maybe the First failed because teens aren't using Facebook as much anymore and everyone else needs a real smartphone.

Ubuntu Edge Phone

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, envisioned its Edge phone as a jumping-off point for the new mobile OS Ubuntu Touch. Unfortunately, the company didn’t get to make the kind of splash it wanted, failing to crowdfund $32 million and make it happen. The roughly $19 million the phone did raise made it the most crowdfunded project to date, but provides little comfort to those who wanted the extremely high-end device.

The Edge phone was attempting to speed up convergence and combine a user’s computing device with their mobile phone. The phone was meant to be docked and used with the built-in desktop environment so that a user's information lived in their pocket. Packing 128GB of storage, 4GB of RAM, and a top-of-the-line display, the Edge had mobile phone enthusiasts drooling over the sleek device. The phone could dual boot Ubuntu Touch as well as Android, which made it a safe bet for most pledges, but the vaporware factor remained the high goal to fund the entire project.

$600+ isn’t expensive for a mobile phone, especially for the hardware being offered, but it’s still more costly than consumers were willing to cough up. The Ubuntu Touch mobile operating system won’t disappear, but it’s unlikely we'll ever see the Edge.

Chromebook Pixel

The Pixel is a $1,300 device that’s made for surfing the Internet. In fact, that’s pretty much all it can do. You could argue that Google’s Pixel Chromebook is merely an indulgence for the company, and you'd be right, but that still doesn’t make it any less of a bombed product. For the money you get a high resolution touch-screen laptop that’s modeled closely after Apple’s MacBook computers, a big upgrade over the other budget Chromebooks.

The idea of Chrome OS, a browser-based operating system, isn’t necessarily flawed. It’s just scary for most people. The built-in 4G wireless radios make this a go-anywhere Internet machine, but that won't be truly appealing until we've all converted entirely to the cloud.

YouTube Video Music Awards

YouTube had one of the biggest opportunities to disrupt entrenched awards shows, but failed to make a meaningful impact. An Internet broadcast from the world’s most popular streaming site and online music source sounds like a guaranteed success, yet hardly anyone tuned in. Reports put the numbers at around 200,000 live viewers, a piddling few basis points of the billion streams the site gets daily.

AOL Reader

Almost six months after Google Reader shut down, AOL Reader still hasn’t launched its mobile app--only a placeholder that reads "coming soon." The mobile apps it does sync with is currently limited to vReadr and Feeddler, omitting the biggest player Reeder. AOL does run a host of content sites and so building a reading tool isn’t beyond reason, but it begs the question: Why try and promote RSS to mainstream consumers?

Digg Reader

It also makes sense that Digg would get into the game of building an RSS reader, hosting a site focused on aggregating content. Now that Digg owner Betaworks also owns the reading service Instapaper, an RSS syncing platform appears to be a perfect fit in its puzzle. The problem Digg faces, like AOL, is that it’s taken a long time to bring a fully functioning option to market. Most users will have found a new RSS platform (Feedly, anyone?) and be fully immersed in it by the time Digg Reader is ready to go.

[Image: Flickr user Ken Hawkins]