In 2012, we saw big tech advances. Smartphones got bigger. Tablets got smaller. Social media played a role in everything from a presidential election to disaster relief. But with advances come clunkers.
1. Apple Maps
Apple’s unofficial slogan, “It Just Works,” took a beating on this one.
Along with the rollout of the much anticipated iPhone 5 in September, Apple overhauled iOS, the operating system that runs the phone, its iPad and other mobile devices. A much-hyped feature of the change was Apple’s first effort at its own mapping app — after dumping rival Google’s map software.
The result was so bad that a few days later Apple’s CEO was essentially telling customers to use Google Maps.
Entire cities appeared in the wrong place. Landmarks such as the Washington Monument showed up submerged in bodies of water, and big chunks of the globe appeared as roadless wastelands
2. Facebook’s IPO
Everybody uses Facebook. And everybody likes to make money. So everybody’s going to gobble up Facebook stock, right?
So went the conventional thinking — at least among those of us who spend more time thinking about mobile phones than mutual funds. But on Wall Street? Not so much.
It’s hard to remember a stock opening more hyped than Facebook’s when it hit the market in May. The stock began the day worth about $38. Then, after what everyone predicted to be a dynamic day of trading for the social media superstar, it closed at … well … about $38.
It wouldn’t take long for the pinstripe-suit types to decide it wasn’t even worth that. Facebook’s stock bottomed out in September, falling below $18. Since then, it’s been steadily rebounding and currently sells for about $28.
When the man who created Napster and helped launch Facebook talks, the tech industry listens.
And when Sean Parker and partner Shawn Fanning tease something new called Airtime, techies fall all over themselves to see what the next great innovation will be.
But then, at a fancy launch event featuring celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Snoop Dogg, Parker announces that it’s … basically, a random Web chat tool.
Cue the collective, “Huh?”
It didn’t help that, at that fancy event, Airtime crashed over and over again. Or that folks had a hard time seeing how it would be different than Chatroulette (although Parker promised more users would actually be wearing pants).
In October, Parker admitted that Airtme, launched with more than $33 million in backing, had just 10,000 active users. (That’s $3,300 spent per user, if you’re scoring along at home.)
3. Google Nexus Q
When Google gets something right, they get it really, really right. Redefining Web search? Yep. World’s leading mobile system? Check. A car that drives itself? Vroom!
But some of the Big G’s outings in the gadget world have hit with a thud. The size and shape of a Magic Eight Ball, the Nexus Q is (or was … it’s hard to say) a media streamer that uses Android to play audio and video. It’s also made in the United States, no small thing in a world where virtually all gadgets come from China.
Unfortunately, in the grand tradition of Google Wave, nobody really knew what it was when it was released in June. Its release date was pushed back and, eventually, Google just gave everybody who pre-ordered a free one.
The Q has not officially been canned. But on Google’s online store, the never-released gadget is listed as “not available at this time.”
4. Color App
It was supposed to be a tech-world slam-dunk. Instead, it became a cautionary tale about what some feel could become a tech “bubble.”
Color, a photo-sharing mobile app, stoked excitement in the startup community that was virtually unrivaled. Before it had a single user, Color had raised $41 million from investors. So certain were its Silicon Valley creators that, reportedly, they turned down a $200 million buyout offer from Google.
With much fanfare, Color launched in March 2011. But users soon complained that the app, designed to share photos with the people around you, often didn’t find anyone for them to share with. Its creators were forced to announce they were working on a major overhaul on the same day it was released.
Color tallied about 1 million users at its peak and, more recently, was reportedly down to about 100,000. Compare that to the roughly 100 million users of photo app Instagram (it had about 27 million when Facebook bought it last year), and you see the problem.
5. Stop Online Piracy Act
The new law was supposed to be about fighting online piracy. Who’s going to be against that, right?
Answer: Pretty much the whole Internet.
Members of Congress sponsored the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and related bills to make it easier to shut down websites that illegally share music, movies and other content.
But opponents argued it went too far and could end up shutting down legitimate sites while stifling free expression in the process.
Unfortunately for backers of SOPA, Web heavyweights such as Google, Facebook, Reddit and Wikipedia joined the fight against the bill. Sites went black on January 18 to raise awareness. Members of communities such as Reddit put intense pressure on lawmakers (including soon-to-be GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan) until they dropped their support or went on record opposing the bill.
The unprecedented backlash eventually caused supporters to shelve SOPA, and quite possibly ushered in a new age of Web activism.