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Top 10 tech fails of 2012

The past year has seen some of the biggest product launches and news stories to hit the tech world in recent history. With industry giants vying to outdo each other in a handful of areas, there was an unprecedented series of major product launches and attending fallout concentrated around the months of September and October.

But 2012 wasn’t just about cool new gadgets - the tech world also saw some flabbergasting missteps, with abhorrent products, questionable business decisions, and simply unfortunate circumstances plaguing the likes of Apple, Research In Motion and HP.

We’ve rounded up the 10 tech fails that had us shaking our heads the most this year, with the gaffes spanning mobile, enterprise, security and a host of other topics. What do you think were the biggest tech missteps of 2012? Feel free to chime in in the comments.

Apple Maps disappoints

The September launch of Apple Maps was unequivocally the year’s biggest, and most high-profile, tech fail. When the firm revealed it had dropped Google Maps as the default navigation app on its latest iteration of iOS, we all expected the trusty app was being replaced by something incredible and incredibly groundbreaking.

We’re still not sure what Apple was thinking in releasing such a subpar piece of software - despite developers’ objections, mind you - but, with the recent release of a native iOS 6 Google Maps app, does anyone even care anymore?

Facebook IPO falters

Seven months in, the social network’s record-breaking IPO has yet to justify itself. Many of us questioned the $104 billion (£64 billion) valuation that priced its stocks at $37 (£23) apiece, and our doubts were immediately validated when the IPO was met with technical difficulties. A software glitch marred the first day of trading, with some traders unable to purchase stocks, and others being quoted higher-than-expected share prices.

Since then, Facebook has failed to live up to its big claims. Shares of the social network have fluctuated significantly over the past few months, but still remain far below their original valuation. According to Bloomberg, it was the biggest high-profile IPO blunder in a decade.

Attending controversies haven’t helped either. The $1 billion (£640 million) Instagram acquisition, believed by some to be an attempt to justify Facebook’s own inflated price, failed to give the firm any credence.

Instagram privacy policy causes uproar 

It’s likely that many people became sceptical of Instagram, the massively popular photo-sharing app, when news of Facebook’s plans to take it over for $1 billion (£640 million) surfaced; we certainly did. Questions about how the free, non-ad-supported app would justify its value to Facebook led us to predict that a drastic policy change was just around the corner.

In response to the backlash and calls for a boycott, Instagram has revised its terms of use, but is still pursuing advertising revenue. Given Facebook’s track record, though, it’s only a matter of time before a similar controversy re-emerges.

Natwest outage affects 700,000 customers

But as if locking customers out of their accounts once wasn’t bad enough, it was followed by a second outage weeks later that locked some users out of their online banking accounts, made some incoming payments bounce back, and prevented some customers from using their debit and credit cards.

Botch glitches were eventually fixed, but served as an undeniable reminder of an industry-wide need for banks and financial institutions to re-evaluate their IT practices.

BlackBerry 10 faces delays 

It’s tempting to classify the very existence of RIM as a fail in itself, given the company’s continued inability to turn around its grim fortunes. But the year’s biggest RIM-related disappointment was the absence of BlackBerry 10, the new mobile operating system that was destined to give the company another chance to redeem itself in 2012.

A developer preview of BB10 did not reveal much about the operating system, but confirmed that that the firm still has a ways to go in fixing it ahead of its 30 January launch. Because when - if - it is finally released, anything short of perfection will be a certain death sentence for RIM.

Zynga value plummets

Another Facebook-related company, another disaster. After filing for a $1 billion (£640 million) IPO last year, on the success of its Farmville Facebook game, the game developer has come perilously close to failure. In part because its success was so closely linked to the Faceboook App Center ecosystem, the firm saw its shares plummet in conjunction with Facebook’s own catastrophes. But changes to Facebook’s App Center policy, and a paring down of the two companies’ relationship as Facebook pursues other developers, stunted its growth.

Things have gone so sour at Zynga that it was sued by shareholders following its third quarter earnings reports, accused of failing to properly warn them about declining revenues. The overall downturn led some analysts to speculate that a buyout was on the horizon, though CEO Mark Pincus has squarely denied that possibility.

Android malware surges

2012 was a big year for Android, with the mobile operating system gaining even more market share. The release of flagship devices like Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and Google’s Asus-produced Nexus 7 tablet has helped the platform gain more momentum against Apple’s iPhone and iPad. But with great popularity comes great risk, we’ve learned.

Even a Google-released solution, called Bouncer, failed to sufficiently quash Android malware, leading us to wonder whether the security issue could end up being the platform’s undoing.

Millions of social network account details leaked

Android users weren’t the only vulnerable ones this year. A series of high-profile hacks left millions of users with their personal details exposed. Hackers honed in on popular websites and social networks such as eHarmony, LinkedIn, Yahoo and Formspring, extracting users’ account details and publishing them in various places on the web.

Perhaps the single greatest example of an online hack this year was the case of Mat Honan, the Wired journalist whose entire digital life was erased in the span of one night. After having gained access to his password, the hacker(s) systematically dismantled his entire digital existence - even cutting off his access to his phone and computer remotely. Honan was eventually able to restore some access, but not without irreparable damage.

All of these hacks, as varied as they are in their extremity, highlighted one of 2012’s biggest lessons - that the traditional combination of username and password is not a strong enough security barrier.

HP Autonomy deal ends in scandal 

HP has been chugging along for the past couple of years, as the downward trend in PC sales left it struggling to compete in an increasingly crowded market. Accordingly, the company has shifted its emphasis to enterprise, where it hopes to capitalise on higher profit margins. But despite its best efforts, HP hasn’t made all the right decisions. Its $11.1 billion (£6.9 billion) takeover of British software company Autonomy proved as much.

Regardless of whether or not Lynch was in fact guilty of financial fraud, the deal highlights the extent to which 2012 has been a struggle for HP.

The patent system stunts innovation

The patent system took centre stage this year, with high-profile battles between Samsung, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants dominating much of the news cycle. But while we value the importance of protecting intellectual property, this year has made it especially apparent that the various global patent systems have serious flaws.

Rather than reward entrepreneurs and protect their works, as they were created to do, the patent systems in their current forms hamper innovation and competition. This year’s patent happenings made it abundantly clear that being able to afford the best lawyers is just as important as owning the right patents.

In large part because of the costliness of litigation, companies that are not necessarily in the right can bully smaller firms into settling. And patent trolls can buy up billions of dollars’ worth of patent portfolios with which to essentially extort small companies out of massive amounts of money and drain their resources away from innovation.

Moreover, the outdated, imprecise nature of the world’s patent systems means that companies can patent vague things like the concept of a tablet shaped as a “rectangle with rounded corners”, as Apple did, allowing it to lord its design patent over any competitor and resulting in a marketplace that favours big business, not innovation.

Europe recently adopted a new, unified patent system that should not only bring down the cost of patents, levelling the playing field for innovators, but also eliminating some of the territorial contradictions.

Image Credit: Flickr (pierrebedat)