D'oh! 2016's Biggest Tech Fails
By Matthew Humphries, PC Magazine, 24 December 2016.
By Matthew Humphries, PC Magazine, 24 December 2016.
This has certainly been an eventful year, and one I'm sure many of us would love to go back and do over again. Lots of famous people are no longer with us, the UK decided it didn't like being in Europe anymore, and Americans had a Presidential Election filled with a final act nobody could have predicted.
Thankfully for this list, 2016 wasn't any less full of serious tech fails. In fact, it's been a bumper year for gadgets that explode, break, or leave us asking "why?" Even Apple decided to get in on the action, and more than once! There's also a hint of death, some security blunders, and the serious issue of trying to name a ship.
So sit back, get that mouse-clicking finger ready, and enjoy our pick of the biggest tech fails of the year. Surely, 2017 can't be any worse...right?
1. Galaxy Note 7
Samsung not only takes the crown of biggest smartphone failure of 2016, but also biggest smartphone failure ever. The design of the Galaxy Note 7 was flawed, and it meant they started exploding, prompting a halt in production and a ban by airlines. Samsung also took the step of limiting battery charge to try and avoid more accidents, but more recently announced it will stop the Note 7 from charging before the end of the year, ultimately disabling them. Samsung will be happy to forget 2016, but it will be under heavy pressure to make sure the Galaxy S8 (and the next Note) launch goes off without a hitch in 2017.
2. iPhone 6 'Touch Disease'
Apple likes to talk about how wonderful its products are, but when there's a problem it tends to keep quiet. In the case of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, a defect with the handset resulted in a class-action lawsuit. The defect is known as "Touch Disease," and refers to the touch screen on both smartphones becoming unresponsive. The problem has been traced back to the two touch-screen controller chips inside the phones, which are not properly secured to the motherboard. They can easily fail, even after normal wear and tear.
Apple should respond to such a defect by fixing the problem and repairing broken iPhones for free, right? Nope. Apparently the fault lies with customers who have dropped their phones multiple times. A repair can be carried out, but it will cost you US$149.
3. MacBook Pro With Touch Bar
Apple's second entry on this list is the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (US$1,799.99 at Best Buy), which has professionals the world over scratching their heads and asking, "who is this laptop for?"
The MacBook Pro has always been viewed as the laptop for professionals. They are expensive, but the hardware on offer warrants the cost if you require a serious amount of processing power in portable form. The problem with the 2016 edition of the MacBook Pro is that the power advantage looks to have been replaced with a gimmick, and one that solves a non-existent problem. RAM is limited to 16GB, there's a severe lack of ports, the SSD is non-removable, and the Retina display Touch Bar simply replaces the function keys with a screen that helps drain the less than great battery life more quickly.
Apple is facing a potential mass exodus of professionals away from its hardware if it doesn't offer them a laptop to suit their needs. That doesn't seem very likely, though one longtime Mac user at PCMag made the jump to a Surface Book (US$2,399.99 at Best Buy).
4. No Man's Sky
The build up to the release of No Man's Sky was filled with promise. A whole universe of planets to discover, filled with life that was so diverse no other player would encounter the same creatures unless they visited your planet. The visuals looked stunning, and Hello Games' Sean Murray got interviewed on The Late Show. It was clearly an amazing game worth waiting for.
And then the game launched, and the disappointment was monumental. The visuals did not match the screenshots and eventually led to Valve changing Steam's policy on acceptable game images. What people expected from a game that is procedurally generated ultimately didn't live up to the hype, the combat was half-baked, and the user interface clumsy. The adventuring aspect of the game simply wasn't good enough.
Ultimately, No Man's Sky was overly hyped and would never get close to delivering what gamers expected. In the end, it was a big failure, and one Hello Games is still trying to fix. The first positive step towards that was the Foundation Update released in November.
5. Boaty McBoatface
Probably the funniest of the tech fails this year involved the naming of a new polar research ship being built in the UK for use by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
The mistake NERC made was to ask the public to help name the new ship. However, they didn't pre-select a set of names to choose from, so the Internet really did get to choose anything they wanted. The winner with 124,100 votes: Boaty McBoatface. A fantastic name any ship should be proud to have on display.
NERC didn't agree. Instead it opted to name the vessel the Sir David Attenborough. That name only received 11,000 votes, but Attenborough has done so much to promote nature and the environment he is deserving of a research ship named after him. NERC also gave a hat tip to the Internet's choice by naming the sub-sea vehicle carried on board the Sir David Attenborough as "The Boaty."
6. Microsoft's Racist Tay Chatbot
Back in March, Microsoft had the great idea of launching a Twitter chatbot it named Tay. The AI chatbot was meant to interact with people, specifically 18- to 24-year-olds, to help Microsoft better understand conversational speech.
Tay backfired spectacularly when it started repeating racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic slurs. Microsoft was left scrambling to delete Tay's offensive tweets and ultimately ended up putting it to sleep.
In a statement, Microsoft explained, "Unfortunately, within the first 24 hours of coming online, we became aware of a coordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay's commenting skills to have Tay respond in inappropriate ways. As a result, we have taken Tay offline and are making adjustments."
Tay being taken offline for adjustments seems to have turned into a permanent sleep. Microsoft moved on and released Zo.
7. Windows 10 Anniversary Update Failure
Windows 10 was meant to be the antidote for the poorly received Windows 8 that took away the Start Menu. And for the most part, Windows 10 was much better and gave us back the tried and trusted Start Menu in updated form. However, it introduced a new problem in the form of Windows Updates.
It's bad enough that these updates seem to trigger unexpectedly and can render your PC unusable while they install, but things came to a head in October when the Anniversary Update was released.
The Anniversary Update was a big one, and Microsoft put it through an extensive beta phase before launch. During that beta it was reported the update left some machines in a reboot cycle, but it seems Microsoft ignored the feedback and released the update anyway. The result? Lots of PCs stuck in never ending reboot cycles with no obvious solution available.
Eventually Microsoft released a fix and things got back to normal, but it has left more than a few people suspicious of future updates rendering their PCs unusable. Sure enough, the most recent update is causing a host of problems including blocking Internet access.
8. Facebook Kills Your Friends
Facebook is far and away the biggest social network on the planet, but that doesn't make it any less prone to the odd glitch. The major fail it suffered this year happened in November when a large number of accounts informed visitors that the owner was actually dead.
A message at the top of the affected profiles was a variation of, "We hope people who love Tony will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate his life."
Facebook soon fixed the problem and said it had made a "terrible error." I think most people saw the funny side, though, especially those who loaded up Facebook to find themselves deceased.
9. Google Fiber Halts Expansion
When Google Fiber was first launched back in 2010 it was seen as a big positive step for the future of Internet services within the US. Google was stepping into the market to provide a fiber-to-the-premises service, with a gradual rollout to major cities offering up to 1Gbit/s Internet speeds and a TV service costing between US$50 and US$140 depending on the speed and options.
Expansion continued, reaching 9 metro areas encompassing 34 cities by 2014, but then things started to slow. More negotiations and exploration continued to be announced, but not much happened in terms of hooking up new cities and it continued that way until this year.
In October, Google announced its Fiber division would cease expansion and lay off an unspecified number of employees. The big Internet provider experiment is seemingly on hold, but those who are lucky enough to already be enjoying the service will continue to do so.
10. A Billion Yahoo Accounts
Until the second week of December, this entry was going to be all about the Friend Finder Network, which counted as the single largest user account breach on record with 412 million accounts affected. But Yahoo managed to top it somehow, announcing that over a billion accounts had been hacked.
If that wasn't enough of a shock for you, Yahoo then added that the security breach happened in 2013. The company doesn't know who gained access, just that names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, passwords, and security questions and answers were all taken. Credit card and bank account information was not. I think we can say with a lot of confidence there won't be a bigger breach than this in 2016.
11. Internet of Thing DDoS Attack
This year will be remembered as the one we found out how insecure Internet of Things (IoT) devices really are.
In October, a massive DDoS attack against Domain Name System provider Dyn managed to take Twitter, Etsy, GitHub, SoundCloud, Spotify, and Shopify offline in one fell swoop. Part of the problem was the Mirai botnet, which had managed to infect tens of million of hacked DVR and Internet-connected cameras mostly made by Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology. The factory default usernames and passwords on those devices were weak, making them very easy to compromise.
Xiongmai patched its firmware so something like this can't happen as easily again, but the damage had been done and it made everyone question the security of any and all devices connecting to the Internet. It doesn't matter how low-power these devices are, they can be hacked and used maliciously.
12. Twitter Fails to Deal With Harassment
How do you fight abuse on Twitter? Based on the action Twitter has taken this year, they don't really know.
We've seen a Trust & Safety Council created, abusive tweet flagging updated to allow multiple tweets to be flagged at once, and a "quality filter" introduced to prevent lower-quality content appearing in notifications.
Action was also taken against certain high-profile trolls, for example Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned back in July. More recently, a purge of racist accounts was carried out, including the account of National Policy Institute president Richard Spencer. However, Spencer's account has since been unbanned.
13. GoPro Karma Total Recall
Samsung wasn't the only company to carry out a total recall of a product in 2016, GoPro did, too, though the GoPro Karma drone did not start exploding. Instead, it lost power during operation in "a very small number of cases." That was enough for GoPro to pull the plug on the drone, as a Karma falling out of the air without warning could potentially do a lot of damage to property or people.
Some 2,500 Karma drones were sold at a cost of between US$799 and US$1,099 each. Every owner was entitled to a full refund.
That came after a rather tough year for GoPro overall, though. There were 200 layoffs in November, and the demise of its entertainment unit.
See also: The Worst Gadgets of 2016
Top image credit: markusspiske/Pixabay.
[Source: PC Magazine. Edited. Top image added.]