Like most other years in consumer technology, 2015 was a year of many ups and downs. But 2015 brought a few more disappointments than we’d like to admit. Care to look at some of the more notorious flops to register on our radar this year? Read on for some of the biggest technology fails that we wish we could forget about.
1. Android’s security situation turning from bad to worse
2015 brought what felt like a weekly report of a new and major Android vulnerability. Stagefright, Stagefright 2, and a major Samsung-based vulnerability were just a few of the issues. Perhaps even worse, the constant discussion of Android’s security issues shed light on the root of the problem: how Google has made it pretty much impossible for Android users to get critical security updates on a timely basis or, for those with an older phone, to get operating system updates at all. It’s a major headache that even a new version of the operating system and a new update policy can’t possibly fix.
2. Constant security breaches
In 2015, security breaches of every kind made the headlines — headlines that many people are now apt to tune out thanks to their disturbing ubiquity. BlueCross BlueShield customers had their names, birth dates, email addresses, and other subscriber information compromised. Anthem suffered a breach of millions of patient and employee records. Harvard University and Penn State University had their systems compromised, which left thousands of people’s information vulnerable. And a breach of National Guard systems exposed Social Security numbers, addresses, and personal information of hundreds of thousands of National Guard members. The upshot? It’s hard to be confident that the personal information you share with any company will stay private.
3. The Ashley Madison hack
Speaking of security breaches, one of the most notorious hacks in 2015 was the breach of Ashley Madison, a dating website aimed at helping members find extramarital affairs and hookups. A group of hackers got a hold of the site’s user database, and when the company refused to take the site down, released the personal information of millions of users. That led to embarrassment for politicians and prominent figures in business, controversy over what it really meant if someone’s (unverified) email address was found in the database, and a spate of how-to articles explaining how to search the database.
4. The hoverboard fiasco
The deceptively-named hoverboard — which is actually just an electric, two-wheeled skateboard — ushered in one of the worst moments for tech in 2015. And not juste because of the false advertising of the name. When they quickly and almost inexplicably rose to popularity ahead of the 2015 holiday season, it became apparent that they weren’t as safe as the parents and kids-at-heart who purchased them had assumed.
Users have reported a growing number of fires and explosions, which have largely been blamed on the poorly-made battery assemblies that some manufacturers have integrated into their hoverboards. And as if exploding hoverboards weren’t enough of a problem, Segway is suing some manufacturers for patent infringement, while regulators have banned hoverboards from some sidewalks, malls, and airports.
5. Disappointing streaming apps
While 2015 could have been a great year for music streaming apps, users got disappointment after disappointment instead. Jay-Z launched Tidal to little interest from users, and the service has since struggled to compete with rivals like Spotify. Meanwhile Apple Music, while it successfully gained millions of subscribers thanks in part to a three-month free trial, confused users with a surprisingly unintuitive interface and left many disappointed when Cupertino failed to deliver an app that was any better than the ample competition. After all, Apple fans expect the company to carry on its tradition of taking an existing idea and pushing it to a new level of functionality and finesse. That just failed to happen with the first version of Apple Music.
6. Theranos’s pseudoscientific nanotainers
A startup called Theranos claimed to have developed technology that could completely disrupt diagnostics. It said that it could collect a few drops of blood — the amount that you’d get with a finger prick, not a needle draw — in “nanotainers,” and then accurately run 200 different laboratory tests. The startup attracted investors, who valued the company at almost $9 billion — but the proposition didn’t turn out to be true. Upon further scrutiny, it become obvious that there’s no evidence Theranos has a technology that can do what it claims. After the accuracy of its tests was called into question, Theranos withdrew its nanotainers from the market and began using conventional blood draws for all its tests. The episode illustrated just how easy it is for startups to pass off pseudoscience for innovation — and for medical companies to take advantage of regulatory loopholes.
7. The Snapdragon 810’s overheating issues
The Snapdragon 810 is the fastest and most powerful processor that Qualcomm released in 2015. But it had a major Achilles’ heel: it overheats so badly that it ruined smartphones like the HTC One M9 and the LG G Flex 2. Many other smartphones eventually integrated the slightly slower 808 processor to avoid dealing with the overheating issues. More than any other smartphone-related event in 2015, the fiasco illustrated that phones are getting so fast and so sophisticated that you really don’t need to have the latest components.
8. Lenovo’s adware controversy
Early in the year, it came to light that some Lenovo computers came with adware, called Superfish, preinstalled. Privacy experts reported that the software posed a serious security issue since it uses what’s referred to as a “man-in-the-middle” attack to install its own root certificate, and undermine secure web connections. It left users’ web browsing open to easy targeting by hackers, and the discovery understandably sparked an array of cautionary headlines and explainers on how to get rid of the software.
9. The uproar over Twitter’s new hearts
Twitter made what you would think is a simple, straightforward change: switching the star icon for “favorites” a tweet to a heart, and renaming the action “like.” While that seems like an innocuous move, the sudden transition elicited an enormous number of outraged posts and headlines, and someone very quickly created an extension for Google’s Chrome browser to change the hearts back to stars.
10. IBM’s #hackahairdryer campaign
Everyone agrees that Silicon Valley, and the tech industry at large, could benefit from some diversity. But IBM’s attempt to reach out to women, an underrepresented demographic in the tech world, went sadly wrong. In one of the most tone-deaf social media gaffes of the year, the company asked women in technology to participate in a challenge to hack a hair dryer. The campaign backfired immediately and completely.