Technologizer

This Dumb Year: The 57 Lamest Moments in Tech 2012

From Apple's Maps flub to Microsoft's removal of the Windows Start button, it's been a very strange year.

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Performance artist Mike Daisey, who admitted that he fudged and fabricated anecdotes in his monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

When the technology historians of the distant future look back on 2012, they may remember it as, above all, the year of the apology. Tech companies kept expressing regret for stuff: product flaws, privacy abuses, advertising deceptions and much, much more. Apple, Dell, Google, Microsoft and Nokia were among the industry giants that issued at least one apology. Even seemingly innocent bystanders such as Spike Lee and KitchenAid got sucked into the vortex of remorse.

As is my wont — and in tribute to the late Business 2.0’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business and Esquire‘s iconic Dubious Achievement Awards — I’ve compiled a list of the year’s biggest tech-related blunders, lapses in judgement, bad behavior and general weirdness. Some of these items were followed by apologies, heartfelt or otherwise; others weren’t but should have been; a few were so self-defeating that they amounted to their own punishment. All of them helped make the year memorable — and collectively, they set a high bar for 2013′s mistakes.

January

1. The not-so-tragic death of a not-very-wonderful dream.

In 2010, Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan’s Fusion Garage removed TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington from his own CrunchPad project and released it as a half-baked tablet called the JooJoo, which failed almost immediately. In 2011, Fusion Garage pretended to be a start-up called TabCo and released a half-baked tablet called the Grid-10, which failed almost immediately. And in 2012? Fusion Garage’s big accomplishment was failing, period.

2. Crime and self-punishment.

After an advertising firm hired by Google pays bloggers to write about Chrome — violating Google’s own rules — the search engine reacts by penalizing its own browser, pushing it down in results for the search term browser for 60 days.

Wendi Deng Twitter

The Telegraph

3. Everyone knows it’s Wendi.

The British media are amused by the way Wendi Deng Murdoch, spouse of Rupert Murdoch, bawls out her husband on Twitter. Except it turns out that it’s a fraudulent account — even though Twitter has marked it as “verified,” a supposed guarantee that it’s the real deal.

4. Holy piracy, Batman!

Sweden recognizes Isak Gerson’s Kopimism as an official religion. The creed, which claims 3,000 members, holds that file sharing is a sacred act.

Crowd at Beijing Apple Store

Reuters

5. The crowd goes wild.

At a new Apple Store in Beijing’s Sanlitun district, 300 people show up to buy new iPhones. The throng alarms store officials, who cancel the opening. The shoppers are not pleased. One of them begins pelting the retail establishment with eggs; others chase off the security guards.

6. Let’s be evil.

A Kenyan business-listing company called Mocality accuses local Google staffers of accessing its data without permission, then contacting its customers and claiming, inaccurately, that Mocality charges for its services and that Google has a relationship with Mocality. Google admits that Mocality’s charges are true and says that it’s “mortified” by the situation.

7. Feats of clay.

In Vancouver, Apple fans discover that the iPads they’ve purchased at Best Buy and other stores are actually iPad boxes filled with modeling clay. It seems that criminals bought iPads and then returned them for refunds — but they kept the iPads and refilled the boxes.

8. Hey, at least Polaroid is still flourishing — oh, wait.

Eastman Kodak, an icon of American technical innovation and business success for the entire 20th century, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Thorsten Heins

Getty Images

9. Meet Mr. Optimism.

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, longtime co-CEOs of beleaguered BlackBerry maker RIM, finally step down. Their successor, RIM co-COO Thorsten Heins, says he doesn’t “think significant change [is] needed” at the company, a stance that leaves observers wondering if he’s been paying attention.

10. Shop till you flop.

After legendary Apple Store chief Ron Johnson departs to run JCPenney, Apple replaces him with John Browett, CEO of British retailer Dixons. His former employer has a schlocky reputation, and a bevy of British tech enthusiasts are befuddled by the hire. But not for long; Browett is gone before the holiday season begins.

February

11. Xoom, Xoom, Xoom.

Motorola says that about 100 refurbished Xoom tablets sold through the daily-deal site Woot may still have their previous owners’ information on them. By way of apology, it offers two years of free credit monitoring to affected consumers.

Windows 8

Microsoft

12. In other news, McDonald’s new Big Mac is ditching the two all-beef patties, the special sauce, the lettuce, the cheese and the sesame-seed bun.

Microsoft reveals that Windows 8 will do away with Windows’ most familiar feature: its Start button.

13. I don’t even want to know what coupons Target sends once it’s figured out you’ve died.

A New York Times article reveals that Target’s mining of its customers’ information is so invasive and clever that the company figured out a high school girl was pregnant — and sent her coupons for products such as cribs and baby clothing — before her parents got wise about it.

14. Sorry, fellas.

A high-tech London billboard for a nonprofit organization uses facial detection to identify bystanders as women or men — and refuses to show its ad to the guys.

March

4G

Jared Newman / TIME.com

15. At least they didn’t call it eleventy-billion-G.

An iOS software update changes the 3G indicator on AT&T iPhones to read 4G, even though the phones are running on the same wireless network as before and their speed hasn’t improved. (AT&T, like T-Mobile, has simply decided to start saying that its spruced-up 3G network is a 4G network.) Only with the iPhone 5′s release in September does AT&T get a true 4G iPhone.

16. Oops-a-Daisey.

Public radio’s This American Life retracts an entire episode based on Mike Daisey’s monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Daisey’s much praised work, based on his visit to Apple’s Chinese manufacturing partner Foxconn, includes alarming details about underage workers, dangerous conditions and other matters — but it turns out that Daisey fudged numerous details to make his story more shocking and melodramatic.

17. Smokin’!

Microsoft’s “Smoked by Windows Phone” competition, which lets Microsoft Store visitors with iPhones and Android phones try to outrace Windows Phone at common tasks, backfires when blogger and Android user Sahas Katta manages to win. Store employees refuse to acknowledge his victory and provide him with prizes, a decision Microsoft overturns after Katta blogs about the experience.

Girls Around Me

Girls Around Me

18. Just like Foursquare, only profoundly creepy.

Cult of Mac’s John Brownlee reports on Girls Around Me, an iPhone application that uses publicly available Facebook and Foursquare data to show the photos and locations of nearby women, none of whom have given permission to be tracked by the app. After Foursquare cuts off access to its data, the program’s Russian developers yank it from the App Store.

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11 comments
VideoMrChris
VideoMrChris

My dumbest idea was to by a mini tablet. The screen is difficult to see and I lose all my work when I place it in my pocket. I can't recommend the Pocket Etch a Sketch.

ChuckMangione3
ChuckMangione3

 LOL, tablets, despite the stupid name, are such a lame a fad. A 400$ web browser, how.. cool? Even the "best" games Apple has to offer suck. Anyone who thinks Angry Birds is fun is a moron. Angry Birds is proof the masses will buy anything an advertising bot rates a 5 star. Then after 5 minutes of playing (any iPhone game) you realize doing the same thing over and over and over and over isn't fun, despite the new "setting" of the game. Technology is so cool, wall paper TVs, anyone? Hologram movie projection? Bet you've never heard of that because you're all too busy focusing on the latest social network, and waiting in line for the next screen size of the device you already have.

DanMan'99
DanMan'99

@ChuckMangione3  Tablets aren't as bad as you make them sound. They're gradually replacing laptops and getting more and more powerful each year. Though, I do agree, a tablet/smartphone game (Nova) are repetitive and can't compete against a hard-core console game series that it clearly rips of (Halo).

ChuckMangione3
ChuckMangione3

@DanMan'99 Yes, tablets and macs are great for people who know nothing about good technology. It's a fad. If you haven't noticed, hipsters are in, despite their best efforts to be out.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

The biggest whopper of the year, IMHO, is Apple using recycled iPad2 parts, scaling it down and passing it off as an "innovative" alternative to 7 inch tablets and calling it the iPad Mini for those lighter data flow days...

DanMan'99
DanMan'99

@DeweySayenoff  Agreed. It (the Ipad Mini) also dishonors Jobs' legacy, since he said Apple would never release a 7-inch tablet when the Ipad Mini is classified as a 7-inch tablet.

DwDunphy
DwDunphy

Sorry Kim Dotcom. Even Time doesn't love you anymore.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

@DwDunphy I thought about putting him on the list, but he (and some other good candidates) didn't make the final cut.