The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

By Brian Barrett on at

What a year for technology, what with all its tiny tablets and overhauled operating systems. But for every Nexus 7 triumph, a Nexus Q disaster reared its gruesome head. Here are the worst screw-ups the tech industry endured in 2012. Advanced warning: They're not for the faint of heart.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

9. SOPA

The only reason SOPA's not at the top of this list is that it didn't pass. It didn't even make it to a vote. But the worst internet regulation bill in, well, ever came dangerously close to becoming a law this year. That it made it as far as it did is embarrassing, and more than a little bit terrifying.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

8. Anything the HP Board Thought or Did

It was a rough year for HP on almost every conceivable front. After wasting away its £900 million Palm investment in 2011, it lost webOS Big Brain Jon Rubenstein, spent months dithering under new CEO Meg Whitman, and announced that its £7 billion prize purchase, Autonomy, was actually riddled with (very expensive) fraud. Oh and uh, still waiting on that phone, guys.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

7. Google's Search Plus Your World Launch

By shoe-horning Google+ into its showcase product—search—Google diminished its user experience by leaps and bounds. It's fine that Google wants to give its fledgling social network as much juice as it can spare. But making social search an opt-out product—instead of opt-in—made Google searches worse by default, and gave Bing the opening it needed to get a foothold.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

6. Trusting Sabu

Just when you think you know the guy who's the poster child for your international hacking syndicate, he goes and gives up everything and everyone you know and love to the FBI. Whoops! The high-level Anonymous arrests that followed Sabu's betrayal gutted the mischief-makers so deeply the group still hasn't recovered, and may never.

Image by gualtiero boffi/Shutterstock

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

5. Intel's Phony CES Demo

Intel's demonstration of Ivy Bridge-based ultrabooks this past January was terrifically impressive. It was also totally fake. While the company claimed that the graphically intensive racing game on stage was being played in real-time, it was actually a prerecorded video clip. There's nothing wrong with showing a video of your product instead of doing it live; what hurt the most in this case was—as it always is—the lying.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

4. Nokia's Fake Lumia 920 Ad

Another one from the big fake fakers file. When Nokia showed off the PureView camera technology on its Lumia 920, we were left agog at its stabilization capabilities. And even more so when we found out the images weren't actually taken with a Lumia 920 at all. And then again when Nokia claimed it never said it was a 920 demo in the first place. It was misleading, but most of all it was insulting. Again, there's nothing wrong with showing product simulations. But trying to pass them off at the real thing—and getting caught—is about as big a screw-up as you can do.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

3. Apple and Amazon Security Holes

Until just a few months ago, it was mind-bogglingly easy to get access to someone's Apple or Amazon accounts, and to summarily wipe out their entire digital existence (sorry, Mat!) The worst part though? Both companies knew about the loophole, and did nothing to shut it down until public outcry forced them to. Kudos to Amazon for the quick fix; stern finger-wag to Apple for dragging its heels.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

2. Nexus Q

Google introduced its odd little media-streaming spheroid with terrific fanfare back in June, without ever clearly making the case for why anyone would actually want a £200 Android exclusive alien dung beetle deposit in their living room. Also: it didn't work, to the point that Google pulled the plug on the Q before it could ever officially ship. And made the ones that did leave the warehouse retroactively free.

The Biggest Tech Screw-Ups of the Year

1. Apple Maps

The apocalyptic horror show that was the Apple Maps launch would have been a disaster from any company, but it was a particularly unexpected disaster from one that has historically placed so much value on things just working right out of the box. How bad is it? Apple added a Maps section to its own App Store so that you wouldn't have to use its unfortunate effort. It apologized publicly and repeatedly. And it fired at least two prominent executives—including Scott Forstall, the Godfather of iOS.