It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
In 2016, mobile technology hit new heights and Android was at the center of it all. But you can’t have progress without missteps, and 2016 was marked by an assortment of bad ideas, questionable business decisions, and some truly embarrassing blunders.
Time to talk about the 2016 moments tech companies would like us to forget. Let’s get to it!
When Samsung set its reputation on fire
In the “So Big, Non-Nerds Know About It” category, Samsung somehow managed to turn its best shot to finally outshine Apple into a hugely embarrassing, massively expensive, still-not-fully-explained disaster of a phone launch.
Years from now, people (normal people, not us tech freaks) will still be talking about that time Samsung phones kept catching fire. At Samsung HQ, news of burning cars and cancelled flights will trigger PTSD attacks forever, or at least until a new generation of fresh-eyed execs takes over with no memory of that dreadful day in 2016 when DJ Koh had to recall the Galaxy Note 7.
The Blunder of the Year award definitely goes to Samsung. Hell, everything else on this list combined was not as bad as the Note 7 fiasco. It was just that embarrassing.
When Blu got caught red handed
In the “We Didn’t Know, We Swear!” category, several Blu smartphones were found to be secretly sending user data to servers in China every 72 hours. That included text messages, call logs, and contacts. Yep, we’re talking about manufacturer installed malware here, the last thing you’d want on the cheap phone you bought for your mom or your kid.
To its credit, Blu came clean pretty fast and updated the six models in question – a total of 120,000 units – to remove the spyware. The manufacturer assigned the blame to a Chinese partner, but let’s face it, this is the kind of story that proliferates the belief that Android is insecure. And that’s not good.
When Google tried messaging, again
In the “We Only Wanted Proper SMS Integration” category, Google tried for the umpteenth time to deliver a communication service that people would, you know, actually want to use. In fact, it was two services this time, Allo and Duo. Both were hyped at Google I/O, but by the time they were released this fall, it was obvious that they were not ready to take on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage.
Allo in particular was a disappointment, as it lacked key features like full SMS support or a web client. Assistant, its one standout feature, was not enough to make people install and use yet another messaging service.
Perhaps in 2017 Google will turn Allo into a true WhatsApp or iMessage competitor. Or maybe not. Who knows.
When LG introduced us to its weird Friends
In the “Hey, At Least They Tried Something New” category, LG really wanted to impress us with its new flagship, the G5. It pulled all stops: metallic construction, user-replaceable battery, a fancy wide-angle camera … and modules – several weird, expensive, unpractical modules some marketing genius decided to call “Friends.”
As it turned out, the world just didn’t want to meet LG’s Friends. The idea was a dud and the LG G5 went down with it. To be fair, we have to commend LG for showing the real courage of betting its flagship on a wild idea.
When Cyanogen put a bullet through its own head
In the “Too Cocky For Their Own Good” category, Cyanogen Inc. squandered any trace of goodwill it had left after the infamous 2015 comments of its then-CEO Kirt McMaster. Far from putting a bullet through Google’s head (sorry, Kirt, we just can’t let it go), Cyanogen alienated its partners, fired staff, and abandoned a once-promising business idea in favor of… we don’t know exactly what.
As of December 2016, Cyanogen OS is dead, CyanogenMod is dead, and Cyanogen Inc. is probably looking for someone to put it out of its misery. The silver lining? Lineage OS will – hopefully – carry on the great legacy of CyanogenMod.
When LG phones got their loopy reputation
In the “We’re Still Looking Into It” category, LG completely failed to give a good explanation of what’s going with its phones. Starting with the LG G4, and throughout 2016, numerous reports emerged about LG devices going through sudden, unfixable bootloops. We’re talking about flagships here, the phone you would expect to be rock solid.
LG only admitted issues with the LG G4. But scores of user reports about the G5, V10, Nexus 5X, and even the new V20 paint a different picture. Even if it’s all in our head, LG’s lack of transparency here was a big mistake.
When Apple showed #courage
In the “Well, That Backfired!” category, Apple exposed itself to ridicule when it boasted about the “courage” it took to remove the 3.5 mm audio jack from the iPhone 7. Snarky Twitter users had a field day, as #DongleLife became a trending hashtag.
Apple tried to paint its actions as some sort of righteous gesture it made in the benefit of customers. But the actual benefits of abandoning the ubiquitous audio jack are questionable, at best. And thanks to Apple’s massive influence on the industry, the #DongleLife could creep deep into Android territory in 2017.
When someone asked for $7.5 billion to sell a $4 phone
In the “Stranger Than Fiction” category, an Indian company called Ringing Bells (the name alone should’ve rung the alarm) announced an Android smartphone that would retail for just Rs. 251 or about four bucks. The “$4 phone,” as the Ringing Bells Freedom 251 came to be known, was simply put, too cheap to be true. “Prototypes” of the device that were shown to the press were off-the-shelf phones that had their manufacturer logos hidden with correction fluid.
The shady Ringing Bells collected tens of millions of registrations, but ultimately failed to deliver on any of its promises. It’s not clear what the plan was (Ponzi scheme? publicity stunt?), but the $4 phone saga hit a ridiculous tone when Ringing Bells sent a letter to the Indian government asking for no less than $7.5 billion in order to put a Freedom 251 in the hands of every Indian.
As of December 2016, Ringing Bells is close to shutting down.
A few dishonorable mentions: Google shut down the beloved Nexus line; Yahoo got hacked, hard; Facebook turned into a shameless Snapchat copycat; Pebble disappointed backers when it sold itself to Fitbit; Microsoft’s AI-powered chatbot went haywire; and Lenovo made a mess out of Motorola.
What’s the biggest mistake mobile tech companies made this year?