Let It Be
Let’s face it: Tech companies are out to win our loyalty, but they also want our attention and our money. So what do we do when we are faced with yet another version, model, or upgrade that is supposed to replace a perfectly good product? Hopefully, we’ll do our research and resist the urge to be the first in line to buy. We can also learn by looking back at some of the worst tech sequels to hit the market. Here are the 15 technologies that lured us in with a decent product, but that should have been left alone. If you disagree with our picks, we want to hear about it and invite you to leave a comment below.
Launched: January 2007
From the swirling blue circle of confusion to the laborious process of accessing most any folder, Vista has a way of making even the most competent user feel like a fish out of water (and wishing that every action didn't prompt an equal and opposite reaction with the annoying permission requests). Beginning users can’t even rely on this most “idiot-proof” version, as numerous accounts of accidentally backing up entire hard drives to the D: drive (and maxing out memory with a single click) have been reported. If the automatic keyboard-activated sticky keys weren’t enough to have you longing for the good ole days of XP, we’re certain the clunky Start Menu and Control Panel will. Yes, we know that most everything can be set to your liking in Vista, including that annoying Auto Tuning feature, but should it take hours of research and tweaking to make a sequel work just as well as the lower-priced original? We think not.
Adobe Acrobat 8
Launched: November 2006
As a perfect example of “not leaving well enough alone,” Adobe went full-scale into the world of buggy-ness with this atrocious “upgrade” to previous versions of Adobe Acrobat. Even with a respectable commitment from Adobe tech support to provide solutions to this free but necessary application, users were left frustrated and in dire need of a way to access PDF files without headaches and computer crashes. Minor point releases corrupted both Acrobat and Acrobat Reader and reinstallation only temporarily solved some of the issues. With many consumers aching for a quick fix to their version 8 woes, the FoxIt Reader became one of the most downloaded free alternatives to the mess, with the remaining dazed and confused turning to a process of rolling back to previous versions. The next time your PC screams to be updated with the slow-installing version 8, reconsider adding this bloatware-inspired mess. Many browsers (including Safari) have acceptable workarounds that won’t force you to grind your virtual memory down into dust.
'Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness'
The only release in the insanely popular Lara Croft-inspired series to garner three stars on Amazon, "Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness" was a “love it or leave it” phenomenon that had many fans wondering why it took the better part of two years to develop. Compromised game controls, weakened game plot, and repeated slow-downs during game play left a bad taste in the mouths of die-hard gamers upon its initial release. Even the lovely Lara displayed less than her usual vigor, leaving out many of her trademark mannerisms that caused her to originally capture the hearts of PlayStation addicts–users missed the heavier accent, her adventures within the mansion, and her frequent “u-huh” remarks during discovery. Clumsy game play and frequent load times sent this game quietly into a tomb of its own and many were happy to leave this buggy sequel in bargain bins just a few months after its release.
Microsoft Office 2007
Launched: January 2007
Yes, we know that for many, Microsoft Office 2007 was a deep descent into frustration that no one can quite explain. Google searches for “Microsoft Office 2007” have spawned thousands of telling details into the worst features of the “upgrade” including the Office2007Sucks.net website, which chronicles painful details of the Office spoof. Our favorites? Lagging print times, befuddled Excel formulation, and a crazy ribbon bar that is no longer customizable without basic XML programming knowledge. Microsoft should have known it had a major problem when users began scouring the Web for both legitimate and bootlegged copies of 2003 and the most common solution to the mess was to “uninstall and don’t ever look back.” This was the first case study for many on how flashy icons and a breezy interface won’t easily replace the ability to give customers control over their applications. We say, “Goodbye prepackaged nightmare, hello Google Docs and Open Office!”
Launched: February 2002
While any hopes of dominating the market dissolved in late 2008 for this successor to the DVD, its troubles seemed to have begun long before it officially lost the market to Blu-ray. Even with integration into the popular Xbox 360 gaming system, support for this already extinct video format was lingering from the beginning. With a phenomenally extravagant price tag upon release, many thought HD-DVD was an overpriced and unnecessary vehicle to gain the HD market, even with initial titles like "Serenity" and "The Last Samurai." What went wrong? Some speculate that it was the prediction of failure that led to its demise (much like the stock market), but others cite a high initial buy-in cost, half the storage capacity of Blu-ray, and the fact that no major retailers were willing to jump on board. With many U.S. markets split in two over which way to dump their hard-earned money, investing in HD DVD was as comforting as betting all your money on black. Backwards compatibility or not, this is no consolation to the roughly one million consumers who decided to “let it ride.”
Launched: November 1993
The Atari Jaguar may be a contender for what has got to be the most complicated user interface in the history of anything. The original Atari game console proudly succeeded with just a joystick and one button, while the Jaguar boasts a strange combination of what feels like a TV remote and a phone with a numeric keypad. What went wrong? While it had a few games worthy of snagging a dusty console for “old time’s sake,” including "Aliens vs. Predators" and "Doom," it generally didn’t live up to its 64-bit promises. Even more random was the inclusion of Virtual Light Machine software to produce…well…a virtual light display, similar to what you see in today’s music players for free. Maybe if Atari had stuck to producing better titles and a user-friendly controller, it wouldn’t need all the bells, whistles, and strangely-inspired strobe lights.
iPhone 3GS Battery
Launched: June 2009
Rabid fans of the iPhone 3G are either lining up to upgrade their now $99 phones to the more affluent and in-demand 3GS or looking for reasons (besides the price tag) to hold off. A recent rash of overheating 3GS batteries may be just the reason. The battery cell, which has been reported to cause high temperatures inside the phone (high enough to cause discoloration to light-colored handsets), is most likely the genesis of the issue, and the hot topic has forced many phone owners to question the lifespan and safety of their pricey new units. With no signs of the 3GS or battery being recalled in the near future, customers are left to wonder if their new phone will eventually become too hot to handle–which is not exactly a great tradeoff to the coveted copy-and-paste features most sought after in the new version of the iPhone.
Anything from Sega after the Genesis
Launched: Dreamcast 1998, Saturn Nov 1994
This is another sad story of gaming console sequels from solid companies that went nowhere fast. While not every gaming unit can be as wildly successful as its predecessors, the Genesis line of entertainment spawned two consoles that most non-gamers can’t even remember: The Dreamcast and the even more elusive Saturn. Japan managed to keep both units on life-support for a few years after their failure here in the United States, even offering 100 or more titles specific to the foreign market. However, U.S. fanboys who continued down the Sega road only to find the game releases to be brilliant but few and far between, eventually faced the inevitable demise of the Sega saga. No intriguing press coverage for the new systems and failing retailer support marked the end of the Dreamcast era, despite it being the first of its kind to offer Internet support and online gaming components. Sayonara, Sega.
Launched: September 2000
Where would we be without the atrocious Windows ME (Millennium)? We would be lacking inspiration for all of our “Blue Screen of Death” jokes, anyway. Perhaps the most-hated operating system from the long-line of royal Microsoft offerings, ME is almost the unanimous consumers’ choice for biggest fail. Users consistently report instability, difficulty downloading and installing even the most basic applications and drivers, and poor demand. Perhaps the biggest documented concern of the Windows bloatware was its bedding down with programs such Windows Media Player 7 and Movie Maker, which made ME feel more like a spyware bundle than a solutions suite. This lame duck system will forever be remembered as the welcoming end to the Windows 9x era and a cattle prod in the rush towards the much-loved XP operating system and Mac offerings.
FireFox 3.0 and Later
Launched: June 2008
We came, we saw, we loved. Recently, however, the open source solution that took Internet Explorer down a few thousand notches has displayed some disappointing traits. Dwindling support and upgrades to some of the best extensions and tools (such as FasterFox) and what feels like a constant barrage of new versions with little to no noticeable improvements, has shifted loyalty away from the popular browser and into the welcoming arms of rival products like Google Chrome and Opera. Nobody did tabbed browsing better than FireFox, but with all the new advancements in browsing taking the best pages from FireFox and leaving the not-so-great behind, we think that it will go down in history as the mother to all things wonderful about the Web experience. We still love the spirit and vigor with which FireFox continues to market and develop its product, and in an ideal world, it may snap out of it. For now, though, we wish the buggier version of the new kid on the block could keep up with its growing notoriety.
Samsung Blackjack II
Launched: December 2007
Owning a Samsung Blackjack has never been a status symbol, but consumers were reportedly happy with their units and maintained loyalty to their phones, even with the tiniest of QWERTY keyboards and a complete lack of WiFi capabilities. Why then did Samsung release the offspring of the low-key model, virtually duplicating efforts with the Blackjack II? Jokingly termed the “1.5” for its striking similarity to the original model, the Deuce had obvious upgrades that could potentially trump the original (such as camera megapixels and improved memory), but only for a price. With Windows Mobile 6 available for download on the first BlackJack, however, there was little incentive to plunk down the dollars for a redundant set of technologies in essentially the same phone. Samsung isn’t standing out as a leader in phones, anyway, but let’s call a spade a spade (or a jack a jack)–the Blackjack II was not a new model, but rather a patch for the older Blackjack at a significant cost to consumers.
Microsoft's Seinfeld Ad Campaign
Launched: September 2008
What do you get when you combine a powerhouse computer-tech company with a megastar like Jerry Seinfeld? Not much, apparently. This ad campaign was hyped way in advance of the initial airing of segments, which featured Jerry in awkward, everyday interactions with Bill Gates. Shoe-shopping spots and generally lazy conversation hoped to inspire a casual conversation about characters but had nothing to do with computing. The ads were “pulled” (or rather run like previews, as planned) early on in their career and led viewers to expect little from a $10 million talent fee and a cameo appearance of the Microsoft giant himself. Perhaps the time, talent, and dollars used to create this marketing blunder could have been used to fix general operating system bugginess, Microsoft customers said. Whatever they do with the money, we’ll be anxiously awaiting the continuation of the “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC” campaign. Now, that’s entertainment!
Remember the golden years, when Ebay users could bid on real auctions and taste the excitement of snagging a good deal on little-known offerings and expanding their collections of whatever, whenever? Thanks to the explosion of “Buy it Now” auctions and Ebay storefronts, the bidding experience is stale, prices are static, and Ebay makes more money than ever. What incentive does a seller have to start an auction low enough to attract bidders? Lower listing fees, for one. But with Ebay taking even more out in accompanying PayPal fees and a saturated market on most products, sellers are scrambling to list high and inflate shipping costs to break even on many sales. If sniping software and proxy bidding by unknown “private” accounts aren’t enough to send customers sprinting to Amazon’s Marketplace sellers and Craigslist ads, the new feedback system (penalizing sellers but not buyers) will. The auction block has officially met the chopping block.
Norton AntiVirus 360
Launched: February 2007
Picking up a full version of this highly-anticipated, all-in-one solution for a PC was supposed to end all of your security woes with a simple installation and registration process. What resulted for many users was an assault of extra utilities, slower computing speed, and restricted access to the most useful features of the Internet. While we appreciate Norton’s attempt to keep surfers safe from the dangers that lurk online, it deemed itself more of a helicopter parent than a customizable suite of spam and virus-fighting weaponry. For those who chose to keep freeware options like Adaware and Spybot Search and Destroy open for filling in the gaps, overlapping utilities seem to heap a pile of unnecessary garbage onto a computer’s already suffering memory load. Norton should stick to what it does best: virus identification and eradication, leaving the extras to the user to load, apply, and discern. Users should also back away from the $80 price range for Norton “solutions” in the future.
Dell Mini 9
Launched September 2008
With many major annoyances that have already been worked out in version 10 of the tiny Dell that couldn’t, this much-hyped little laptop gave users big headaches with some of its small-space design. The most aggravating glitch was a purposefully-placed apostrophe key where it didn’t belong–two rows down near the space bar. What did this mean for users who were successful in fitting their over-sized mitts on the diminutive keypad? Hitting Enter every time you meant to type an apostrophe…which is not cool for those of us who learned our home-row typing and like it. Scrolling on the touchpad was also a nightmare, as you were limited to scrolling only on the right edge of the ridiculously-sized track pad to get results. While we don’t expect everything rolled into a low-priced mini version of a laptop, it probably isn’t asking too much to be able to use a laptop as well as a cell phone or a small calculator. This version, however, made hunt-and-peck on the iPhone seem like a welcome chore.
While not everyone will agree that these 15 were the worst, there are some across-the-board characteristics that put them squarely in the running for the “sequels that shouldn’t have been.” Themes that we heard for many include:
- Lame duck technologies: These are platforms or upgrades that were used to pacify users who weren’t happy with existing technologies, but couldn’t wait for the newest of features to be released. Grabbing our money in the meantime while they work out the bugs isn’t cool. Many of us are now wise to these practices.
- Not offering support for technologies: Many of those on our list weren’t that bad, but customer support from the manufacturer was practically non-existent. What does a consumer do when he or she needs help with a product and can’t get it? Most likely leave it by the side of the road.
- Limiting product to the technology: With gaming systems, specifically, we’ve seen a fabulous system die an early death when no quality games or accessories are offered. Fewer than 100 good games for any one system is not a good sign (and a bargain bin explosion is even worse).
- Technologies that limit the user-designed experience: Most PC-users don’t want to be told what they can and can’t do, so bundling services and limited access to customize them is always a bad idea. Making features too complicated to disable or that require programming backgrounds to achieve their full potential is insulting to consumers and a surefire way to guarantee brand abandonment.