The 21 Biggest Tech Disappointments of 2011

It happens every year: the hype, the commercials, the anticipation building until finally, the day is upon us. No, we're not talking about Christmas. We're talking about product release dates, which like Christmas often involve a heady rush of excitement - and sometimes involve a heartbreaking let down worse than a gift of socks.

Perhaps it's particularly bad for tech writers because we're on the front lines, thrilled to have something new to handle and review and write about. Perhaps it's worse for consumers, who shell out their hard-earned cash to wind up with a dud. So, we've chosen twenty-one things to avoid, lest you wind up with a shoddy build, user experience or product. It's our gift to you, a no BS take on the things that crossed our desks, the things that didn't live up to our expectations, and the things that just plain shouldn't see the light of day (SOPA, we're looking at you).

As always, feel free to chime in with your picks in the comments section!

Google TV

Google TV should have changed the way we enjoy television , but misplaced priorities and inept execution doomed the ambitious initiative before it ever got off the ground. The boondoggle cost Google some prestige, but little cash. Logitech, on the other hand, took it right in the shorts . In July 2011, Logitech reported that returns of its Revue set-top box were outpacing sales. CEO Guerrino De Luca would later tell analysts that the company’s decision introduce a $299 product based on software that was "definitely not complete" was a “gigantic” mistake . If you still want one, Logitech is blowing them out at $99 each.

4G Networks

Apple pissed off disappointed a lot of folks when it shipped the iPhone 4S sans 4G-network support , but we’re in Apple’s corner on this one. The company should have quelled rumors to the contrary, but the fact remains that none of the so-called 4G networks on the market reach the international 4G standard for performance. ITU IMT-Advanced (International Mobile Communications Standard—Advanced) states that a 4G device will operate on an IP-based packet-switching network that delivers nominal data throughput of 100Mb/s for mobile communications (client devices in planes, trains, and cars), and speeds of 1Gb/s for relatively stationary clients. Today’s LTE networks don’t come close.

Windows Home Server 2011

Just how little does Microsoft care about Windows Home Server 2011? When we contacted the company’s PR firm about getting a copy of the OS for the balls-out Build It story in the Holiday 2011 issue of Maximum PC, they told us to download the free trial—we could hear the yawn right through the email. Microsoft’s decision to excise its Drive Extender technology, which made the original version so popular with hard-core consumers, made building a fault-tolerant system too expensive. You can’t even buy an OEM box today, and it’s damn shame because the software is rock solid.

Broadband Bandwidth Caps

“Don’t worry,” say the ISPs, “download caps will only affect the top two percent of our customers.” That might have been true before online services such as Netflix, HBO, Vudu, and others began streaming video; or before Apple, Amazon, Google, and others set up their cloud operations; or before Pandora, Slacker, and Rdo started streaming music; or… well, you get the picture. The ISPs know where the trends are headed, and they intend to soak us for all they can. How long will be before you count yourself in that “two percent?”

AMD Bulldozer

As the first really big redesign for AMD on its high-end chip, the FX aka Bulldozer proved to be both a disappointment and heartbreaker for many.

It’s been an awfully long time since the glory days of the Athlon, Athlon XP and Athlon 64. Many hoped AMD’s redesigned Bulldozer would finally put it back in contention with Intel’s parts but when the “eight” BD core hit, it didn’t exactly fire any shots over the bow of Intel’s own six-core chips. Hell, it didn’t even put a dent in the Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge chip, much less the new Sandy Bridge-E processors. Sure, there are issues with the scheduler in Windows 7 (similar problems occurred with Intel’s original Hyper- Threading chips too) that look to add a bit more pep to the chip but be that as it may, Bulldozer is still disappointing.


Native USB 3.0

USB 3.0 has been around for nearly two years now but still hasn’t made it into wide adoption by chipset makers.

We like integration of such vital I/O as USB 3.0 because it eliminates one more driver to install during a build. It also eliminates an extra part on the board (potentially making it cheaper) and integrated USB could potentially be faster and more reliable than discrete USB 3.0 vhipd. Of course, none of that really happened in 2011. Oh, sure AMD included it on one or two of its Llano chipsets but for the most part, native support for USB 3.0 didn’t show up for the party this year. Intel pushed out at least three chipsets for consumers and none had it. AMD’s top-end 900 chipsets also skipped out on USB 3.0 support. So what the frak is wrong?!? Are the conspiracy nuts right that Intel is sandbagging to favor Thunderbolt? We were actually starting to believe the paranoia but there is a glimmer of hope. Intel says it has received USB 3.0 certification for its upcoming chipsets but, frankly, we’ll believe it when we see it.

Thunderbolt

Intel’s Thunderbolt looked magical when released but lack of support from PC makers and lack of optical cabling is disappointing to say the least.

Is Thunderbolt shaping up to be the next-generation external I/O of the future or a sequel to the dying Firewire interface? That’s the ten thousand megabit question. One things for sure, Thunderbolt has been person incognito on the PC to date. Sure, Sony has it on a couple of notebooks but the top OEMs haven’t rushed to put the Intel/Apple standard in their rigs yet. Between the lack of ports in systems, exorbitant prices on the devices (if you can even find them) Thunderbolt has been nothing but a big bucket of disappointment for us all thus far and is quickly looking like a detour to dudesville.

X79 chipset

Something’s wrong when your motherboard has more DIMM slots than SATA ports

What is an enthusiast? Someone who would even consider putting the capital to build on Intel’s new X79 chipset for its Sandy Bridge-E CPUs. So when we saw the X79 boards bristling with SATA 6Gbps ports at IDF we knew the chipset was an enthusiasts chipset for storage too. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. At the very last minute, Intel decided to “defeature” support for the added SATA 6Gbps ports due to potential compatibility issues. The result was a motherboard chipset oozing with enthusiast features but kneecapped by lack of higher speed SATA ports. Sigh.

Dead Island


Remember when the very first CG trailer dominated the interwebs , garnering hype from all ends of the gaming world? Remember when we thought this was going to be the game that would make Left 4 Dead seem like childs play? Remember how exciting that was?

Dead Island wasn’t a bad game, but it wasn’t particularly good either. I mean, we like using a machete to electrically shock zombies to death as much as the next guy, but the game, like the island itself, just became tedious and out-right boring after a while. If you find yourself yawning while playing a zombie game, something’s terribly wrong. Either that, or you’re just an unphased bad ass. We’re going to go with the first option.

Duke Nukem Forever

We weren’t surprised it sucked. Be honest with yourself. You weren’t either. We all wanted Duke to make his grand return, but when a game gets caught in a development cycle as hectic as Duke’s , it’s just not going to happen, unfortunately.

Duke Nukem Forever was a terrible, terrible game . Even the 90’s aesthetic which we once found so humorous just wasn’t funny anymore. To their credit, the one thing the developers did right was preserve that ridiculous sense of ridiculousness—but it just felt stale. At the time, it was refreshing to see a game go to such lengths to disgust and shock the player . But we’ve got plenty of games that do that now, and do so in clever ways that also include innovating gameplay (Bulletstorm, anyone?). Sadly, Duke would’ve been better off being remembered fondly as the face anti-heroism in the 90’s. Instead, he’ll be remembered as one of the biggest misfires in gaming history. Bummer.


Android Tablets


Image credit: Techsalvos.com

The carnage began early in the year, when Motorola released the Xoom without a functioning SD card slot or Flash support —not that those are what would vault Android Tablets sky high, but it didn't help. Nor did it help that Google did not make its Android tablet OS, Honeycomb, open source . But in addition to the yawn-inducing vanilla-osity of most of the Android tablets released this year, the lack of quality tablet-optimized apps kept customers at bay, and the lack of tablet sales kept app developers away. The chicken or egg conundrum lives on.

It wasn't until Amazon and Barnes & Noble subsidized the hardware of their heavily-modified and limited Gingerbread tablets, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, in order to keep prices low that sales really took off, proving that the masses don't care about superior hardware specs. To make matters even lamer for real geeks, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing their damnedest to remove root access with their automatic updates.

The two great hopes for Android tablets, Ice Cream Sandwich (which unifies the Android OS for smartphones and tablets) and Asus' Transformer Prime (the only real Kick Ass Android tablet so far) have barely limped into availability in 2011 after release delays. Perhaps they should have bypassed this year altogether for a fresh start in 2012.

Everything Blackberry

Apparently, Research In Motion (RIM) was under the mistaken impression that if it didn't rush its Blackberry PlayBook to market even though it was missing the critical features of native email , calendar, and contacts support, that it would miss out on the overwhelming demand for non-iPad tablets. Not only did they miss the mark on that, but after tepid sales and two price cuts from $500 to $300 and $199 (for the 16GB model), RIM announced that the PlayBook would not be updated with those missing features until February 2012 , by which point the original PlayBook's hardware will be the subject of many an eye roll.

That wasn't even the biggest Blackberry fiasco of 2011. We'll bestow that honor on a three-day outage in October that disrupted the flow of data and services for millions of BlackBerry customers around the world. In the aftermath of that flub, customers rushed to sell their Blackberry handsets and a second service hiccup occurred in November.

But wait, there's more. In a misguided attempt to spread the consumerist insanity of Black Friday to southeast Asia, RIM's Indonesian CEO was charged with criminal negligence over a royally screwed up Blackberry Bold 9790 sale. More than 5,000 people caused a stampede for a 50% off sale that never happened. The way it was mishandled is so simultaneously ridiculous and sad that it has to be read to be believed.

A truck heist of 5,000 Playbooks last month was just the comic exclamation point to RIM's year.

Mother Nature

We hate to disparage Gaia this soon after the winter solstice, but Mother Nature didn't do too many favors for humanity primarily or the tech world secondarily in 2011. First there was the magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami off the coast of Sendai, Japan. Besides the incalculable damage to the people and environment of the surrounding area, worsened by the resulting class 7 (on par with Chernobyl) Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, the disasters forced the closure of key ports, airports and 22 manufacturing plants, including some for Sony. That disrupted the export of semiconductors, of which Japan makes 20 percent of the world's supply. Japanese industries also face the prospect of damaged export sales if the country decides to pay for the earthquake damage by selling US Treasuries, which would strengthen the yen as compared to the dollar.

The computer industry also faces massive disruption due to the severe flooding in Thailand that damaged HDD production facilities for Western Digital , Seagate , and Toshiba . Production won't return to pre-flood levels until well into 2012 . Hard drive prices have already risen dramatically, and there's no telling what the ceiling to those rising costs will be.

Tech Legislation

Zero just isn't a low enough number to represent our approval rating for Congress this year. Take a gander at this alphabet soup of foibles.

ACTA: the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement - Eight countries and the European Union have signed off on ACTA, which is derided as a heavy-handed attempt to shove US IP law like the DMCA down other countries' throats. Stipulations of ACTA include outlawing devices that circumvent copyright, extensive seizure of counterfeited goods, and undefined monetary rewards for victims of counterfeiting. ACTA will establish is own governing body outside of any current international institution.

AIA: The America Invents Act - Finally, some patent reform! Oh wait, it does nothing to prevent patent trolls, and doesn't address the glacial patent process or the low quality of too many patents. So, what does it do? It gives patents to the first to file, rather than the first to invent. Great.

SOPA: the Stop Online Piracy Act - You may be thinking that if any law could actually stop online piracy, our existing laws would cover it. You'd be right, but Congress doesn't really understand our beloved series of tubes. SOPA would essentially let corporate copyright holders request court orders to remove sites from the Internet if they infringe on copyrights, even if the alleged infringement comes in the form of user-generated content or comments. The orders would also prohibit advertisers and payment processing companies from doing business with the accused sites. Internet businesses and their users are in near solidarity against the act , yet it will continue to be debated when Congress reconvenes in 2012, setting them up for another banner year of failure if it passes.

H.R. 1981: Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act - Here's one that has to be awesome, because it protects kids, right? Unfortunately, it amounts to government-mandated surveillance of every American's Internet activity. It would require ISPs to keep a record of all of your activity for 18 months, which the government could then request without a search warrant. And it won't stop any child pornographers, who could just go and use the free Wi-Fi at McDonald's. That's probably where they're hanging out in the first place. The debate continues in 2012…

Netflix

Up until July 2011 it seemed like Netflix could do no wrong. The company had a loyal and growing subscriber base, it was steadily adding new content to its streaming library, and the stock price was nearing $300 per share. But after Netflix made the shocking announcement last summer that it would no longer offer its streaming service for free to DVD-by-mail customers, its good fortune began to unravel. Subscribers jumped ship in droves , the stock price plummeted, and Netflix simultaneously lost a key content partner in Starz. Granted, things could have looked a lot worse for the company right now if it had stuck to its follow-up plan of spinning off the DVD-rental business as Qwikster , but nevertheless the past several months have seen Netflix’ star seriously tarnished.

Amazon Prime


We so wanted to like Amazon Prime. On the surface it seemed like the perfect antidote to the blow we were dealt by Netflix’ price hike. After all, Prime offers a streaming library along with Amazon’s free two-day shipping program, for just $79 a year. That amounts to $1.34 a month less than Netflix’ streaming subscription. So what’s not to like? Well, if you thought Netflix’ streaming library was wanting, Prime’s is even less robust. You might not know that at first, because Amazon has a multitude of streaming content on offer, but once you start digging in, you realize that most of the good stuff has to be purchased a la cart. Rather than satisfying our urge to punish Netflix, Prime renewed our commitment to the bastard.

Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission’s guidelines governing the business practices of ISPs became law on November 20, 2011. But it wasn’t the triumph for consumers that was expected under “the people’s” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who initially had the full support of public interest groups. While the Net Neutrality rules dictate that ISPs disclose their network management practices and restricts them from discriminately blocking web content, they are much more lenient on wireless providers. The FCC was ultimately swayed by Google, Verizon , and the like that wireless web access requires different tools and technology, leaving those companies exempt from the requirement that they be “reasonable” in the use of packet discrimination and network management strategies.

Google+

What happened, Google+? You were supposed to be the service that freed us from the clutches of Facebook. Instead, we got a service that launched without an API and without the ability to create pages under anything but your real name. We’re still hoping Google+ will make a comeback, but it’s looking more and more like a ghost town.

HP’s Treatment of Palm

We’ve got some fond memory of early Palm devices, but it wasn’t a huge surprise when they were bought by HP in 2010. What WAS a huge surprise was HP’s manhandling of Web OS, the last good thing Palm had going for it. The company failed to do anything worthwhile with the OS, then waffled about selling off the division before finally deciding to just give up and make the whole thing open source.

iPhone 4S

No 4G? No NFC? No LTE/WiMax? Not really the handset we were expecting. With a lack of design innovation and issues with battery life and call quality appearing right off the bat , the iPhone 4S probably should have been allowed to cook a little longer (maybe until it grows into a healthy iPhone 5).

While the 4S did solve some of the issues that plagued the iPhone 4 (apparently you’re no longer holding it wrong), it was underwhelming at best with its main offering being an improved camera and Siri, the personal assistant. And considering what we just said about Siri… yeah. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Siri

You’ve seen the commericals: consumers effortlessly interacting with their phones using only their voices in order to get directions, assistance, reminders or to reply to text messages. Yes! You might be thinking. This is the next step! The new thing! A reason to buy a 4S!

Not so fast. Siri – which, in our humble opinion is short for “siri-ously useless” - doesn’t quite work as well outside of commercial –land where she’s had problems with accents, issues connecting to the network and caused security concerns. And she still won’t give you turn-by-turn navigation. Siri’s still in beta, which at least leaves room for increased performance down the road, but she’s got a long way to go.

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