Today we are surrounded by an infinite number of products. Now, these include non-tech as well as tech products.
And in this blog, I am going to write about tech products. But I won’t be talking about successful products but the ones that failed.
Everyone remembers a successful story, but few remember a failure story. And you get to learn a lot from these failure stories.
Well, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of these products, but they were awesome.
Then why did these awesome products fail? Let’s uncover the reasons behind it.
Failed products of big brands
I am going to cover the following products.
- Google Glass
- Apple Newton MessagePad
- Microsoft Zune
- Amazon Fire Phone
Google wanted to revolutionize the wearable technology space and they developed a smart product – Google Glass.
Well, this is not an ordinary glass that people like me 🤓 wear every day. It’s a voice and motion-controlled device that displays information right in front of the user’s eyes.
Now this sounds crazy!
This wearable technology was way ahead of its time when Google launched it in 2014. Google took the initiative of bringing the most evolved technology measure to mankind.
The idea behind Google Glass was great. Imagine you wearing Google Glass and searching for anything on the internet with your voice command, isn’t it cool?
But, here comes the catch. Google thought that this product would be a massive success, however, it couldn’t live up to customer’s expectations.
The execution and development of the product weren’t top-notch, which led to criticism from tech geeks and journalists.
Instead of solving the user’s problems it caused a number of problems and wasn’t performing as planned.
So, how did a revolutionary product fail? Let’s find out.
Health & Safety Issues
Concerns were raised over Google Glass even before its launch. Google Glass constantly emits harmful carcinogenic radiation close to the head.
Other products also emit these radiations, but they don’t make direct contact with our skin.
Google Glass had a built-in camera which could capture images at any time. This raised privacy and piracy concerns.
The camera would start recording or capturing pictures randomly without the other person’s knowledge.
The cost of Google Glass turned out to be one of the main factors behind its failure. Google launched the product at a whopping price of $1,500.
The price didn’t justify what Google Glass was offering to the customers. The expensive price disappointed the people, but Google didn’t lower the price.
As you know there are so many different languages that people like you and me speak. But it seems Google forgot this basic thing.
Google Glass worked properly with native English speakers like American English and British English. But the device couldn’t recognise other languages or accents.
So, it was evident that people from other regions where English is not prominent won’t purchase the product.
If you recorded a short video the device would excessively heat due to its intensive computation. This resulted in a huge battery drain and a shorter battery life span.
Once the device was fully charged it could be used for 4 hours. This meant you would have to charge it many times throughout the day.
And guess what the device would be useless when it’s discharged. (Just like Pythagoras’ Theorem is in our life).
People to Google Glass:
Well, you read about its features and exorbitant pricing but now let’s talk about its marketing.
When Google Glass’ first version was launched it wasn’t sold in retail stores. It was exclusively sold to “Glass Explorers”.
These “Glass Explorers” had to pay $1,500 to be called “early adopters”. And this group mainly consisted of tech geeks and journalists who were not their primary target audience.
As I mentioned earlier, these people criticised the product heavily. Google also collaborated with celebrities, but it was of too little help.
This bad marketing resulted in the failure of Google Glass.
Now let’s move on to the next product, shall we?
Apple Newton MessagePad
In 1992, Apple announced that it is going to revolutionize the computer industry by launching a pocket-sized computer.
Computers that could easily fit into your pockets and use them on the go. And this device was launched in 1993. (I wasn’t even born at that time).
The MessagePad was quite similar to the smartphones we use today, but with limited features. And Apple also coined it as a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA).
The device could take notes, store contact details, and manage calendars. And it was also used to send faxes.
The device came with a stylus which was used to write on the screen. And it had a wonderful feature that could translate handwriting into text.
Now let’s get to know the idea behind this product in brief.
In early 1991 Michael Tchao pitched the idea of the Newton MessagePad to Apple’s CEO John Scully on an airplane. John Scully was impressed with the idea.
But Scully suggested one thing to keep its size small.
“The number 1 requirement was that it had to fit in John Scully’s pocket”, Gavin Ivester, Newton’s Industrial Design Head.
Apple had a first-mover advantage as handheld computers were still the stuff of science fiction. But Apple failed to reap the benefits.
How? Well, here are the reasons.
Apple announced the plans of the Newton PDA in 1992. Following this several competitors came up with their countering devices.
These events made Apple restless and sped up Newton’s launch in 1993. This resulted in an incomplete product that couldn’t function properly.
Even after knowing this, Apple started shipping them to retail stores. And this was an invitation to a disaster.
This was Newton’s killer feature, albeit it worked poorly. The software was supposed to recognise whole words written by the user. But it failed to translate the exact words and turned them into a random text.
Eventually, handwriting recognition got better but this feature probably killed the product. Even “The Simpsons” also mocked the unreliable handwriting in one of the episodes.
Apple being the first mover required so much research and development, making Newton MessagePad more expensive.
The 4.5 * 7 inch MessagePad was priced at around $700. And people were reluctant to pay $700 as they couldn’t understand how to use the product.
Design and Memory
The MessagePad was too large and heavy to be pocket-friendly. This made it difficult to use the device on the go.
The device came with only 140 kb of user storage. Apple used a reduced flash memory and also integrated the multi-tasking function. This further slowed down the processing speed.
If the user wanted additional storage space, they had to purchase 1 MB, 2 MB, and 4 MB flashcards.
All these features made it a poor product. Even Steve Jobs hated it. (FYI – At that time Steve Jobs wasn’t working at Apple).
He literally mocked the stylus input mechanism.
Jobs said, “God gave us ten styluses, pointing to our fingers, let’s not invent another one”.
When Jobs took back control of Apple, he shut down the production of Newton.
10 years of development, more than $100 million spent and it all went in vain.
This is all about the Apple Newton MessagePad. But I want to ask you one question.
Do you remember the Apple iPod? If yes then here’s another failure story of a big brand that tried to copy the iPod.
In 2006 Microsoft released Zune 30, a competition to Apple iPod 5 years after its launch. They also released the Zune Marketplace similar to iTunes Store.
In the 2000s, there was a massive craze for MP3 players, thanks to the enormous success of the iPod. Many tech companies were desperate to create their version of the Apple iPod.
Microsoft also jumped in the race, albeit they entered quite late. They entered the MP3 players market when other companies were way too ahead.
And Microsoft paid a heavy price with a failed product in its coffers.
“Microsoft ended up chasing Apple with a product that actually wasn’t a bad product, but it was still a chasing product, and there wasn’t a reason for somebody to say, oh, I have to go out and get that thing”, Robbie Bach, Former Zune Leader at Microsoft.
If Zune was a good product, then how did it fail? Let’s find out.
Incorrect Market Analysis
Microsoft failed to do a proper market analysis. They assumed that they could grab a significant market share in the MP3 player market.
But, the iPod was much stronger than other companies with a large market share. This incorrect assumption cost Microsoft as Zune failed to capture even 10% of the MP3 market share.
Behind the competitors
When Zune was launched in 2006, Apple had established themselves as the undisputed industry leader.
To make it worse, in 2007 Apple released their first-generation iPhone and the iPod Touch.
iPod Touch is almost similar to the iPhone but without a calling feature. Now tell me who would want to purchase Microsoft Zune, when Apple was offering top-class features?
And then, the iPhone came with a built-in MP3 player, so demand for standalone MP3 players started to diminish.
Failed to Understand Audience Demands
As I mentioned earlier, Zune was a carbon copy when it came to features. But Microsoft failed to innovate by solving any problem faced by users.
The Zune lacked an innovative design, it was bulky and came with an unappealing color like brown. Well, I don’t remember coming across a tech product with a brown color.
Many iPod users were facing some issues and were expecting the problems to be solved in future iPod models.
Microsoft had the opportunity to listen to Apple users and implement their needs into Zune. But they didn’t utilize this golden opportunity.
Robbie Bach highlighted one critical aspect, Zune’s lack of adequate marketing. The ad campaigns didn’t target the right audience and confused the potential customers.
Microsoft failed to give customers a reason to pick Zune over other MP3 players. In 2012, Microsoft didn’t have any option but to shut down the production of Zune and Zune Marketplace.
Finally, Zune failed to find its tune.
Now moving on to our last product.
Amazon Fire Phone
As you must be aware that Amazon is an eCommerce company with a global presence. And I am sure you must have purchased something from Amazon at some point in time.
Moreover, they also have their own products and services like Amazon Kindle, Prime, Echo, Alexa, and many more.
But did you know that Amazon had launched its smartphone, the Amazon Fire Phone?
After reading this name, I thought of the ‘Fire Paan’.
Now you must be like when did Amazon launch its smartphone, well even I got to know while researching for this blog.
The Amazon Fire Phone was launched in the markets in July 2014. Amazon’s intention was to become the next big smartphone by competing with industry giants Apple and Samsung.
And I was like:
Jokes apart, there was plenty of hype leading up to Fire Phone’s release. After all, Amazon’s other products like Kindle and Echo were quite popular among customers.
Even being popular didn’t work in favour of Amazon. The Fire Phone flopped badly. It seemed like no one wanted to purchase it.
So, why didn’t people purchase it? Well, here are some reasons.
The Amazon Fire Phone had a 3D display, which I am pretty sure no one has heard off.
They invested an excessive amount of time and resources in designing a 3D display for the phone. The feature was mostly useless.
The phone also has 5 front cameras and eye-tracking technology. Now, who wants 5 front cameras, 1 or a maximum of 2 cameras are sufficient to get a perfect selfie. (Look, who’s talking about selfies 😏).
The features were cool but the customers didn’t ask for them. And if no one needs it then who’s gonna purchase it?
Barcode Scanning Technology
This feature was so interesting. Amazon became the first company to offer Barcode Scanning Technology in a smartphone.
This feature allowed customers to scan any product’s barcode through its camera and then purchase it from Amazon. If you love shopping then this was a saviour for you.
But there were some flaws in this technology.
Amazon assumed that customers would purchase products on Amazon rather than simply purchase them from the shop.
And at that time, they overlooked the fact that customers preferred desktop over mobile phones for online shopping.
So, this brilliant feature didn’t resonate with the people.
Amazon Fire Phone came with its own operating system, Fire OS, based on Android 4.2. The OS also had applications like Amazon AppStore, Amazon Video, Amazon Music, Amazon Silk Browser, etc.
These apps were similar to android apps, but users couldn’t access some of the most popular Google and android apps.
They assumed that app developers would develop apps for the fire phone, but most developers didn’t build apps as there were no incentives for them.
Notably, Google Play Store had more than 1 million apps, whereas Amazon AppStore had only 2,40,000+ apps.
The Fire Phone was launched at $199 for a 2-year contract with AT&T. And the off-contract price was $650. The price was on par with Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy.
Amazon has a history of undercutting its competitors on everything, so it came as somewhat of a surprise.
But 6 weeks later the cost was cut from $199 to $0.99. And the off-contract price went from $650 to $130 in August 2015.
Amazon failed to understand its customer’s wants and needs resulting in heavy losses.
Failures teach us some valuable lessons.
So, what are the lessons that we can learn from these 4 product failures?
First, do a thorough market analysis and understand your customer’s needs and wants.
Second, see if your product is solving the problems faced by the customer.
Third, reach out to your prospective customers and help them understand how your product is useful to them.
Fourth and the last point, have a strong marketing strategy in place. If you don’t know how to build a powerful marketing strategy then read our blog.
And don’t make these mistakes while building and selling your product to customers.
That’s it from my side.