Digital Crave

13 scary tech moments in history

Marc Saltzman
Digital Crave

With Halloween nearly upon us, we thought it would be fun to look back at a few “scary” moments over the past 13 years in consumer technology, be it disastrous products, disturbing trends or frightening data breaches.

By no means is this a complete list, but a fun few that might ring a bell and send a shiver up your spine.

RealPlayer (2000)

It’s often cited as the most intrusive Internet media player out of all, with enough pop-up messages, nag screens, compatibility checks, registry rewrites and version updates to drive you absolutely mad. It’s better than it used to be, but still a pet peeve among many web users.

DigiScents iSmell (2001)

We’re not quite ready for smell-o-vision just yet, it seems. In theory, this USB-based PC peripheral emitted scents into the air when visiting specific websites or while playing computer games, such as smelling roses at or whiffing gun powder in Call of Duty, but the concept stunk to investors who pulled the plug on funding.

Nokia N-Gage (2003)

Mario, move over? Hardly. While the idea isn’t a bad one – a mobile phone that doubled as a gaming device – except the game cartridges were pricy at about $50 apiece, memory management issues (that let to freezes, crashes and the inability to start the phone at times), plus you had to hold the taco-shaped device on its side to talk on the phone (spawning many online “side-talking” video parodies). As a result, the Nokia N-Gage only sold a fraction of the phones, before killing it altogether.

WhyCry (2004)

As its name suggests, this $99 handheld electronic monitor allegedly identifies the reasons why a baby is crying and display the cause as one of five reasons: hungry, bored, annoyed, sleepy or stressed. Problem is, how do you know if it’s accurate?

Oakley Thump (2005)

Not sure what’s worse: paying $500 for a pair of outdated sunglasses or buying a pair with a built-in MP3 player that can’t hold a lot of music -- and with uncomfortable earbuds? You’d get both if you fell for the Oakley Thumps in ‘05. Oh, and what if you want to listen to music at night or while inside?

Sony BMG Music CDs (2005)

Sticking a CD with Sony BMG’s copy protection software installed a rootkit, invisible to antivirus and antispyware software, capable of turning your PC into a hacker’s paradise. As if the CD industry wasn’t hurting enough.

HD DVD (2006)

It was like Betamax and VHS all over again. Backed by Toshiba, HD DVD lost out to Blu-ray in the high-definition disc wars in the middle of the last decade – even though the format was less expensive to invest in. Proving it pays to wait until the dust settles, you wasted your money if you bought a HD DVD player (or the add-on drive for Xbox 360) and perhaps a few HD DVD movies.

Windows Vista (2007)

Ah, what a way to start off the year. In January of 2007, Microsoft released its newest operating system with much fanfare. Problem was, there were multiple privacy and security issues, a lack of driver support for hardware devices and software compatibility issues, and overall performance troubles. Not only did this bungled launch prove to be a PR nightmare but it seriously tainted the Microsoft brand – just as its main competitor Apple was gaining ground.

Palm Foleo (2007)

After losing market share in the shrinking PDA market, Palm desperately needed a comeback – but a planned $700 10-inch screen that wirelessly communicates with your cell phone so you can read and edit documents wasn’t the solution. In fact, the product was cancelled in early September of 2007 – just three months after it was announced.

User Account Control (2007)

I understand what Microsoft was trying to do here – this Windows Vista “feature” was an effort to deliver a more secure operating system, but with User Account Control turned on (it is by default), every time you do something, like install a program, you'll need to click through a series of boxes to ensure you have the administrator authorization to do so.

PlayStation Network data breach (2011)

In April of 2011, Sony’s online video game network suffered a massive security breaches that included the names, usernames, addresses, passwords, birth dates and possibly credit card information belonging to about 77 million users. Considered one of the biggest data break-ins in history, Sony was later fined over the “preventable” PSN hack.

HP's woes (2011)

Just ahead of its Q3 conference call in August of 2011, HP confirmed it would be discontinuing its just-launched TouchPad tablet and all webOS phones. HP had acquired Palm and the industry was abuzz about the potential of HP’s hardware and a Palm platform to power them, but this wasn’t to be. In fact, the $499 TouchPad quickly dropped down to a $99 fire sale. To make matter worse, HP said it was looking to spin off its computer division and then retracted the statement.

BlackBerry management shuffle (2012)

The good news: Research in Motion (RIM) co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie finally stepped down from the beleaguered BlackBerry maker. The bad news: New boss Thorsten Heins says he didn’t “think significant change [was] needed” at the company. The sound of a million investors slapping their foreheads echoed around the world.

There’s a lot here we didn’t cover, such as the BlackBerry PlayBook, 3DTVs and TwitterPeak. So, what;’s your “worst tech” pick over the past decade or so?

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