The line between a successful product or company and an unmitigated disaster can often be traced back to a single decision. In tech history, there have been many decisions that led to great success, but there have been even more bad decisions that killed products, companies, and careers.
It’s easy to remember the good decisions in history—like Apple re-hiring Steve Jobs in 1996. Bad decisions, on the other hand, can often be forgotten or go totally unnoticed. There are certainly tons of bad decisions that never saw the light of day, but we’ve highlighted ten fairly high-profile decisions that didn’t turn out well.
1 Nokia Chooses Windows Phone Over Android
Nokia enjoyed over a decade of being the largest mobile phone maker in the world. However, by the early 2010s, the iPhone and Android were taking a huge chunk out of Nokia’s market share. In fact, Samsung passed Nokia in 2010 on the back of Android.
Instead of hopping on the Android train themselves, Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop decided the company should partner with Microsoft and produce smartphones with the Windows Phone OS. Elop vetoed the idea of switching to Android, claiming the company wouldn’t be able to differentiate itself from other Android vendors.
Nokia Lumia devices truly had some of the best hardware of the time, but they were always held back by Windows Phone. Nokia may not have ultimately been able to compete with Samsung, but it would have fared much better with an operating system that had the apps people wanted to use.
2 Microsoft Releases a Chatbot Trained by the Internet
Long before ChatGPT came along, Microsoft was experimenting with a very different type of chatbot. On March 23, 2016, Microsoft unveiled a Twitter chatbot named “Tay.” Less than 24 hours later, Microsoft took Tay down. It was an unmitigated disaster.
Tay was intended to improve Microsoft’s understanding of conversational language. It was designed to talk like a teen, infamously described by Microsoft as, “AI fam from the internet that’s got zero chill!” Yikes. The problem is Tay learned by having conversations with people on Twitter, and it didn’t take long for it to be corrupted.
The nail in Tay’s coffin was the fact that it would repeat what you tweeted if you said, “repeat after me.” This resulted in tons of screenshots of Tay saying horrible things floating around the internet. As it turns out, giving the internet essentially free reign to train a chatbot is not a good idea. Who knew?!
3 Blockbuster Turns Down Chance to Buy Netflix
Blockbuster first opened shop in 1985, and it operated over 9,000 stores around the world by 2004. However, trouble was lurking for the company several years before it reached its peak. New technology was making physical rentals an outdated concept, and Blockbuster completely whiffed on its chance to evolve.
In September 2000, Blockbuster CEO John Antioco met with Netflix co-founders Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph. Netflix wasn’t catching on fast enough to be profitable, but the company had turned down an offer to be acquired by Amazon. They thought Blockbuster would be a better fit, but Blockbuster did not return the feelings.
Antioco asked what the Netflix guys were thinking for a price, and Hastings said, “50 million.” According to Randolph, the Blockbuster CEO was visibly holding back laughter after hearing the number. The company did not accept the offer, and the rest is history. Big oof.
4 Apple Redesigns the MacBook Keyboard
In 2015, Apple introduced a redesigned keyboard for the MacBook called the “Butterfly Keyboard. It was supposed to be thinner, quieter, and more responsive than the previous scissor-switch keyboard. However, users immediately had issues with the keyboard, such as sticky, repeating, or unresponsive keys.
In true Apple fashion, the company offered free repairs and apologies but did not admit to any design flaw. Apple tried to address the issues with several revisions, but it stuck with the butterfly mechanism all the way until 2019, when it brought back the scissor-switch mechanism. The butterfly keyboard was phased out by 2020.
But Apple’s decision had lasting impacts. The company settled a class-action lawsuit related to the butterfly keyboard and agreed to pay $50 million to eligible MacBook users who had their keyboards repaired. The settlement was approved by a US judge in 2021, and payouts of up to $395 started rolling out in 2023.
5 Google Tries to Create Hype With Google+ Invites
Google has had a few attempts at social networks over the years, but Google+ is easily the most well-known. It was launched by Google in 2011, aiming to compete with other platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Google had some fresh ideas, such as “Circles,” which allowed users to organize their friends in a way that couldn’t be done on other social media platforms.
Despite having hundreds of millions of accounts, Google+ never had many more active users than Twitter (which is much less than you think). The company tried to improve Google+ by releasing multiple updates and redesigns, but it always suffered from the network effect. And people hated how much Google was pushing the service into other Google products, like YouTube comments.
Google+ was eventually shut down in 2019 after a series of security breaches that exposed the personal data of millions of users. The decision that may have hurt Google+ the most was the invite-only status at launch. While it created a lot of hype, it ultimately limited who people could follow when first signing up. If your friends are still somewhere else, are you going to keep using a new platform?
6 Amazon Thinks People Want a Fire Phone
Amazon was (and still is) having a lot of success with its Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets, so in 2014, the company decided to venture into the smartphone market. The Amazon Fire Phone was launched exclusively on AT&T on July 25, 2014.
The Fire Phone had a few unique features that set it apart from other smartphones. First and foremost, it had four front-facing cameras that worked with the gyroscope for a feature called “Dynamic Perspective.” The UI moved to match your head placement. The Fire Phone also included the company’s “X-Ray” feature and a Google Lens-like “Firefly product identifier.
People liked the Dynamic Perspective feature, but the phone was otherwise panned for poor build quality, low-end specifications, and bad user experience. Amazon stopped making the phone less than a year later, and a sequel never happened. It was a very predictable outcome for many people in the tech community.
7 Silicon Valley Falls in Love With Quibi
Quibi was a short-form streaming platform that launched in April 2020 and shut down in December 2020. It was founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman and raised $1.75 billion from investors, but—yes, those above dates are correct—it crashed and burned in less than a year.
Like many failed products, Quibi aimed to target a younger demographic. It had big Hollywood names attached to its shows and sold out its first year of advertising inventory. However, it struggled to gain popularity and user engagement. It turns out you need more than vertical video to attract young people.
Quibi’s failure was the result of countless bad decisions in the Silicon Valley echo chamber. Almost everyone on the outside knew Quibi was going to fail. It wasn’t hard to see.
8 HP Makes a Mess of WebOS
HP acquired Palm and WebOS in April 2010 for $1.2 billion. The company wanted to use WebOS on everything from smartphones to printers. Palm had always been a relatively small company, so the idea of a big brand like HP putting its weight behind WebOS was an exciting proposition. Sadly, it started off poorly and ended even worse.
First, HP announced that the Palm Pre, Palm Pixi, and their “Plus” variants would not receive WebOS 2.0, despite previously saying they would. Then came the infamous HP TouchPad, which was a massive flop. Just one month after the tablet’s launch, HP announced it would discontinue all WebOS devices, and the TouchPad was put on a “firesale” price of $99.
In 2013, two years after the debacle of the TouchPad, HP sold WebOS to LG for use on smart TVs. The once darling child of the tech community had been relegated to a barely recognizable TV interface. Would Palm have been successful on its own? Probably not, but HP sure accelerated its demise.
9 Netflix Splits off DVD Rentals as “Qwikster”
Netflix originally started in 1997 as a service for renting DVDs by mail. Ten years later, it got into streaming, and in July 2011, the company decided to split off the DVD rental business into a separate service called “Qwikster.” The move was met with instant outrage by customers.
What angered customers the most was the sneaky price hike that came with the separate services. Before the split, it was $10 per month for DVDs and streaming. After the split, you had to subscribe to both services separately if you wanted DVDs and streaming, which made the overall price $16 per month.
Just three months after the split was announced, Netflix reversed its decision. DVD rentals and streaming would remain under the “Netflix” brand. However, the price hike remained in place—$16 per month for both services. In September 2023, Netflix’s DVD service was ended for good.
10 Digg Rolls Out a Massive Redesign
In early 2010, Digg was humming along with 37-44 million unique visitors per month. Getting a link on the Digg homepage meant massive traffic, so much that it would often crash websites. It was one of the most popular websites on the internet, but a storm was coming.
On August 25, 2010, Digg v4.0 was released. The massive redesign came with a lot of bugs, and many of the small features that were important to power users were removed—a bad group to annoy. The “bury” (downvote) button was replaced with a “hide” button, which essentially neutered user’s ability to “bury brigade” stories they didn’t like. The users felt like their influence on the site had been downgraded in favor of big-name blogs and the owner’s buddies.
Digg’s traffic had already been declining in the summer of 2010, but the v4.0 redesign was the last domino to fall. Five days after the redesign rolled out, users organized a “Quit Digg Day,” where they upvoted all links from Reddit, flooding the front page with links to its top competitor. Oof.
While all of these decisions were bad in some capacity, some of them had longer-lasting impacts than others. The Fire Phone may have been a total dud of a product, but it had very little effect on Amazon as a company. The same can be said for Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix. Nokia, Blockbuster, Digg, Quibi, and WebOS, on the other hand, were not so lucky.