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The top 10 embarrassing tech flops of 2012

December 29, 2012|By Salvador Rodriguez and Deborah Netburn

As 2012 comes to a close we take a look back at the biggest "oops" moments of the last year. Whether it was an advertising misstep (Facebook's "Chair" commercial), or a product released before it was ready (Apple Maps), or just an idea that was ill-received (homeless men as Wi-Fi hotspots), we tried to compose a list of the times when the major players lost control of the narrative. 

It's also a reminder that everyone makes mistakes--even exacting tech companies. 

1. Apple Maps fiasco

How bad was it when Apple replaced Google Maps with its own mapping system on iOS 6? Well, a Tumblr blog showing Apple Maps' biggest fails emerged days after the release, and Apple chief executive Tim Cook issued an apology and suggested iOS 6 users download alternate mapping tools. Then in December, Australian police accused Apple Maps of stranding motorists in a national park, shaming the company once again.

2. Path privacy breach

It all started when Arun Thampi, a programmer in Singapore, blogged that the app for the social network Path was downloading his entire address book—including names, email addresses, and phone numbers--without asking his permission. The tech blogs took the story and ran with it, and before long, Path had a major publicity issue on its hands. Eventually, company founder Dave Morin issued an apology, and updated the app so users can opt in or out of sharing their contact list.

3. Facebook IPO

When Facebook went public in May, many people bought its stock thinking they’d strike it rich quick. Many thought the IPO would be the most successful since Google went public in 2004. After a few hours of gains, the stock slid back to its opening price, but concerns over Facebook’s position on the mobile platform kept the slide going for the next few months. The stock seems to have finally stabilized and has made gains since bottoming out, but it’s still more than $10 below its $38 opening day price.

4. Nokia's fake photos

Nokia impressed quite a few people when it announced its latest flagship phone the Lumia 920 in September. Specifically, a Web ad showing the phone’s video recording and night-photographing capabilities made the Lumia 920 noteworthy. Unfortunately, Nokia’s positive press coverage went away when it was discovered the footage and photos used in the ad were not actually taken by the phone. In the end, Nokia had to issue an apology and label the video as a simulation.

5. Instagram

Instagram felt the wrath of its user base after announcing new terms of service that said the social network could let companies pay to use people’s photos for ads that would run within Instagram. That angered a lot of the service’s users, who began threatening to leave Instagram and take their photos with rival apps. Within days, Instagram caved to users’ demands and reverted back to its older terms of service.

6. Research In Motion

The last year has been a tough one in general for Research In Motion, filled with plenty of embarrassments. For starters, the company failed to deliver on its goal of releasing BlackBerry 10, the next version of its mobile operating system, before the year’s end and delayed the software multiple times. So what did the Canadian company do to keep developers from leaving? It gathered several senior executives for an embarrassing cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You,” with words changed to entice developers not to lose faith on the BlackBerry platform. Then, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins and a company vice president were spotted at a Lakers game with what were believed to be new BlackBerry 10 phones. It seemed the CEO was making a sneaky attempt at getting some free shots of his upcoming device in the press.

7. Oprah’s Surface tweet

The Microsoft Surface got one of the best endorsements any product can get when Oprah Winfrey tweeted about how much she loved the tablet and had already bought 12 of them as holiday gifts. Unfortunately for Microsoft, though, it was quickly discovered that Oprah sent the tweet using an iPad. The embarrassing endorsement, though probably still helpful, highlighted the biggest issue about the product: its lack of apps, including a Twitter app. 

8. The Facebook chair

In October, Facebook announced it had reached 1 billion monthly users. To celebrate, the company released its first ad, comparing Facebook to….chairs. “Chairs are for people,” a heartfelt voice over tell us, “and that is why chairs are like Facebook.” The toilet-themed parody was inevitable and swift. After all, toilets are for people too.

9. Homeless people as Wi-Fi hotspots:

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