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Top 10 tech fails of 2013 [Photos]

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In the world of tech, failure is almost a badge of honor. It shows others in the industry that you've been through tough times but have learned from mistakes and are now primed for success.

Perhaps that's true, but it doesn't make failure any more enjoyable, unless you're on the outside looking in. In that case, tech failure can be down right hilarious.

This year was filled with some pretty big fails, and a surprising bunch of them have only happened recently — I'm looking at you, Yahoo. I give you the top 10 tech fails of 2013:

10. Google's "donkeygate"

Google turned a near-public-relations problem into the funniest tech story line of 2013 after its users spotted some Street View imagery in Botswana that seemed to show that a company car may have done a hit-and-run on a wild donkey. 

The Street View imagery in question showed a donkey standing in the distance, but as users navigated the imagery past the animal, the donkey is seen down on the ground after the Google car passes it up. The donkey looked as if it had been hit by the company's Street View car.

The Silicon Valley giant ended up having to post a blog explaining what exactly had happened, complete with visual evidence showing that no donkeys had been harmed in the making of its panoramic imagery.

"As our imagery below shows, the donkey was lying in the path — perhaps enjoying a dust bath — before moving safely aside as our car drove past. I’m pleased to confirm the donkey is alive and well," a Google employee said in the post.

9. iOS 7 install error causes Twitter panic

When Apple released iOS 7 in September — its first major redesign of its iPhone and iPad software — millions of its faithful users all tried to download it. The huge traffic resulted in errors for many users that prevented them from downloading the fresh software.

As users tend to do in 2013, many took to Twitter to express their frustration, churning out hilarious tweet after hilarious tweet. The frustration was so widespread, the situation could have been mistaken for the Apocalypse, as BuzzFeed demonstrated.

8. Windows 7 grows market share despite Windows 8.1 release

Microsoft is having the opposite problem of Apple.

In November, more of the company's users installed Windows 7 than they did Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 combined. The stat marked a slow start for Windows 8.1, which was launched in late October.

Microsoft users have been slow to move over to Windows 8 and 8.1, which feature a redesign that emphasizes the use of touchscreen devices. As a result, the more traditional Windows 7 continues to hold the largest market share of any version of Microsoft's software.

7. Twitter #Music quickly forgotten

It's a good thing Twitter scored a major hit with Vine otherwise the San Francisco company may have taken more heat for the failure that is Twitter #music.

The popular social network released Twitter #music for iOS early in 2013 as a way to help users discover music. But shortly after launching, the app fell out of Apple's list of the top 100 apps — usually a sign of failure when major companies release new apps.

Twitter never bothered making an Android version of the app and in October, AllThingsD reported that Twitter #music would be killed. That hasn't happened, but would anyone be surprised if it did?

6. Go Home, Facebook phone

After years of rumors that Facebook would release a smartphone of its own, the company teamed up with HTC in early 2013 to announce the HTC First and Facebook Home.

The HTC First was the hardware while Facebook Home was the software, which ran on top of Android and made Facebook the top priority on the device. Facebook was making a bold bet that users cared more about the social network than they did about all of the other apps on their devices.

Boy, was Facebook wrong.

Sales for the $99 HTC First at AT&T were so poor that the carrier quickly dropped its price to $0.99, practically begging customers to take the inventory. And once inventory did run out, AT&T did not restock the device.

Meanwhile, no one seemed to download Facebook Home, which could also be installed on a few Android phones other than the HTC First. And those who did download Facebook Home, quickly regretted it. The Google Play page for Facebook Home quickly became littered with one star ratings (the lowest possible) and comments from users who simply didn't enjoy the product.

5. Microsoft Surface fails to sell

Microsoft entered the tablet market with the Surface RT in late 2012 and the Surface Pro in early 2013. The Redmond, Wash., company was ready to take on bitter rival Apple and the dominant iPad. Things did not go well.

Halfway through the year, Microsoft announced that it had lost nearly $1 billion on unsold Surface tablets. Around that same time, the company began to heavily discount both versions of the device, and the price cuts kept going.

The original Surface tablets were doomed due to their steep prices and short-lasting batteries. The poor sales and the flaws prompted Microsoft to release the second generation of both tablets less than one year after the release of the Surface Pro.

4. BlackBerry in general

This was supposed to be the year of BlackBerry's come back. The company, which changed its name from Research In Motion one month into 2013, released radically improved new software and hardware in hopes of becoming relevant again in the U.S.

The improvements were substantial and welcome, but it was still a case of too little, too late. Despite releasing multiple new phones, BlackBerry was unable to compete with Apple, Google or even Microsoft and the Windows Phone platform.

The year proved a tough one for BlackBerry, which ultimately canned its CEO, nearly sold itself but ultimately didn't, and had its employees recruited by Apple and others.

It's unclear what the future holds for the once-proud Canadian company, but it doesn't look pretty. At least BlackBerry received a presidential endorsement, even if it was less than resounding.

3. Yahoo's ongoing mail fail

Yahoo was having an excellent 2013, but then came December.

The company put a huge stain on its year when an unspecified number of users lost access to their Yahoo Mail accounts for days. Starting late on Dec. 9, numerous users were unable to see their messages; by the next morning many had taken to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

Adding insult to injury, a report came out that said Jeff Bonforte, the head of Yahoo Mail, joked at a company meeting in November that Yahoo would have to hit its email users hard in a delicate spot before they left the service. Not surprisingly, many of those users complaining on Twitter during the December outage said they planned to switch email providers.

Ultimately, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was forced to issue an apology for the email outages, which had turned into a public relations disaster. Sadly, the apology did not mark the end of the problems. More than a week after the outages and days after Mayer's apology, users were still reporting problems.

2. Healthcare.gov debacle

The government isn't the most tech-savvy entity, and that's a big part of the reason why it ended up on this list. As part of the Affordable Care Act, the government rolled out Healthcare.gov in October, but users quickly flocked to the website, which was supposed to make it easier for users to shop by displaying insurance plans offered by different companies.

Instead, the website was slow and often crashed, making it impossible for users to sign up for plans using Healthcare.gov. Things have gotten so bad that finally last week the government announced that Kurt DelBene, a retired Microsoft executive, is taking over the management of the website.

The deadline to receive coverage by Jan. 1 is on Monday, which means the website is likely to continue to see huge traffic, bringing potential problems for users.

1. NSA surveillance leaks

Besides the Healthcare.gov website, the federal government makes it on this list as a result of the National Security Agency too.

In June, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor and Central Intelligence Agency employee, began leaking numerous classified documents to The Guardian and the Washington Post and other publications, revealing all kinds of surveillance programs by the NSA.

The programs ranged from PRISM — which gave the NSA access to the servers of top tech companies including Apple, Facebook and Google — to sending undercover agents into video games like World of Warcraft and Second Life.  

Snowden is currently in Russia under temporary asylum while more classified NSA programs continue to be published.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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