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Top 10 tech turkeys of 2016: Exploding phones, falling drones

What’s worse, a phone that explodes in your face or a drone that falls from the skies?

It’s a question worth pondering as we embark on our annual list of the top tech turkeys of the year.

1) The Samsung Galaxy Note 7.  The Samsung Note 7 received rave reviews for wireless charging, water resistant design and the ability to unlock the phone with your iris. But weeks after the first shipments, consumers started reporting phones that were erupting in flames, causing damage to houses and cars. Samsung announced a re-call and a massive replacement— and then the new phones started blowing up, too. Samsung, which could be on the hook for as much as $10 billion in lost sales and recall charges, pulled the Note 7 altogether. We now await word from the company at January’s Consumer Electronics Show about what’s next.

2) Falling drones: GoPro’s Karma drone, its first, had so much going for it. For $1,100, you got a new GoPro Hero 5 camera, a grip stabilizer to bring drone-camera-like fluidity to land shots, and a backpack. I loved the video images from the Hero 5, and the ease of use of the drone controller was simple. Then consumers started showing  videos of Karma drones losing power mid-air, and GoPro announced a recall just two weeks after the initial release.

3) Missing Ports. Apple thought it could introduce a new iPhone successfully without a headphone jack, or even worse, new Macs with no slot to charge an….iPhone. Yes, there’s a workaround with little dongle adapters that are really easy to lose. But it’s a real turkey move for Apple to take away these basic consumer expectations and expect to get away with it.

4) Consumer-friendly 360: The handful of affordable 360-degree virtual reality cameras available are either so-so quality, or just too complicated for consumers. That includes the Ricoh Theta and 360Fly cameras, which are relatively easy to use but have just-OK video quality, or the new Nikon KeyMission 360, which has terrific 4K image quality, but is sorely lacking in simple set-up. (The Samsung Gear 360 will only record when paired with one brand of phone–the Galaxy). We’re still waiting for the breakthrough consumer 360 degree VR camera — 2016 wasn’t the year.

5) Charging woes: I love the idea of the Fitbit Blaze, a fitness watch that doesn’t try to do more than let you know about your heart rate, steps and the time. What I didn’t like was having to take the watch out of its frame to charge to an oddball doodad that was proprietary to the Blaze. The end result: I don’t wear it.

6) Bots: In April Facebook introduced a new way to have conversations with chat bots in Messenger as a way of reaching customer service quicker or to engage in e-commerce. Well, it must have seemed like a great idea to somebody. Even more notifications coming from an app associated with friends? And the experience is on par with computer trees on phone calls. Slow, maddening and ineffective.

7) “Sorry, I can’t help with that,”: Speaking of robots, we like the look and ($99 holiday) price of Google’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa in Google Home. But when it can’t even answer some of the questions Google suggests we try in its press materials (“List all my events on December 5th,” “Set Go to Gym alarm,”) you know this was a product that was released before it was ready.

8) Hey Siri, get it together. And keeping with the robot motif, this was supposed to be the year that Apple’s Siri was finally, ready for prime time, by opening it up to third-party apps in September. How’s that working for you iPhone users? Five years in, and Siri still misses more than she gets.

9) The Flying Camera That Never Saw Flight: The Lily Camera sounded like a dream come true. No flying skills needed, just throw it in the air and watch it fly and record your hikes, cycling and skating excursions. The Lily camera won a coveted CES innovation award in January, took in over $34 million in pre-sales, but has yet to see the light of day. There’s not even a buy button anymore on its website.

10) CLINTON WILL WIN! Finally, no bigger turkey than those online polls that assured us they knew how the election of 2016 was going to turn out. It turns out online polls are just as ineffective as phone polls.

First appeared on USA Today.



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