What can you learn from the biggest tech innovation fails?

November 2, 20173 Minute Read

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When we think about tech innovation fails, several recent flops immediately spring to mind—Amazon Fire Phone, BlackBerry PlayBook, and Google Glass. These products, regardless of established brand status, missed the mark to meet their intended audience’s needs for a variety of reasons.

But this is a goldmine of lessons that you—as an IT decision-maker (ITDM)—can use to inform your approach to innovation and design. Here are some key takeaways:

First out of the gate doesn’t equal a first-place finish

One of the most obvious places to find tech innovation fails is within the development of mobile phones. Starting with Iridium’s Satellite (Sat, for short) phone in 1998 and following through to Rokr E1 (birthed from a partnership between Motorola and Apple in 2005), Mobile ESPN in 2006, Microsoft’s Kin One and Kin Two in 2010, these are classic examples of products that time and tech forgot. That’s due in part to the most recent phone fiasco, courtesy of Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

The Samsung lesson is clear: Combustible batteries can cause a corporate flameout that requires the recall of 2.5 million devices. But the others offer more perspective on sustainable innovation. The Sat phone was ahead of its time—too big and too expensive. Ditto for Mobile ESPN, which cost $300 and could only receive sports information from the network, and Microsoft’s Kin, which came with pricey data plans. The Rokr E1 was the precursor to the iPhone, but it wasn’t great at playing music or being a phone.

Time and iteration produced better products, but when it comes to staying power—especially as you choose which technologies your team will implement—it helps to be a fast follower rather than a first mover.

Big names can fail big, too

Google’s got a closet full of misses despite making newsy splashes in the past few years. That includes Wave, a year-long experiment which aimed to blend text and social media into a seamless platform. Google+ was the search giant’s next attempt at creating a social network that instantly connected to other Google apps, like Gmail, to compete with the likes of Facebook. Then, the infamous Google Glass promised augmented reality but only received derision from its users.

Likewise, the Nike Fuel Band was the athletic apparel maker’s answer to the growing wearable fitness tracker market. Although reviewers loved it, it failed to wow customers and never got wide adoption. The lesson here? Just because a big name brand is behind the effort doesn’t mean a product is destined for greatness. ITDMs need to do their homework and due diligence when an innovation is trotted out from the giants. Sometimes, the little guys—startups like Slack—can make a bigger impact on the bottom line.

Resist the urge to pile on functions

Some things are better left in the past—or left as they were traditionally designed. We’re talking about timepieces. The humble wristwatch has been relegated to the junk drawer. For millennials, why wear a watch when you can just as easily tell the time on your phone?

Enter the innovators. Smartwatch startup Pebble was quickly followed by the Apple Watch and Motorola’s Moto 360. For a while, it seemed like it might work, especially when Pebble saw a surge of funding after the launch of its Kickstarter campaign.

But even Apple couldn’t make wearing a watch cool. Sales have slowed, and both Pebble and Motorola pulled the plug on their products. For ITDMs who review products and services, it’s probably best to avoid those that try to build bells and whistles onto something that was meant to have a single function. Users don’t need—or want—something that makes them work harder.

Tech innovation failures are practically guaranteed as companies evolve and iterate to meet consumer demand. Even the best and brightest will stumble. But ITDMs are uniquely positioned to take advantage of innovation missteps to improve the chances their teams will succeed. Don’t underestimate—or miss out on—these opportunities. Learn from the mistakes of others today.

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