The Year in Bad Tech
A look back at some of the worst tech products and developments of 2023
Every year, technology advances at breakneck speed in the relentless pursuit of making the world a better place (read: making shitloads of money.)
And every year, companies throw more and more technology at us. Some of it is good, some is genuinely revolutionary, but most is unnecessary, uninspired, or worse, downright bad.
I've reflected on the past year and picked out some of the biggest offenders.
Got one that should be added to this collection? Drop it in a comment below, and if I agree, I'll add it to the list.
Apple VR Headset
After many years of speculation, 2023 was the year Apple announced the launch of its mixed-reality headset — the Vision Pro.
Despite rumors Apple tried for years to make the device a pair of glasses (which may have been revolutionary), this looks like a pair of swanky ski goggles, just with the added Apple-esque touches like "the Digital Crown" and all the bumps and groves that comes with its signature material choices. But it's just another clunky headset. It also comes with some dumb features, like the tethering battery pack that means a cable hangs from the device.
It also does as you'd expect; your apps now blend into your surroundings, and you can control things with your eyes, hand movements and voice.
The demo showed some use cases — most of which we've seen before — and a freaky feature called EyeSight, which displays your eyes when people are nearby (rather than just taking off the headset?) It went full Black Mirror on that one.
The device does some stuff. Most of it is unnecessary, and far from the revolution the company is kidding itself it is. The technology behind it is probably impressive. There were some flashy words and big design terms. But it's all a bit underwhelming. Utterly pointless. And it comes at the eye-watering cost of $3499.
The reality Apple faces is this. There's a huge stigma attached to headsets. There's a whole host of privacy concerns that work against the brand the company has built over the years. The price tag means there's a very select group of consumers who can afford the device.
The Vision Pro headset could have been the iPhone moment AR/VR desperately needs. It could also virtually kill the idea that this is our future. 2024 will have a big say in the outcome.
Apple’s USB-C to Lightning Adaptor
Speaking of Apple, in this year's event, titled 'Wonderlust,' the company delivered a dud. A more appropriate title would have been 'Wonderlost.' Bigger this. Wider that. New colored straps for this. One more pixel in the camera here.
But one of the biggest changes was less innovation and more enforced by EU law; the move to USB-C, which did at least provide some laughter — it's another excuse for Apple to sell us a $30 dongle.
Yup, yet more dongles.
If you buy this, there is no hope for you.
What the event did show is that Apple is devoid of innovation at present. Somewhere along the journey to becoming a trillion-dollar company — one could argue it started even before the passing of Steve Jobs — the focus shifted from design to dollars. It became less about breaking the mold and more about cold, hard numbers. As this new philosophy took hold, Apple became a company that lost its identity and, with it, its very soul.
In terms of the category-defining design it was once heralded for, it's now rotten to the core, nothing more than a corporate juggernaut pumping out near-identical products in a mad pursuit to increase its stock price.
Humane AI Pin
Wearables have long been touted as the next big tech front.
But to this point, results have been mixed — with the scale tipping towards bust rather than boom. So, a lot of hope was pinned (sorry) on a device being created by former Apple employees.
Rather than try to describe Humane's AI pin, I'll let the comply do it in a description that almost scores the entire buzzword bingo card:
The Humane Ai Pin is the screenless, standalone device and software platform built from the ground up for AI. The intelligent clothing-based wearable uses a range of sensors that enable natural and intuitive compute interactions and is designed to weave seamlessly into users' day-to-day lives. The device is privacy-first, with aspects such as no wake word and therefore no 'always on' listening, reflecting Humane's vision of building products which place trust at the center.
Mumbo-jumbo. Well, this year, we finally saw Humane's AI Pin. First, through an obviously fake demo, and more recently, in a 10-minute launch video. What we saw was a nice-looking piece of technology that really doesn't offer much. Those calling it an "iPhone killer" have lost sight of how integrated those devices are in the fabric of our lives (to be clear: I don't think that's a good thing). The gestures required to use it are counterintuitive, and of course, it involves you talking to what is essentially a ChatGPT bot. Throw in privacy issues, and you have a problematic piece of technology. We will see how it fares when preorders ship next year.
Speaking of privacy, a worthy mention is the Pendant. Created by Rewind, it's described as a "wearable that captures what you say and hear in the real world and then transcribes, encrypts, and stores it entirely locally on your phone." Danger alert. It claims to offer features to ensure no one is recorded without their consent, but aside from the ability to pause recording, it remains unclear how it will do this.
The anti-woke, sarcasm-heavy AI chatbot from the mind of Elon Musk (or possibly cloned from the mind of Elon Musk?) was pushed out a few months back and is now being used as bait to drive more subscriptions to X Premium.
Musk pitched the chatbot as a funny, vulgar alternative to traditional AI. It could even do things like converse casually and swear at you.
It's actually quite woke (let's be real, what does that word even mean now?) And for most of Elon Musk's fan base, that won't do. Grok has said it would vote for Biden over Trump. Grok has spoken about diversity and inclusion. Grok even stated that trans women are women, which led to some Musk fanboys having full-on meltdowns in the public town square. Musk and Grok users want it to be "politically neutral," which means it aligns with their political views, which are far from neutral. The irony is not lost.
When Grok launched, I and many others assumed it would become a racial-slur spewing, right-wing version of ChatGPT. It is partly trained on data scraped from X, after all. But instead, it seems to be a surprisingly thoughtful, progressive AI. Watching it melt the minds of those spending dollars to access it is the funniest outcome.
Meta Smart Glasses
Meta's latest version of the smart glasses arrived this year, armed with better cameras, more recording capabilities, and equally shitty privacy protection. It's not that the glasses are bad — reviews suggest they function well and deliver great video and audio — but the privacy implications have me worried.
Aside from a very hard-to-see flashing light, there's still no obvious indication to anyone that your glasses are recording. Yes, bad actors will always use technology in bad ways, but this is just making it too easy to invade people’s privacy.
Meta is also pushing harder with this release; a flood of influencer content recently appeared on socials, trying desperately hard to make the glasses cool and widen appeal. If they can convince the younger generations to adopt, we can expect a wave of ‘glassholes’ to arrive.
Sam Altman’s Iris Scanning Orb
The crypto industry is rife with scandal, scams, rug pulls, shady characters and money-grabbing celebrities. So, when a project turned up that would scan your eyeballs in return for crypto, you'd think it would be met with skepticism and caution.
Nope. Sam Altman's latest idea was met with all the fanfare you'd expect from people who've lost their minds over crypto and the future it promises (and continually fails to deliver.)
There is some logic behind what the project aims to achieve. With A.I. continuing to blur the lines between what is real and what is generated, a system that could identify and validate actual human beings has merit. In theory, this "proof of personhood" could allow the individual to assert they are a real person and different from another person without revealing their real-world identity.
On the other hand, you've just given your iris scan, something unique to you, to a privately owned crypto company for the paltry sum of £40. Do we think handing billions of people's biometric data to a company operating in an almost unregulated industry sounds like a good idea? No, it's a fucking terrible idea.
When it launched, Meta's Threads app became the fastest-growing consumer application in history when it hit the 100 million user mark in the blink of an eye. Even a diehard Meta-cynic like myself couldn't help but be impressed with the rollout.
But Threads hasn't leapfrogged X, nor has it killed its rival. Mark Zuckerberg set the ambitious goal of 1 billion users; he barely made over 10% of that. Its growth quickly stagnated as the reality became clear. Threads was a feature-lite copycat of X, missing fundamental features, and by turning its back on divisive topics, it lacked real-time social commentary and the buzz that comes with it.
With Threads recently launching in the EU, we can expect it to end the year with a nice bump in user numbers — it's gone up 20 million or so in the past week — but the same issues with the platform remain. In 2024, Meta will have to work overtime to implement the basic features users expect and, *shock horror*, innovate new and exciting features that can help the app stand out from competitors.
I still think it plays out like this — Meta will try feature-stuffing Threads to win users, fail, give up, and eventually, the company will bury Threads and integrate any valuable bits into Instagram. If the EU launch is a bust, we could see this as soon as next year.
It's not quite tech, but there's plenty of room to include one of the worst rebrands ever.
Twitter was one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Its logo was on nearly every website, product packaging and business card you can imagine. Rival social platforms would have killed to create some as unique and renowned as a "Tweet" or "Retweet," phrases that are baked into the social media fabric alongside the "like." That kind of brand recognition is nearly impossible to replicate intentionally. Despite the platform struggling to grow its user base beyond the current ceiling and failing to make any decent monetary return for shareholders, that brand legacy kept Twitter afloat, preserving its cultural relevance.
Musk may have overpaid, but he did buy a well-established brand that had weaved its way into the cultural fabric. It was perhaps the only thing of value Mush had gotten with his money. And he threw it away, destroying 15 years of brand legacy in favor of a whimsical obsession with the letter X.
All round, just bad. Bad logo, bad name, bad porn vibes and bad brand equity — and a fitting end to this list.
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