Special Report

The Worst Product Flops of 2013

4. HealthCare.gov
> Company: n/a

President Barack Obama earned a place in history for, among other achievements, his 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But mismanagement of the ACA’s website, HealthCare.gov, will also be remembered as one of the biggest PR disasters (and product flops) ever experienced by a presidential administration.

Before the launch of HealthCare.gov, Obama described the website as a place where consumers could “compare and purchase affordable health insurance plans side by side, the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak, same way you shop for a TV on Amazon.” But in reality the costly Internet portal — some estimates say the government shelled out more than $500 million to set it up — was not ready for the millions of consumers planning to use it.

The site crashed repeatedly following the launch on October 1, prompting the administration to bring in specialists from Google, Oracle and other tech companies to troubleshoot the maintenance issues. Figures released in mid-November by the Department of Health and Human Services showed only about 106,000 people had enrolled in an ACA plan — with less than 27,000 enrolling through the website. The site’s problems were eventually tweaked, but as Obama acknowledged in a press briefing, “We fumbled the rollout.”

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5. HP Chromebook 11
> Company: Hewlett-Packard/Google

The Chromebook 11 could have been one of 2013’s big hits: a sleek, lightweight and inexpensive (starting at $279) laptop built around Google’s Chrome operating system. Launched in the fall, just in time for the holiday shopping season, the Chromebook 11 was intended to be the next best-selling Chromebook on Amazon.

But being the best-selling Chromebook is not necessarily successful in the grand scheme of things. According to a recent analysis of IDC data by ZDnet, Chromebook sales are a fraction of the total PC and tablet market. Based on third quarter figures, total worldwide shipments for PCs accounted for 63% of the markets, tablets accounted for 36%, and Chromebooks accounted for 1%. In other words, the product-category itself is an abysmal failure.

In the face of lackluster interest, the HP Chromebook 11 was still launched with great fanfare, receiving some positive reviews.

Then, in November, the device mysteriously began disappearing from store shelves. According to HP, as first reported by The Verge, the products were removed because the company had received “a small number of user reports that some chargers included with the device have been damaged due to over-heating during use.” In December, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled approximately 145,000 chargers as a fire and burn hazard. Google and HP have announced that they will resume sales, with new replacement chargers in the new units, but the negative PR may continue to take its toll. The product is still not listed on Best Buy’s website or Amazon.

6. “The Lone Ranger”
> Company: Walt Disney

This revisionist remake of the classic Western drama, a tale that began as a 1930s radio program, will mostly likely be remembered best as one of Hollywood’s most expensive flops. With a budget of around $250 million, a release over the key July 4 holiday, and the star power of Johnny Depp, “The Lone Ranger” defied the odds: It was panned by critics and ignored by most movie-goers.

In its third-quarter earnings report, Walt Disney noted that it expected to lose up to $190 million from the film’s disappointing performance. Box Office Mojo, meanwhile, pointed out that while the film’s total domestic gross was less than $90 million, it made up for that by bringing in $171.2 million in foreign box office revenue. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer blamed the critics for his film’s financial downfall. “I think they were reviewing the budget, not reviewing the movie,” he told NBC News. “The audience doesn’t care what the budget is — they pay the same amount to see the movie if it costs a dollar or $20 million.”

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7. Galaxy Gear
> Company: Samsung

Despite a very clever ad campaign showing its smartwatch as the logical progression from those fantasy wrist communication devices we’ve seen in movies and cartoons, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear never took off with consumers or critics.

A number of tech review luminaries found the device hard to use, objecting to the required use of another Samsung device, a phone or tablet, to get the full range of features.

In November, Business Korea reported that only 50,000 watches had been sold. In response, Samsung said its smartwatch sales reached 800,000 units in the two months after the Galaxy Gear’s debut. The company later confirmed that 800,000 figure actually referred to shipments worldwide, and not to consumer sales.

Apparently, consumers are not happy with the device. A number of tech news sites quoted documents reportedly leaked from retail giant Best Buy that said nearly one-third of all Galaxy Gears purchased there had been returned.

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