From Kodak to Blockbuster: The Great Tech Blunders of All Time

Walle-e holding broken wires

From a simple typing mistake that cost a company tens of millions of pounds, to the man who effectively threw £4 million onto the scrapheap, there’s no shortage of cringeworthy disasters lining the tech wall of shame. In this post, we’ve pulled together a collection of some of the biggest tech blunders of all time. Enjoy.

Kodak

Can you image a world without digital cameras and photos? Kodak could. Back in 1975 they turned down an engineer’s design for a “filmless camera” and the rest, as they say, is history. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that Kodak was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy.

That’s not to say that all was lost. Once a household name, Kodak may not have the might it once did, but it still employs a team of scientists and engineers in the hopes of resurrecting some of the company’s underlying technologies –  most of these projects initiated in its glory days.

Yahoo and Google

Can you still remember a time when Yahoo ruled the internet and using the term ‘Google’ in public would result in offended stares? If you don’t then it’s probably hard to imagine that another company once dominated search at any point during history – Google is just that prolific. But it’s true, Yahoo was once the indisputable KING of the internet. Now the crown lies comfortably on Google’s head.

Things might have been very different though, if in 1998 Yahoo had accepted an offer by Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They were offering their PageRank system (the algorithm that powers Google search to this very day) for a measly $1 million. In a move that could have changed the face of the internet as we now know it, Yahoo said no.

Ron Wayne and Apple

Have you ever heard of Ron Wayne? No? Not to be confused with legendary American actor and filmmaker John Wayne, Ron Wayne was the third co-founder of Apple. Alongside Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Wayne founded Apple in April of 1976 to develop personal computers. However, less than two weeks later, Wayne decided that the company wasn’t for him and sold back his 10% stake in Apple for $800.

After forfeiting any claims against the company, he later got an additional $1500. Today, his shares would be worth billions. However, Wayne has been vocal about that fact that he doesn’t believe he lost out on billions of dollars, far from it. In an essay published on Facebook, he told the world: “To counter much that has been written in the press about me as of late, I didn’t lose out on billions of dollars. That’s a long stretch between 1976 and 2012. Apple went through a lot of hard times and many thought Apple would simply go out of business at various times in its maturity. I perhaps lost tens of millions of dollars. And quite honestly, between just you and me, it was character building.”

RealNetworks and the iPod

Although many people now stick to their smartphones when they want to listen to music on the go, there was a time when everyone and their dog had an iPod. They were everywhere. Today, they are still sold, but sales have declined and enthusiasm for them has waned.

But, no matter what you think of iPods now, there’s really no denying how revolutionary these small devices were in their heyday. However, if you think Apple invented the iPod, you might want to think again. The real genius behind this impressive piece of kit was a Mr Tony Fadel. Commonly referred to as the ‘father’ of the iPod, Fadel presented his idea to RealNetworks but the company turned him down. Fadel then approached Apple and after a year of design and development, the iPod as we now know it was launched in 2001.

Factoid: Not everyone agrees that Fadel was the true architect of the iPod. It is acknowledged that Kane Kramer, a British inventor, was the original architect behind the first basic concept for the device. He originally patented the idea for a portable plastic music player in 1979, but couldn’t afford to renew the worldwide patent.

Western Union and the telephone

Computers aside, few inventions have transformed the way we communicate in such a monumental way as the telephone. Think about it – incredible, right? With this in mind, you may be surprised to learn that the world did not catch on to the brilliance of this idea immediately. However, things weren’t as cut and dry as many online sources would have you believe.

Many reports suggest that the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, offered patents to the telephone to the Western Union Telegraph Company, and that the company said no. However, it’s not actually clear how much truth there is to these stories. One thing is clear though – Bell took his idea and started the Bell Telephone Company and now there are billions of telephones in use all over the world.

Blockbuster and Netflix

The trip to local Blockbuster on Friday night after school was the highlight of my week growing up. Would all the copies of Titanic be checked out? Would Stand By Me finally be there for me to rent? (I never could work out why, even in 1998, this 1986 classic was always checked out). Sadly, today’s youth won’t ever experience the dramatic emotional highs and lows of a trip to Blockbuster. Why? The final store closed its doors in 2013, marking the end of 28 years of trading.

Things could have been very different, however, had the company accepted an offer from the founder of Netflix. Way back in 2000, Reed Hastings approached the CEO of Blockbuster, John Antioco, proposing a partnership between his forward-thinking company and Blockbuster’s rapidly outdated business model. Needless to say, he wasn’t successful. The value of Blockbuster today? Nil. The value of Netflix? $41 billion.

Typing error for Mizuho Securities

Have you ever heard of “fat finger” syndrome? It’s the name given to mistakes made when stressed traders hit the wrong buttons – with disastrous consequences. In this case, the man wielding the fat finger was a Mizuho Securities trader. In 2005, an error meant that he accidently sold 610,000 shares of recruitment company J-Com for 1 yen each, instead of the intended 1 share at 610,000 yen. Due to a technical glitch, Mizuho was unable to cancel the order and the sale went ahead, resulting in a loss of $340 million. Ouch.

Mars Climate Orbiter

When does 1 + 1 not equal 2? When one measurement is calculated using the Imperial system and the other using metric units, of course! And it was this simple mathematical oversight that led to one of the most expensive tech mistakes in history. When NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter lost contact with NASA, it was the beginning of the end for the £80 million project to study the climate on Mars. The probe met a fiery end over the planet in 1999.

Xerox and Apple

If you think back to the first personal computer you used, chances are that you’re picturing an Apple Computer. But back in the 1970s, technology company Xerox had actually already created one of the first personal computers that could be controlled by a mouse. However, they didn’t sell it. Instead, they invited a Mr Steve Jobs and other Apple employees over to their R&D complex in exchange for a chunk of Apple shares. Did Apple steal ideas from Xerox? Debate rages online to this day, but if he did, inviting in Apple was one costly mistake for Xerox.

James Howell and Bitcoins

You wouldn’t think it would be easy to misplace £4 million pounds, but one UK man managed to do just that when he accidently threw away a hard drive that contained 7,500 Bitcoins. James Howell was clearing out a drawer when he made the fateful decision to rid himself of some hardware. “You know when you put something in the bin, and in your head, say to yourself ‘that’s a bad idea’? I really did have that,” Howells told the Guardian.

The moral of this story should be clear: never clear out anything, ever.

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