This year's smartphone fail rail is missing anything as cataclysmic as last year's disastrous Kin phones from Microsoft or the PR-mageddon that was antennagate. But it still had more than its fair share of high-tech howlers. Here's our pick of the years's phone fiascos...
1 Siri’s no show in the UK
In November US iPhone 4S owners were surveyed on their feelings about their purchase. Some 96 per cent of those polled said they were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied. Surprising? Not really. So far, so fanboy.
But more surprising to some of us in the UK at least was that 50 per cent said that Siri was one of the things they liked most about their shiny new handset.
Over here, Siri was a good deal less impressive. Not only did it struggle to understand British accents. It also came sans support for businesses and navigation in Blighty, meaning one of the major features trumpeted at the launch of the phone wasn’t present and correct. Not unreasonably millions felt more than a little let down.
The reason? Apple had failed to ink deals with relevant partners in the UK – lest we forget one of its biggest iPhone markets and one of the most mature in the world. Given that Apple would have had 18-odd months to sort this out from the launch of the iPhone 4, we think that’s just not good enough.
2 RIM teeters on the edge
PR doesn’t come much worse than being fingered as a key facilitator of the UK’s worst civil disturbances for 30 years. But in 2011 - a year in which BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion's shares plummeted 80 per cent - that was the least of the company's worries.
The problem lay in part with its new release line-up, which from their superannuated spec sheets to their staid design felt like last year’s phones today. Even for handsets which people buy for services rather than specifications that felt a bit shameful.
Worse, though, was that just weeks after the new Curve et al landed with the latest BlackBerry 7 operating system on board, RIM was touting the QNX OS that’s set to replace it. And, we presume, render those phones obsolete. It was as though RIM was hell-bent on disincentivising people from buying their current-gen kits.
As business moves go, this is up there with Gerard Ratner telling the buying public that his jewellery chain’s earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich, but probably won’t last as long”.
3 Nokia Lumia 800 & iPhone 4S battery woes
Less-than-stellar battery longevity is the dirty little secret of the smartphone world. And for the most part is something we’ve just learned to live with.
The problem was that at the launch events for the Nokia Lumia 800 and the iPhone 4S, both companies were only too keen to trumpet their new handsets’ staying power. Finally, we could buy smarties that worked and played as hard as us, we were told.
Hmm. Some hope. In fact, both handsets turned out to be affected even worse than earlier efforts – some iPhone 4S users reported losing ten per cent of juice hourly when in standby mode. After the bold claims being made for them both, that was doubly disappointing.
The real worry is that when 4G networks finally arrive in the UK, smartphones will likely tear through batteries even faster than they do now. Unless phone-makers can find a solution in the meantime, that is. But right now, the outlook isn’t good..
4 HTC Desire update farrago
When the HTC Desire dropped back in March 2010 it swept all before it. A year and a bit and one botched update later, things didn’t look anything like as rosy.
The handset’s shortcomings came to light when HTC attempted to update it from the 2.2 version of Android (froyo) that it shipped with to the 2.3 Gingerbread iteration.
After initially promising users they could expect an upgrade, HTC announced that it wouldn’t be possible after all. Then, just days afterwards, following salvos of outrage from piqued owners, it relented and said it would update the phone in some form.
The result was a cumbersome build that even HTC conceded should be downloaded by experts only. Worse still, it was only available from HTC’s site rather than as an over the air update. And even worse still, when you did update your phone, you’d wipe its internal memory of emails, texts and apps.
It was all frankly, not good enough for a phone that at the time was barely over a year old. And, after it was discovered that HTC’s resource-hungry Sense custom skin was to blame, this sorry saga is surely the most convincing argument yet for Google to start cracking down on the freedoms its manufacturing partners enjoy.
5 Apple’s failure to manage iPhone expectations
2011 was the year the iRumour mill finally spiralled out of control. Nowhere was that more evident that when news sources reported hearsay from an employee in a high-street retailer as though it was hush-hush information straight out of an Apple deep throat in Cupertino C.A.
In fairness, many of the other rumours weren’t too plausible either. We should have seen perhaps that a four-inch screen might be out of the question given Apple’s tight approach to fragmentation. And maybe we ought to have realised that there’s scant incenvtive for Apple to make that cut-price iPhone Nano right now.
But if you really want someone to blame for the increasingly febrile speculation, look no further than Apple, which failed to put a stopper on the speculation in the way it did with the iPad 2.
Noting the rash of news stories claiming that its second-gen tablet would rock the same gorgeous high density retina display as the iPhone 4, Apple reportedly got in touch with some influential US tech sites and put them straight on a few things. Stories appeared a few days later, nipping the conjecture in the bud.
Needless to say that there appeared to no such attempt to manage people’s expectations for the iPhone 4S. The result was a discernable tang of disappointment when the wonder phone or wonder phone we’d been led to believe we were getting turned out to be little more than an iterative update.