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Samsung, You Are Not Alone

Ranking this fall’s biggest disasters in technology

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Samsung is recalling its Galaxy Note 7 phone, because it explodes; the company is issuing $100 credits toward the purchase of another Samsung phone as a pathetic incentive to get customers to relinquish its defective models. The Note 7 doesn’t simply fail at being a good phone, it fails at being not on fire. This is a costly, embarrassing, brand-tarnishing crisis — but it isn’t the only recent tech fiasco. This month alone, bourgeois gruel purveyor Soylent had to tell people to throw away its new Food Bar because of diarrhea complaints; a major investor sued blood-test startup Theranos; and Apple has been trying to downplay the fact its own large flagship phone — the 6 Plus — has something called “touch disease.”

Which one was the worst? I’ve evaluated the most recent consumer technology crises based on the answers to three extremely unscientific core questions, each worth between zero and 500 points. (I’m defining “recent” as happening this fall.) Let’s begin.

Bad (0–500 Points)

Apple’s “Touch Disease”

Samsung’s combustible phones are getting such bad press, it’s easy to forget that Apple has also sold a defective new gadget for hundreds of dollars under the guise that it is the most innovative and glorious handheld personal computing device of all time.

Apple is facing a class action lawsuit for faulty iPhones, with customers alleging that the company sold phones with an unfixable engineering flaw that renders screens unusable. This week, three new law firms joined the suit, which alleges that Apple has known about this flaw and has refused to fix messed-up phones without charging customers. And in September, Motherboard reported that Apple “Genius” employees were explicitly told about “touch disease.” Apple still hasn’t admitted that there is a problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away.

  • Does it endanger the entire company? No. (0 points)
  • How embarrassing is it? “Touch disease” has a pervy ring to it, but this isn’t getting as much attention as it should be. (100 points)
  • Could this cause death? No. (0 points)
  • Total: 100 points

Soylent’s Food Bar Diarrhea Debacle

In August, Soylent launched a new product, a solidified hunk of nutritional porridge inventively named “Food Bar.” Some early adopters got a nasty surprise after eating the Food Bars: poop and barf, out of their bodies.

After weeks of complaints lodged in forums, Soylent advised customers to throw Food Bars in the garbage after people complained that the “maximum nutrition with minimal effort” product caused “gastrointestinal issues.” For a normal food company, this would be a potentially fatal crisis, but Soylent once delayed shipping a major product after some customers found noticeable mold growing in some of its containers, and it’s doing just fine. This is a stumble it can recover from.

  • Does it endanger the entire company? Nah. (0 points)
  • How embarrassing is it? It’s diarrhea. (300 points)
  • Could this cause death? It caused gross (and occasionally serious) sickness but everyone’s still alive. (200 points)
  • Total: 500 points

Badder (501–1,000 Points)

Facebook’s Palmer Luckey Problem

Facebook has already made it clear that it doesn’t mind having right-wing schemers in its inner circle; Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel still sits on its board. However, Facebook has dialed back Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s public appearances after a recent political scandal. Luckey was identified as a funder for a group trying to defeat Hillary Clinton by “shitposting memes.” (If you don’t know what “shitposting memes” means, congratulations, you are living a better life than I am, and I’m not going to explain it to you.)

Luckey was MIA from Oculus VR’s recent conference in San Jose, and some game developers pulled their titles from the platform because of Luckey’s behavior. Mark Zuckerberg’s threshold for right-wing zealotry within his ranks apparently has a limit, and that limit is when it negatively impacts his developer partnerships.

  • Does it endanger the entire company? Facebook’s just fine. (0 points)
  • How embarrassing is it? Almost anything involving Palmer Luckey is embarrassing, and the group he funded used the phrase “shitposting is powerful and meme magic is real” to convey its goals. It does not get more embarrassing. (500 points)
  • Could this cause death? Depends on how dire your vision for Trump’s America is, but probably not. (2 points)
  • Total: 502 points

Theranos’s Securities Fraud Lawsuit

Elizabeth Holmes’s blood-test startup has already collapsed into itself like a dying, scammy star after its blood-testing technology was discredited, but the news that a major investor is suing for “myriad deceptions, falsehoods, and fraudulent conduct” is another brutal knock. A San Francisco–based hedge fund is asking for its $96 million–plus investment back, as well as unspecified damages.

  • Does it endanger the entire company? As much as something doomed can be further endangered. (200 points)
  • How embarrassing is it? The stink of failure is embarrassing. (200 points)
  • Could this cause death? It could be the death blow for Theranos, sure. (200 points)
  • Total: 600 points

Samsung’s Note 7 Recall

Samsung released a product that was supposed to be a jumbo-size phone that acts as a personal computer, but instead it was a jumbo-size flaming fuckup.

  • Does it endanger the entire company? Not critically, but it’s a major knock on the reputation of Samsung’s hardware. (400 points)
  • How embarrassing is it? Incompetence is very embarrassing, but explosions are cool, so it’s almost a wash. (100 points)
  • Could this cause death? Extremely yes, actual death of human beings, and Samsung is lucky it hasn’t. (500 points)
  • Total: 1,000 points

Yahoo’s Data Breach and Surveillance Scandal

In September, Yahoo admitted that at least 500 million of its accounts were breached, which meant anyone unfortunate enough to still use a Yahoo email account around 2014 was endangered. Then, Reuters reported that Yahoo had secretly scanned its customers’ emails for U.S. intelligence agencies. Basically, it became apparent that if you have been using a Yahoo account, your communications were not secure.

  • Does it endanger the entire company? Yep, its deal with Verizon is on the rocks. (500 points)
  • How embarrassing is it? Incompetence and treachery, together at last. (500 points)
  • Could this cause death? Yahoo is already dead. (0 points)
  • Total: 1,000 points

The Absolute Worst, Possibly of All Time, I’m Not Exaggerating (Over 1,000 Points)

Apple’s Release of iOS 10

Of all the egregious tech failures this autumn, Apple’s most recent mobile operating system, iOS 10, is the worst. I know what you’re thinking — how is iOS 10 objectively worse than Samsung’s exploding phones, Soylent’s exploding butts, or Elizabeth Holmes’s exploding ego? iOS 10 does not cause things to light on fire or people to puke; it does not defraud or necessarily endanger. And yet, it sucks the hardest. It is the opposite of joy, it is vile, and I will not stand for it.

iOS10 demonstrates what a crock of nonsense Silicon Valley’s promise of better living through iterative consumer technology upgrades is. Instead of enhancing the functionality of its hardware and bringing increased convenience and pleasure to its customers, Apple released software that degraded the experience of using its phones. For some T-Mobile customers (like me), updating to iOS 10 created connectivity problems that made phones temporarily unusable; the issue was fixed, but not before causing frustration.

For everyone, iOS 10 sucks. iMessage went from an elegant, simple communication tool to a cesspool of dick drawings and Al Roker stickers. Apple’s redesigned lock screen made the default mode unnecessarily complicated. Ugly, large notifications crowd the screen. It’s glitchy, it offers no benefit, and it drains battery. Even the emoji got shittier. Look what iOS 10 did to my favorite emoji, the “grimace,” used very often by me to express chagrin, pained resolution, and mild dissatisfaction:

That’s not a grimace! Technological progress is a lie designed to oil the crushing machinery of capitalism!

  • Does it endanger the entire company? Yes (of losing me as a customer). (500 points)
  • How embarrassing is it? The MOST, oh my goodness. (500 points)
  • Could this cause death? Yes (when I kill everyone involved). (500 points)
  • Total: 1,500 points