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TheStreet Open House

3 Terrible Product Rollouts From 2010

Stocks in this article: GOOG

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Failure was a common theme this year, particularly among companies selling next-generation business systems and technology. Tech heavyweights such as Google (GOOG), imaging companies such as H-P (HPQ) or Lexmark (LXK), and even Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg -- Time magazine's Person of the Year, no less -- all brought truly bad products and services for small businesses to market.

We are not taking cheap tech shots here, bashing gadgets that merely failed to dazzle me. Oh, no. These are the elite mistakes of the year, strategic blunders that indicate significant company dysfunction.

Google Nexus One
For all of Google's power as a software company, if this year's Google Nexus One rollout was any indicator, hardware is going to be a struggle. Released in early 2010, the Nexus One -- intended to be the flagship smartphone for the company -- actually revealed all that was off about Google. The phone was smugly marketed and had no retail channel, as if Google felt the mere mention of its name would bring customers flocking. It did not help that once business users touched this phone, they found a cramped 3.7-inch screen and a roller button control that was, without question, the oddest interface of the year. Plus, the early version of the Android 2.1 operation system could not support advanced business features such as search or mapping -- heaven forbid you had to call and text at the same time.

Now the company has released an upgraded model, the Nexus S. I am testing one, and it's obvious some lessons have been learned. But as anybody studying the almost-as-lame Google TV will tell you, making actual electronics remains a major hurdle for Google.

Direct-from-Web printing
It sounded too good to be true -- and it was. Direct-from-Web printers were supposed to connect to the Internet directly without the need for a PC so apps, company collateral and even content could be rendered on the fly. But in about a half-year of practical use, it is clear the desktop printing industry has missed its mark. First off, the apps I tested were of limited value. Most of the direct-to-printer functions still needed some sort of updating by a PC anyway.

And woe betide anyone who actually subscribed to a Web content service. Yes, USAToday or ABCNews rolling off the printer is nice. But you are essentially paying, at minimum, 5 cents a page -- sometimes far more -- to print up what amounts to a blog. Besides, burning through 30 pages of paper a day works out to about double what home delivery of an old-school newspaper costs. If this is the future of desktop publishing for the small business, all I can say is: You're kidding, right?

Facebook Messages says one thing loud and clear: This idea is seriously flawed.

Facebook Messages
With Facebook Messages, Mark Zuckerberg & Co. have come up with a service that is not only singularly inappropriate for business users, but for all users. Rolled out in the fall, Messages let Facebookers email, SMS, chat and use the rest of Facebook's communications tools from one screen. The intent was to spare users the "struggle" of going from email inbox to chat box to Facebook wall. And initially the tool seemed clever enough for small groups to stay in touch. But over time it become clear the concept is seriously flawed. Because, think about it, who actually wants to do that? Most friends like to be dealt with as friends -- one at a time. Nobody wants to be part of some weird mini-direct mail campaign that gloms together notes, texts and wall posts.

If you want to taste the arrogance looming in this hot young company, subscribe to Facebook Messages and get in direct touch with the mistakes Facebook is on track to make.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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