How these five high-profile apps went bust

Apr 3, 2012

Not every mobile application mints a fortune for its developer. For every Draw Something, Instagram or Angry Birds that takes off, there are thousands of iPhone, iPad and Android apps that never see the light of day. But what about those titles that launch with great fanfare and promotion, attract early interest, and then ultimately […]

Not every mobile application mints a fortune for its developer. For every Draw Something, Instagram or Angry Birds that takes off, there are thousands of iPhone, iPad and Android apps that never see the light of day.

But what about those titles that launch with great fanfare and promotion, attract early interest, and then ultimately crash and burn? Similar to the dot-com flameouts from more than a decade ago, there are plenty of apps billed as “can’t miss” that ultimately fail.

Without any further ado, here are the five biggest app busts of all time.


In March of 2011, Color was viewed as the bright young star of the app world having raised more than $41 million before ever appearing on a smartphone or tablet. Described by co-founder Bill Nguyen as “a crowdsourced visual representation of life” (what does that even mean?), Color was conceived to let people with iPhones and Androids seamlessly share photos with anyone else within a 150-foot proximity that also had the app installed. Four short months after launch, the complicated app was sent back to the drawing board. So how did an app funded by well-heeled investors who had previous successes with Cisco, Google and LinkedIn fail to resonate with users?

For starters, there were privacy concerns around an app that allowed anyone to see photos found in other Color-installed smartphones without approval or even registration. As well, many people who downloaded the app found Color’s instructions to be difficult to follow. And if there were no other Color users within a 150-foot proximity, the app was virtually useless (albeit less predatory). After shuttering its first app, parent company Color Labs later released the Color for Facebook app (available on iOS and Android devices). The ambitious app, which sends real-time video status updates to your Facebook friends, is used about 30,000 times per day according to AppData. By contrast, Instagram – which launched with about $250,000 in funding – has about 15 million active users and about 30 million downloads.

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Not exactly a photo finish there.

Amp UP Before You Score

While Pepsico’s iPhone app to promote its AMP Energy Drink quickly made the charts after it debuted in 2009, the lewd AMP UP Before You Score was later pulled. For good reason. The frat boy-focused app crudely categorized women into 24 different stereotypes with labels ranging from “Indie Girl” to “Couger” to “Princess.” Once a user tapped a category, associated pickup lines would appear. Users who claimed an ability to “score” at a bar (or wherever) could then add that feat to a “Brag List” and share it with friends on Facebook and Twitter. This app boasted the fact that AMP UP could decode Greek letters on sweatshirts when speaking to sorority girls.

Most of the social media attention for the app, however, revolved around a #PepsiFail Twitter campaign. Fearing additional corporate backlash, Pepsi had to apologize and shortly thereafter removed the app for good.

Battlefield 3: Aftershock

Video game publisher Electronic Arts has enjoyed massive success bringing hit titles like Tetris, Dead Space, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour to mobile devices. Sadly, the company hit a bogey when it attempted spin-off Battlefield 3: Aftershock to the iPhone. Technical problems, poor multiplayer controls and devastating user reviews ultimately resulted in EA pulling the game from the App Store. EA did keep its servers running for about a month for the handful of users who did download the app. The company finally removed the game from life support on March 31. The only thing redeeming about Aftershock was that it didn’t cost anything to download.


Internet impresario Kevin Rose draws a following wherever he goes. It seemed that everything the founder of social news site DIGG (as well as early investor of Twitter and Facebook) touched turned to gold. Who would have thought his food and location rating app Oink would get slaughtered within its first few months. As DIGG attracts nearly five million people per month to vote whether an online news article is good and bad, it was not too much of a stretch to believe that Oink – which let people type into their phones whether or not they liked a particular menu item – would be a huge hit. Oink launched with great fanfare as the first app to emerge from an app development company called Milk. Not only did the first title spoil, but Milk shut down last month as Rose and his partners went on to take jobs working for Google.

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Girls Around Me

While AMP UP was tasteless, this pseudo-stalking app was just plain creepy. The intent of the app was to allow men to find and friend women in their proximity who recently checked-in to a location via Facebook or check-in service foursquare. Girls Around Me promoted the fact that it could provide photographs and maps of the girls who may or may not have been aware they were being observed.

“Look at the photo and decide whether to seek out someone new at a nearby venue or play it cool by showing your interest via Facebook!” read the app’s description. After massive public backlash, foursquare effectively neutered Girls Around Me, making it impossible to access this information (which terrifyingly is in the public domain). Shortly thereafter, the app’s Russia-based developer pulled Girls Around Me from the iTunes App Store and claimed it did nothing wrong. While Girls Around Me didn’t break the law, it’s nice that they were busted by users for being sleezy.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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