Ten top tech fibs of 2008

Face it, everyone loves a juicy rumour. And thanks to the Internet, 2008 has been a banner year for them. As the year comes to a close, I’ve put together my top-ten list of the biggest bogus tech rumours of 2008.

10. Diggsoft or DigGoogle?

Digg was the rumour golden boy in 2008, with either Microsoft or Google rumoured to buy the social-bookmarking site. The Internet blogged, Twittered, and Dugg up a storm theorizing on whom Digg founder, Kevin Rose, would end up in bed with. In the end, it was no one.

With over 6788 Diggs for the initial “Google Microsoft Bidding for Digg” story, the rumour appears to have first taken off at the site TechCrunch. The news Web site cited a “very, very good” anonymous source who said that Digg was prepared to take around $300 million from either Microsoft or Google. Many publications picked up on the rumour, including CNet and PC World (and then our own JR Raphael gave 10 reasons why he thought it wouldn’t happen).

Digg never validated the rumours. A few months later TechCrunch announced that Google was negotiating with Digg, this time for $200 million. But then, after a few days, Google apparently walked away from the negotiating table, and DigGoogle joined the long list of Digg-acquisition rumours.

9. Google Phone Delayed Until 2009

I’m glad that the first Google Android phone wasn’t delayed until 2009–as it was rumoured to be. On the day this rumour hatched, Google’s shares dipped 1.3 percent. The word was that HTC, the manufacturer of the T-Mobile G1, was having problems delivering the Google phone on time.

Tales of the GPhone delay started out modest. At first there weren’t enough Android developers out there, according to sources. People theorized that Microsoft, Apple, Research In Motion, and Nokia had absorbed all the developers, and so none could be bothered to make Android apps. But the rumour bomb dropped when the Wall Street Journal announced that the first Android device would not come until the second half of 2009.

In the end though, HTC squashed the rumours, and in late September T-Mobile, Google, and HTC announced that they were on track to deliver the G1 in 2008. The following month, in October, the T-Mobile G1 went on sale for $179.

8. Zune Phone

This image of a fake Zune Phone comes from a YouTube parody of an Apple iPhone ad.

The more Microsoft insisted it had no Zune phone in development, the louder the rumours about the device’s imminent release became.

Microsoft never gave people any good reason to expect a Zune phone, but from July through December 2008, you could find various reports from The Inquirer and mock-ups from Wired of imagined Zune-phone hybrids. Closer to reality, perhaps, were rumours that the Zune might soon sport a touch screen.

The rumour is still alive and well. Currently, according to sources, the Zune phone will launch in January at CES 2009. Mike Elgan at Computerworld explains best why that won’t really happen (at least not anytime soon): Microsoft “simply doesn’t have the vision to build something really great in the consumer electronics space.”


7. The iPhone Nano

From the category “I wish it were true” comes the idea of a smaller–and ultimately cheaper–iPhone, a rumour that has been with us all year long.

First, we expected to see a miniature iPhone, dubbed the iPhone Nano, at Macworld in January 2008. That never happened. Then people hoped that 25 million iPhone Nanos would arrive in time for Christmas. That never happened.

But maybe the third time will be the charm for the iPhone Nano? The rumour du jour is that Apple will release a smaller, cheaper iPhone at Macworld in January 2009. The latest gossip comes from iDealsChina, and is based on information from a Taiwan company that makes Apple accessories.

Personally, I could do without the iPhone Nano. Think of the horror of typing on a screen almost half the size of the iPhone 3G’s. Battery life on an iPhone Nano couldn’t be better either. It just doesn’t sound right for Apple to push an inferior product. Nevertheless, collectively willing Apple to deliver an iPhone Nano could bring us an even cheaper iPhone as production costs decrease.

6. Xbox in a Blu-ray Player

Some rumours start out as merely wishful thinking. Then they become willed into full-blown rumours. Some Microsoft Xbox 360 users really wanted to play Blu-ray discs on their favorite game console. And just like that, someone came along with the wacky idea of having an Xbox 360 in a Blu-ray player.

The suggestion was to have hardware that could run Xbox 360 game discs created by a party other than Microsoft–something like the Panasonic Q, which launched in 2001 in Japan and could play both regular DVDs and GameCube games.

The rumour became quite popular on specialist blogs, even getting mentions on Engadget and Gizmodo, and it also surged on Digg, with over 1964 Diggs. My take: If third-party hardware could help prevent the Xbox 360’s red ring of death, maybe Microsoft really should consider the option.

5. The $100 Midget PC Hoax

The concept of a small netbook or a large UMPC called a “Midget PC” sounded plausible. After all, netbooks became white hot in 2008. Perhaps it’s only natural that a company would introduce a stripped-down model for around $100.

So when the rumours grew louder about a tiny Midget PC netbook, I thought it was interesting. But maybe I should have been more critical. One telltale sign that it was bogus was its name: What company would give a product such a horrible label? Turns out, no company would.

This rumour proved to be a big hoax. A few days later ArsTechnica revealed that the Midget PC was a fake. The story was the creation of a hoaxster at a citizen-journalism site, Arkansas IndyMedia. The article used two-year-old quotes from an unrelated New York Times article and included many other fabrications to make it appear legit.

4. I Want My Mac Netbook, Now!

The Mac-netbook rumour is not a rumour anymore–it has morphed into a Mac-enthusiast campaign to get Apple to build and release a mini-notebook. The device, according to proponents, should be a cross between the iPhone and the MacBook Air.

With netbooks selling like crazy this year, the idea of an Apple mini-notebook with either a multitouch display or a smaller shape seemed inevitable. Analysts say that, due to the weak economy, netbooks might just be the right market for Apple to penetrate.

Regardless of whether you ask Apple nicely or you write an essay about it, this remains only a rumour for a mythical product. Steve Jobs has denied any forthcoming Apple mini-notebook, end of story. (Or is it?)

I hope Apple has a surprise for Mac-netbook fans at Macworld in January. But if Apple does deliver on the Mac netbook, I’m quite sure that it won’t come as cheap as we would like it to.

3. The Trials and Tribulations of Yahoo

Have you heard the latest Yahoo rumour? You probably have, because the only way to avoid Yahoo rumours is by living under a rock.

One big fat Yahoo rumour in February claimed that Microsoft would gobble up Yahoo for a whopping $46 billion. That never materialized. Yahoo’s lame-duck CEO, Jerry Yang, reportedly refused Microsoft’s offer and sought an advertising deal with Microsoft rival Google. That didn’t work out too well, either.

More speculation followed the MicroHoo rumour. One included AOL’s possible merging with Yahoo. But the Microsoft-to-buy-Yahoo rumour just wouldn’t quit. Apparently even Jerry Yang has his fingers crossed that this rumour comes true. Reportedly he’s singing “Baby, come back” to his Microsoft counterpart, Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer doesn’t appear to be coming back (at least not as of this writing). Meanwhile, Yahoo is planning another 1500 layoffs.

Can anyone please buy Yahoo and get it over with?

2. Shock! Horror! Obama Owns a Zune!

In what would become known as ZuneGate, a contributor to a Philadelphia news weekly reported that, in December, when he was working out one morning, he was surprised by president-elect Barack Obama, who joined him at the gym. According to writer Neal Santos, Obama “hopped on the machine next to me [at the gym] and broke a mean sweat while reading a copy of USA Today and listening to his Zune.”

The news Obama that used a Zune drove a bitter partisan wedge between the Apple iPod and Microsoft Zune camps. While the Zune camp celebrated what it saw as a victory, the iPod camp was outraged and wanted their votes for Obama back.

Unfortunately for Zune fans, the rumour was short-lived. An Obama spokesperson set the record straight: The president-elect actually favors the iPod.

1. Steve Jobs Dead? Not So Fast, Shorty!

Culminating my top-ten list of the biggest bogus rumours of 2008 is Steve Jobs’s alleged heart attack. This farce has the same roots as the bogus Midget PC: citizen journalism.

A CNN iReport stated: “Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER […] suffering a major heart attack.” Twitter was aflutter over the news. Apple stocks fell sharply to $94. Even the Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation into the iReport. In the end investigators found that an 18-year-old had spread the rumour. But shortly after the “news” broke, Apple representatives reassured everyone that Jobs was fine. And the world sighed in relief.

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