Elon’s Cybertruck smash and more: The biggest on-stage screwups in tech history

Let’s face it, tech has a habit of screwing up at the worst possible moment. It’s certainly a brave person that strides onto a stage to demo a piece of new kit, the expectant audience and possibly millions around the world hanging on their every word. Tesla’s recent screwup where someone smashed the “unbreakable” window of the company’s new Cybertruck brought to mind a bunch of other cringeworthy flubs from over the years that we felt we just had to share…

Tesla’s Cybertruck

Cringe factor: 3/5

“Could you try to break the glass, please,” Elon Musk told his stage assistant. The Tesla CEO wanted to show off the strength of the “unbreakable” windows on the company’s just-unveiled Cybertruck. “Are you sure?” the assistant asked Musk, as if he knew something the billionaire entrepreneur didn’t. Musk gave him the nod, and sure enough, when the assistant threw the metal ball, it smashed the glass. A shocked Musk responded with an “OMG,” except that this OMG had an F-bomb inserted between the M and the G.

With the expletive still hanging in the air, the Tesla chief stood there, his hope of a hitch-free vehicle launch shattering like a … well, like a glass window that’s been hit by a metal ball. But then the assistant had a great idea — how about chucking the metal ball at the other window, thereby clawing back at least 50% of the truck’s credibility? Musk agreed. Of course, that window smashed too. “There’s room for improvement,” Musk said.

Samsung and Michael Bay

Cringe factor: 5/5

Anyone with a heart would’ve felt nothing but sympathy for Hollywood director Michael Bay when his teleprompter packed up during a CES event touting a new Samsung telly. But anyone with a wicked sense of humor would’ve laughed their ass off.

It started off so well, with Bay telling the audience confidently, “I’m a director, I get to dream for a living.” But within seconds, the presentation had turned into a nightmare as the teleprompter decided to stop doing the only job it had.

In the blink of an eye, Bay’s demeanor went from roaring lion to petrified bunny rabbit as he realized that he knew nothing about Samsung’s latest television other than that it showed images and made noises. It was the kind of transformation that would’ve ended up on the cutting room floor if it’d been shot for his 2007 robot movie.

“It’s OK, I’ll just wing this,” Bay said as the teleprompter stayed stuck. But if winging it meant not saying anything and adopting the facial expression of someone in need of the bathroom, then this was a new kind of winging it. In the end, Bay did the only thing he could do and left the stage. Probably making a beeline for that bathroom.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella

Cringe factor: 4/5

It was 2015 when the then-recently crowned Microsoft CEO suffered an on-stage snafu while demoing some productivity tools during a keynote in San Francisco. The CEO decided to call on Cortana — what Microsoft describes as its “clever personal assistant” — and asked it to “show me my most at-risk opportunities.”

Clearly more used to being asked about the weather and traffic reports than someone’s at-risk opportunities, a flustered Cortana entered Nadella’s request into Google Search as, “Show me to buy milk at this opportunity.” Which doesn’t even make sense.

At the second time of asking, Cortana opened up Reminders, prompting the Microsoft boss to emit a desperate cry of “come on!” By this time, Nadella was probably wondering if it was possible to fire a digital assistant, but he gave it one more shot. And sure enough, that failed, too.

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot

Cringe factor: 2/5

Everyone knows that Boston Dynamics’ robots are capable of some pretty extraordinary things. But it doesn’t always work out. Take Atlas, the company’s remarkable bipedal bot. During an on-stage appearance with company CEO Marc Raibert, Atlas earned the audience’s respect by lifting boxes and carrying them about. It was all very impressive.

Having done its bit to wow the audience, the robot began to leave the stage. But as it did so, Atlas tripped on a floor light, causing it to crash into a heap. As the crowd roared in delight at seeing Atlas hit the deck, a smiling Raibert responded with: “I wish I could pretend it was supposed to do that.”

Microsoft Azure

Cringe factor: 3/5

After launching its Edge web browser in 2015, Microsoft spent much of its time trumpeting its benefits over rival browsers. Rival browsers that included Google Chrome.

But when a live Azure demo went south in 2017 because of an issue with Edge, the presenter was forced to switch to Chrome to ensure the exercise could continue. “I love it when demos break,” the presenter told the audience while at the same time admitting that he was going to have to download Chrome get the show back on the road.

Of course, the audience rather enjoyed the embarrassing bungle, even more so when the presenter unchecked the box that read, “Help us make Google better by automatically sending usage statistics …” as he set up Chrome.

Apple’s Steve Jobs

Cringe factor: 4/5

In 2010, the late Apple boss Steve Jobs took to the stage in his trademark black top, blue jeans, and white sneakers to unveil the iPhone 4. But his plan to show off some of the phone’s features was scuppered when the new device took an eternity to load the New York Times website. “You could help me out — if you’re on Wi-Fi, you could just get off,” Jobs told the audience. Everyone laughed, but Jobs wasn’t joking.

Following a short break, the Apple co-founder returned to the stage to confirm that the issue was due to all of the reporters and bloggers in the audience using Wi-Fi on their laptops, and therefore had nothing whatsoever to do with the phone itself. Adopting the demeanor of a stern head teacher, Jobs proceeded to spend much of the presentation trying to get everyone to turn off their devices, even asking people to check on others around them to make sure it happens.

Microsoft’s Steve Sinofsky

Cringe factor: 5/5

At the much anticipated Microsoft event unveiling the company’s first Surface tablets in 2012, then-Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky was tasked with giving the device the best possible launch.

Of course, the display decided to freeze at the very moment Sinofsky swiped his finger across the screen while saying, “I can browse smoothly.” Unlike Jobs’ audience, which responded as if the Apple co-founder was doing a standup routine, Sinofsky’s crowd remained deadly silent as the put-upon executive perhaps pondered whether to utter something about too many people being on Wi-Fi. Thankfully, there was a back-up Surface on hand. And it actually worked.

Honda’s Asimo robot

Cringe factor: 4/5

Honda’s now-retired Asimo robot managed to dazzle and delight during its lifetime with skills that included running, hopping, dancing, and even entertaining American presidents. But climbing up stairs? Well, that was another challenge altogether, and one that didn’t always go to plan.

During a demo in Japan in 2006, the diminutive droid managed to get halfway up a flight of steps before losing its footing and tumbling all the way back down again. Check out the stagehands rushing on with large screens in an effort to protect Asimo’s dignity. Or to stop people filming it and posting it on YouTube …

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