Larissa Fedunik is NUPSA’s Student Communications Officer. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Innovation. Must-have. Revolution. These are words that get thrown about a lot in the tech sphere, and the land of internet-connected devices (aka the Internet of Things, or IoT) is no exception. But what happens when connectivity adds approximately zero value?
Redundancy doesn’t seem to be barrier for the manufacturers of useless IoT. In an article on The Conversation, David Glance, Director of the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Software Practice, writes that:
“Technology for technology’s sake has become a marketing strategy aimed at people who identify as being affluent, connected, innovative, and technologically fluent […There are] a long list of products that are as high-tech as they are lacking in utility.”
Perusing the Io(useless)T, you’ll find everything from smart water bottles, toasters, egg minders, hairbrushes, toilet paper dispensers, condoms and shutters. One writer even calls it the internet-of-spinach, after the infamous Wifi-juicer scam. Read on for more about the biggest IoT fails, plus three new devices that might actually make good on their promises! Maybe you’ll find something that could make uni life that little bit easier…
The spin: With the admirable mission of helping people consume more fresh produce everyday, the internet-connected Juicero juice machine, launched in 2016, was a cold-press juicing system which allegedly yielded four US tonnes of force: “the equivalent of two Teslas”.
The reality: Customers were surprised to discover that the packets can also expel juice simply by squeezing the packet – 400 USD juicer not required! But never fear, the device also checked a QR code to check it hasn’t expired… which saved you the trouble of just reading it off the packet… Maybe it’s no surprise that the company is now defunct.
The spin: The same year, Nespresso launched a Bluetooth-enabled version of its popular capsule-based coffee maker, along with a companion app. This allowed you to monitor your stock of coffee pods (to prevent those coffee-related emergencies) and start brewing your coffee from afar.
The reality: While the app could start the brewing process, it sadly didn’t have the capability to actually load the pod into the machine, or indeed to transport your ready-made coffee to you. You could also probably just check your coffee pod inventory by looking at it. Worth the extra 100 USD? Consumers didn’t think so – it’s since been discontinued.
The spin: This Swiss-manufactured smart iron is Bluetooth-enabled and provides tutorials and real-time guides to improve your ironing techniques, as well as tracking stats such as water levels and how much time you’ve spent ironing (!) The Laurastar launched in 2016 as well. Just as 2012 is a renowned future Vintage year in champagne circles, 2016 will go down in IoT history.
The reality: On the plus side, the Laurastar does exactly as it says. It’s still available for purchase – and it will only set you back a cool $2,999.00. Probably for this reason, it won the dubious honour of being the most pointless IoT device of 2017 according to Computer Business Review.
You’ve probably noticed a theme here. The manufacturers of these devices have tried to fill a gap in the market, at a premium price. But the reality is that the gap probably exists because consumers are doing fine without it.
Of course, plenty of new gadgets are actually functional and helpful. I trawled the web to find three which I’m tentatively recommending to students – with just a few caveats.
Solar tech backpacks
Studying and working out of the office is great for a change of scenery, but it sometimes comes with the logistical challenge of charging all your devices. Bags with built-in phone and laptop chargers have been around for a while now, but now some sustainably-focused manufacturers (such as Voltaic Systems and Swiss Peak) are offering backpacks with built-in chargers that are solar powered. With no battery, they can charge your smartphone with 1.5 hours of direct sunlight.
The catch: I feel duty-bound to report that the backpacks are not the most stylish ones I’ve seen (although the solar panels are a sure-fire conversation starter!). On the plus side, the backpacks replace the need to hunt around a building for an available charging station, and they’re green! On the downside, they might require you to hunt around campus for a patch of available sunshine, where you must remain for several hours.
The bottom line: Probably best suited to bike-commuters (charge everything on your morning ride) in a very sunny climate.
Laster virtual keyboard
A friend of mine used to share an office space with a researcher who was a very aggressive typist. Clack! Clack! Clack! she would hear all day, much to the detriment of her concentration. Well, if only her co-worker had heard of the Magic Cube laser virtual keyboard.
The Cube is a Bluetooth-connected, USB-rechargeable box that fits into the palm of your hand and projects a full-size QWERTY keyboard, transforming any flat surface into a workable (and silent) keyboard that syncs your text onto your device.
The catch: Another day, another device to remember to charge. Perhaps a future iteration could be charged by the sound of white noise or office gossip (that’s my dream, anyway).
The bottom line: For everyone who likes to eat lunch al desko, it would be much easier to clean than a grimy standard keyboard. And it could potentially prevent office homicides.
I rarely write long-hand these days, and my handwriting has majorly degraded in legibility as a result. It seems all those handwriting lessons in my formative years were for nothing. Maybe a smart pen would encourage me to take up old-fashioned writing again.
Smart pens like the LiveScribe Echo are a fusion of an old-school pen, a Stylus and an audio recorder. Equipped with a high-speed infrared camera and built-in microphone and speaker, the Echo can capture and store about 20,000 pages of digital handwriting and 200 hours of audio recording. With the desktop companion app, you can organize, review, replay and share your interactive notes.
The catch: Further research is needed into exactly how messy your handwriting can be before the smart pen reaches its smart limit.
The bottom line: Very useful if you get sick of making extensive notes in lectures or meetings, and recording through a pen does have a certain James Bond flair.
What’s your verdict? Which new gadgets and IoT devices are actually worth your time and money? Let us know!