4 Bullshit Tech Products You'll Hate in 2015
This year Cracked sent a team of journalists, including me, to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For the uninitiated: CES is where the world's major gadget-makers come to show off the phones, televisions, vehicles, audio equipment, and "smart" devices they plan to sell over the next year. CES is a great place to get a sneak peek at the future, but it's also the world's largest repository of useless bullshit technology no one ever asked for. If you want to know what stupid, stupid ideas the tech industry plans to sell us in the future, you've got to go to CES.
We've put together a list of the terrible tech trends you can look forward to in 2015. Don't say we didn't warn you when companies start ...
Weighing Useful Products Down With Bullshit Technology
Y'know what sucks about dogs? No, not the fact that they sometimes get into the garbage, poop on your floor, and die more frequently than NBC sitcoms. The problem with dogs is that they get lost sometimes, and very few of them speak English well enough to hail a cab. That's why we've invented a galaxy of GPS-enabled dog collars, wonderfully useful products that have saved countless pet owners untold stress and pain.
Motorola took one look at this successful, practical product category and said, "Well sure, but wouldn't it be better if we just gave every dog its own smartphone?"
No, I'm not joking. The below product is Motorola's Scout 500, and it's a digital dog collar. The PR person who tried to sell it to us described it as "a smartphone for dogs." It comes with a camera (so you can watch the world through your dog's eyes, but in color), a GPS app, and -- most terrifyingly -- a speaker, so you can yell at your dog from a great distance.
YOU: Hey boy! How's it going?
YOUR DOG: Woof! (Translation: MASTER WHY MUST YOU SCREAM FROM ACROSS THE VOID MY LIFE IS FEAR)
And what does the ability to micromanage your dog cost? Why, just $199 and a monthly data plan. So it's like your data plan, only for an animal without the opposable thumbs or interest in porn that makes such things useful. CES 2015 has made a bit of a habit of adding bullshit bells and whistles to perfectly functional technology. A great example is this set of "completely wireless" headphones from HearNotes.
The big claim to fame with these is that they are totally wireless -- not one crazed gun-toting loner of a wire between them. That makes the HearNotes more convenient, for reasons the PR person was certain were valid, but it also means these headphones come in three pieces, which guarantees at least one of them will be lost at any given point in time past the instant you buy them:
You'd be better off gluing the damn things to that inductive charging pad.
These headphones don't use Bluetooth, they use something called Kleer technology. I don't understand the technical details behind it, because I'm only a tech journalist in the dark if you squint, but it's supposed to deliver better audio quality while sacrificing like 70 percent of the battery life you'd get from most Bluetooth headphones. So if you want to use these "smart" headphones, you can't do it for more than three or four hours at a time, which might be fine for some things, but what about long plane rides or just, you know, the convenience of not having to constantly remember to charge another thing. Forget to charge between workouts? Fuck you, your headphones are dead!
Also, these fuckers cost $349. Is "better sound quality you won't notice" and "a complete lack of wires" worth owning expensive, easy-to-lose, charge-hungry headphones? Nope! But don't tell the guys at HearNotes that. They're nice guys, and I don't want to bum them out.
Adding Unnecessary iPhone/iPad Functionality
Look, smartphones and tablets are fucking awesome. We know from our own demographic info that roughly half of you reading this article are doing it on some kind of mobile device. Pocket computing has changed society in more ways than we can really know right now. But there's a goddamn limit. And CES is full of companies hellbent on ramming into that limit like drunken June bugs hitting a light bulb.
Take Whirlpool, the largest manufacturer of home appliances, according to some dude they paid to hawk their products to hungover journalists at CES. Their big product this year is a new "smart top load" washer and dryer. It's a game changer, assuming the game is being hopelessly incompetent at using a laundry machine. First up: it lets you customize your wash cycles, and you can even download new wash routines direct from Whirlpool.
Because no one knows clean clothing like corporate engineers!
I was always under the impression that cycles vary from "hot" to "cold" and ... that's about it. Most people, particularly most of the tech-savvy young people likely to buy "connected" appliances, probably just press "wash" and stagger away to do absolutely anything non-laundry related. Whirlpool is betting that, even if these people don't care about customizing their rinse cycles, they'll be psyched about their dryer's newfound ability to bug the shit out of their phone:
No longer will man be chained to the tyranny of checking the lint trap his own damn self. And because this ridiculous appliance didn't have enough bells and whistles, Whirlpool added the ability to donate money to one (very specific) charity. Every wash you'll be prompted to donate money to Habitat for Humanity, and only Habitat for Humanity. Because nothing goes with menial chores like tiny amounts of charity:
You might have noticed that the above picture is of an iPad, not a washer or dryer. That's because the actual appliance looks perfectly normal. In order to get the full functionality out of it, you've got to pair it with your tablet or phone. The saddest gadgets at a show like CES are ones that take an existing product and just add an iPad to the mix. For another example, here's Pure Imagination's Perfect Bake. It's a scale and app that lets you know exactly how much of which ingredients you need to make the perfect cupcakes, breads, or whatever. It's billed as a product that can turn anyone into a great baker:
Here's the problem: if you can't bake for shit, it's probably not because you're bad at using a scale. The more likely culprit is your inability to stir or pour properly, an outright lack of the proper baking tools, or your crippling inability to pull something out of the oven before it actually catches on fire.
Perfect Bake will help you with none of this. What it will do is let your iPad know when you've poured the right amount of something into a bowl. Or, more likely, it'll let you know you've fucked up irreparably and poured way too much flour into the bowl. The video demos they showed us flowed straight from mixing batter with the help of the app, which I believed, to expertly cutting the core out of muffins and filling them with jam, then replacing the top and beautifully covering them with icing. Your iPad will not help you with that.
Selling Products Only Insane Rich People Want
We've all got problems, but as a wise man once said: mo' money leads directly to mo' problems. Rich people have the kind of wealth and separation from the ugly parts of modern life that lets them obsess over all kinds of inane bullshit. And no matter what problems you might have -- drug addiction, chronic exhaustion, hysteria -- Innovzen has a chair that can fix it, if you're willing to pay.
"A $10,000 chair or a $10 yoga class? Does it really matter when you wipe your ass with Grover Clevelands?"
No, that's not a massage chair. The Innovzen CES rep repeated this fact about a dozen times. Instead, it's a chair that helps re-teach you how to breathe. Because you're shitty at that, and the people of Innovzen think it's probably why your life is a rampant disaster. I was told that a session with this chair could put me on the road to curing all my various ailments: my myriad substance-abuse issues, my obsessive fight-clubbing, my inability to sleep at night without waking up screaming to the Spanish-language version of "It's a Small World."
So after the briefing, I went over to Innovzen's booth at CES to check this chair out. They sat me down, gave me a pair of earbuds, and told me to close my eyes and relax while the chair showed me how shitty I am at taking in oxygen. Here's what happened: it leaned back and then forward and gently massaged my spine while a tube blew air into my nose. The chair came with an app that promised to quantify just how shitty I am at breathing, as well as "free oxygen," as long as I was willing to drop $10,000 for the chair itself. For just the price of a car, mild relaxation could be mine!
Did it work? Well, not standing up for the first time in six hours was nice. But the constant puffs of air up my nose didn't relax me as much as they made me suspect an invisible fairy might be farting onto my face.
I was barely able to stifle a laugh the entire demo.
On the other hand? If you're the kind of wealthy, disconnected fuck who can drop 10 grand on a gimmick, buying Innovzen's ridiculous chair might be the least harmful thing you can do with your largess.
Adding Social Media to Products That Should Not Be Social
Vaporizers are more hip than the trash can at a geriatric surgery clinic, but you know what they lack right now? The ability to share your smoking history on social media. Smokio aims to fix that by building a vaporizer with social media capabilities that can tell you in real time just how much nicotine you're sucking down:
Wondering which of your friends can huff the most vaporized nicotine in a 24-hour period? Smokio can help! Although the executives I talked to didn't want to give the impression that they want people taking in more nicotine. Oh no -- they bill their new app-vape combo as a way to quit smoking.
"People get off of cigarettes first, then they cut out nicotine entirely," was the general idea.
I asked, "Won't that eventually run you out of business?"
"We'd be happy to stop making sales!"
That sounds super admirable, but like everything a PR person says on the floor of a trade show, it's bullshit. Use of an e-cigarette comes with "significantly lower odds" of quitting cigarettes. And even if you do cut the nicotine out of your diet, vapor still exposes your lungs to fun stuff like formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acetic acid. Joy!
I want to be super clear here: this was billed as a social app. The ad they showed us focused on two friends sharing their huffing history with one another:
"Wait, you're JoeCamel69? Huge fan of your work, brah. Next-level puffs. Your dad must've fucked a chimney."
Maybe this social dimension will help smokers wean each other. But I think it's more likely they'll just use it as an excuse to nerd out over vapor mixes, nicotine ratios, and whatever else vaporizer fans love. You've barely got to throw a stone in any major American city to find vapor bars and shops catering to the nerdiest dimensions of this addiction: a social app that lets people compare their vaping history doesn't seem likely to make the whole "inhaling liquid death" thing less common.
While we're on the topic, also check out 6 Futuristic Products for the Biggest Asshole at a Party and 5 Reasons Tech Companies Make Bad Gadgets (an Inside Look).