Technology can do amazing things, but it can do really stupid things too: for every iPhone or smartwatch there’s a baby poop alarm or something unexpected for your baggage area.
In some cases it’s not even the tech that’s bad, but the marketing: products that make total sense for people with mobility issues find themselves rebranded as camera accessories for the kind of people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near cameras.
The following pieces of tech make us cringe, and we’re really, really sorry about number 17.
1. MacBook Selfie Sticks
We have a love-hate relationship with selfie sticks, in that we love to hate the people who use them. While we can see the benefit in some very specific circumstances, such as when you want to get a group shot on holiday without a stranger running off with your smartphone, once you get beyond a certain size we start judging you harshly.
But harshly doesn’t even begin to describe how we feel about this modern monstrosity, the MacBook Selfie Stick. It does exactly what you think it does: it enables people to wave ridiculously expensive laptops with crap cameras in the air like enormous neon signs saying “I am rich and a great target for mugging!” The good news: right now it only exists as a satirical art project.
2. Smart condoms
We thought these were an April fool, especially given the name: i.Con. But no! British Condoms will apparently take nearly sixty of your British pounds for what it calls a Smart Condom. It’s a sensor-equipped ring that slips over the base of your condom so you can – and we can’t believe we’re writing this – record the number and frequency of your thrusts and the duration and frequency of your sessions. “Have you ever wondered how many calories you’re burning during intercourse?” It asks, to which our answer is a firm “no” followed by “what on Earth is wrong with you?”
3. Smart forks
Wouldn’t it be great if technology could help you eat less? Perhaps you could have a smart speaker that plays the screams of the damned at full volume whenever you open the fridge door, or a little robot man who punches you in the face if you go for an extra slice of pizza. Or you could drop sixty bucks on an electronic space fork so you can’t afford to eat anything this week. That may be the thinking behind the Hapi Fork, which monitors how fast you’re eating and stabs you in the eyes if you’re going too quickly. We made the stabbing bit up.
4. Baby poop alarms
This one’s a great example of something that’s potentially useful to people with sensory issues but that’s marketed to all parents as a brilliant, life-changing gadget. There are many incarnations of this particular one, but they all work in the same way: “technology” can detect urine or faeces, raising the alarm by playing a sound and flashing an LED. We know it’s an easy gag to just reprint badly translated product blurb, but that’s what we like about it: it’s easy. “It is the pee or poop alarm goods for baby or old people who is in body-inconvenience.-it can let guardian know baby's situation when pooping and peeing using sensor made in Germany.”
5. Smart salt dispensers
Dispensing the right amount of salt is easy if, like your correspondent, you’re Scottish: if you can still see your food, you haven’t put enough salt on it. But while we appreciate that other people might not like their food quite so salty, we’re not convinced that smart salt shakers are the best use of our planet’s limited resources. Colour us cynical, then, about SMALT: it is “more than just a centerpiece and more than just a smart salt dispenser.” Apparently, “SMALT is a conversation starter and a great way to entertain guests.” Wait till you see their faces when you dispense salt by shaking your smartphone or, better still, “simply turning the dial manually”! What joy it is to live in such times!
6. Bluetooth hairbrushes
The Kérastase Hair Coach no longer seems to be available, despite its obvious brilliance: it’s a hairbrush that uses Bluetooth to communicate with an app because life is short and that’s a brilliant way of using your limited time on Earth. Allure magazine didn’t see it that way, though: it was “a game-changing gadget”, a “mic-drop moment” for the beauty industry offering “a whole different kind of technological disruption.” It has a microphone to listen to your hair! It has sensors to tell whether your hair is wet! The handle has “fancy tools” and vibrates! It, er, doesn’t work very well on curly or coarse hair!
7. Algorithmic clothes
Maybe you saw a poorly inserted Thom Yorke flogging Radiohead T-shirts with pictures of trolls on them, or a hoodie with the immortal phrase “Never underestimate a mother who listens to Iron Maiden and was born in August”. Facebook ads and online shops are full of these bizarre items, bot-generated T-shirt and hoodie designs that manage to be strangely fascinating in a “if you buy me one of these as a present I’ll never speak to you again” way.
8. The Hushme Voice Mask
If you’ve ever thought, “wouldn’t it be great if everybody in the office looked like that scary Bane guy from the Batman movies?”, have we got the product for you: “the world’s first voice mask for smartphones”, which is designed to keep the outside world out of your conversation while making you look like a cross between a Star Wars Stormtrooper and Hannibal Lecter. To their credit the developers are well aware of how it looks, quoting Einstein’s comment that “for an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope”.
9. Smart toilets
It was just a matter of time: after Japanese multi-function toilets got Bluetooth functionality (which was quickly abused, with hilarious consequences for everyone but the occupants) it was inevitable that toilets would become part of the smart home, er, movement. Kohler’s Numi has “an intuitive touch-screen remote”, Bluetooth streaming for music and podcasts and ambient coloured lighting. Yours for just $8,000.
10 Hilariously dubious weight-loss tech
Health technology has long made promises it can’t keep, and we’re in a golden age of lofty promises right now: a quick browse around your favourite online retailer will bring you endless products promising all kinds of wonderfulness. One of our current favourites is the Modius, a £369 headband that “makes weight loss easier by reducing cravings, decreasing appetite, making you feel fuller, quicker.” It’s really simple: whenever you’re hungry, you chew on it.
No! We kid! It stimulates the brain with vibrations or something. Or you could just eat better and exercise more and spend the £369 on new clothes when you drop a few pounds.
11. Virtual tattoos
Inkhunter enables you to try on any tattoo in real time to see how it would look on your arm, or anywhere else you can (a) get inked and (b) get a smartphone shot of without giving yourself a hernia. “Share your dope design with your friends!” it urges, and “think before you ink!”
This would be quite good in a tattoo parlour, but we can’t help but think it’s more likely to be used by people who’ll talk endlessly about getting inked without ever actually getting round to doing it.
12. Subwoofer watches
Have you ever enjoyed the thudding bass at a gig or club and thought “man, I wish I could experience something not remotely like this on a small part of my arm”? No? Us neither. But the Basslet attracted six hundred thousand Euros in Kickstarter funding by promising to use a “psychoacoustic phenomenon” to trick your brain into feeling bass that isn’t actually there.
Now, psychoacoustics are a real thing and the Basslet is a clever bit of technology, but it has a fundamental flaw: it’s a watch. That means the effect, even at its most powerful, is only in one relatively little part of your arm, not through your entire body like real bass. Wired described the experience as “not entirely pleasant”.
13. iPad typewriters
We’re writers, so of course we love old typewriters: give us a good clacky keyboard and we instantly think we’re Hemingway. However, while we appreciate the aesthetic appeal of retro iPad keyboards such as the QWERKYWRITER, if you sit next to us in a coffee shop and start clacking away on one we’re going to track you down in the Kindle Store and leave really scathing reviews.
14. All hoverboards
We’ve tried, we really have, but we can’t take any adult seriously when they’re riding along on something that looks like half of Barbie’s car. We can’t be the only people who’ve seen someone shoot past slowly on an offensively coloured, over-lit, Bluetooth-streaming trundle-trolley and hoped it’ll quickly turn out to be one of the super-explodey ones from the Shenzhen Dangerous Toy And Lawnmower Company.
It sounds like an opera singer or some kind of stage magician, but the reality is a lot less exciting and slightly more annoying. Sospendo is a hands-free device for smartphones and tablets made of an adjustable tube that you can use to get the tablet just-so. It’s not the product so much as the marketing: while it has obvious applications for people with accessibility issues and for workplaces, for reasons unknown the marketing whizzes have made a video pitching it as the perfect product for sleepy hipsters and careless urinators.
16 Facebook Portal
“Hi there, Mark Zuckerberg here. You may remember me from countless invasions of privacy and all those user data scandals. I’d like to put cameras all around your home!” We’re trying hard to imagine product pitches that would be less attractive: a babysitting service staffed entirely by crazed pitbulls, perhaps, or a supergroup featuring Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Crazy Frog doing the songs of Nickelback.
There are privacy issues with any smart home device, of course, but unlike Facebook, the bosses of Apple, Google and Amazon probably aren’t rooting through your bins as you read this.
17 Fleshlight launchpad
Look, we’re sorry. We really are. This device doesn’t make us cringe because it’s a sex aid – we’re not prudes, and we’ve been writing about rude tech since the heady days of writing 58008 upside down on calculators – but because we can’t help imagining the reaction of the late Steve Jobs if he’d seen what some people were up to with iPads. “Boom!” indeed.