The Internet of Things (IoT) may have jumped the digital shark this year.
Of course, some would say this happened a long time ago. The New York Times was calling it the “Internet of Way Too Many Things” back in 2015, long before the Amazon Echo, Google Home and other voice-activated speakers found their way into tens of millions of American homes, and long before smart versions of ordinary devices replaced consumers’ thermostats, refrigerators and cars.
Long before two-thirds of consumers told PYMNTS that they wanted their connected device, whatever it may be, to make seamless payments on their behalf, as shown in this year’s “How We Will Pay” study. The study also illuminated which devices people use most and how they like to use them.
But buying stuff and turning up the heat are pretty common use cases, and if some find them a bit excessive or unnecessary, it’s just a matter of taste; many consumers now feel that their smart devices are essential to their lives, whether for convenience, home security or peace of mind.
Where the IoT jumps the shark is with connected devices that never needed to be connected; they are simply smart because they can be. These devices purport to solve problems that no one actually has. The IoT has gone beyond the point of “No one will ever buy this,” into the realm of “So bad it’s good.”
Just like on the TV series Happy Days, where, while water skiing, the character Fonzie literally jumped over a shark, the world of connected devices has gotten a little ridiculous — although in this case, it’s not that developers are out of ideas; it’s that they’re treating every idea as worthy of pursuit.
A lot of them aren’t.
However, a lot of them are worthy of a few good laughs. Here are a few of 2017’s most outlandish connected devices.
There are two types of ramen-eaters in the world: quiet ones and loud ones. Whether consumers like to slurp their noodles or cringe at the sound of others eating loudly, this smart fork can make dining together a more comfortable experience for all.
The Otohiko fork connects to the user’s smartphone and, when it detects a slurping noise, plays a masking sound to hide the slurp. Not exactly subtle — but, certainly entertaining, and perhaps an effective way to make light of what could otherwise be an awkward situation.
Quirky Egg Minder
Red alert! Egg supply has reached critical level! Now that info can be pinged directly to consumers’ phones to remind them to buy more eggs. The Quirky Egg Minder, made in partnership with GE, tracks how many eggs are in the fridge as well as how fresh they are. But, like, it doesn’t even order more eggs automatically when it’s running out, so what’s the point?
Smart flip flops by Hari Mari and baseball glove maker Nokona use near-field communication (NFC) technology to pair with a mobile app and notify the wearer of Hari Mari discounts and special offers. That’s it. No fitness tracking, no weather updates, just promotions and deals. But hey, for the consumer who really, really loves Hari Mari, maybe these shoes are a must.
Wi-Fi Brita Filter
Water filters are a great way to cut out the expense and waste of all those plastic bottles and just drink purified tap water. However, they do need to be replaced from time to time, a task that many people neglect. That’s why Brita teamed up with Amazon Dash to create the Brita Infinity, which automatically orders a new $6 filter as soon as it detects that the old filter has outlived its usefulness.
Convenient, yes — but do consumers really want their smart devices making purchases for them? The application of this technology for automated commerce is probably limited to small-ticket items like water filters and not much else.
Looking for something a little stronger than water? This smart wine bottle sleeve works with select wine “cartridges.” When one is inserted, the touchscreen will offer information and tidbits about the wine. The touchscreen can also be used to order more wine when the bottle is empty. This seems like it could lead to some poor decisions, but who are we to judge?
Jim Beam Decanter
Whiskey maker Jim Beam entered the connected device arena with a voice-activated decanter for its Kentucky bourbon whiskey. The decanter’s only real skill is to measure out shots, but it’s smart enough to spout some sass if people ask it to do anything else. For instance, try to find out the weather and the decanter will say (in the voice of seventh-generation master distiller Fred Noe) that it has no idea, but it does know it’s the perfect weather to drink some bourbon.
If only it could learn to order a new bottle of bourbon when the old one was empty, it would be perfect. Hey, anyone want to create one for the Voice Challenge with Amazon Alexa?
It’s a Nest Cam for dogs, including a two-way radio that lets users talk to their dogs remotely and sends them notifications if it senses barking — but that’s not what makes Furbo ridiculous. What makes it ridiculous is the device’s ability to shoot dog treats upon remote command from the user’s smartphone.
Apparently, that function is in hot demand among dog moms and dads, because Furbo raised $500,000 in crowdfunding last summer and is now retailing for $242.
Just add smart to salt and you get “Smalt,” the salt shaker that connects to the internet. Users can turn the dial manually, shake their smartphone or pinch the screen or ask Alexa to dispense a pinch or a teaspoon. Plus, the shaker has its own built-in Bluetooth speaker and multi-colored mood lighting.
However, the rechargeable batteries only last four hours, so it’ll need to be charged roughly once every day or two (assuming customers want salt on the table at each meal). On top of that, it can’t actually grind salt. This “upgrade” might actually be a downgrade…
If the Griffin Toaster, which pings users’ phones when their toast is done and remembers their favorite settings for different types of bread, wasn’t extra enough, just wait: It gets better. The Toasteroid makes toasting bread a social activity — just what consumers want first thing in the morning!
The app-controlled smart image toaster can print any design onto a slice of toast, from the latest weather report to a toasted text message from a friend (presuming they have the same weird toaster). Why not receive utility bills this way, too, or today’s New York Times? That’s one way to ingest the morning news…
Then there’s the $1,000 mirror that displays weather updates and notifications, the carry-on luggage that promises to weigh itself, charge your phone and lock itself, the coffee machine that knows when you’re out of pods, the hairbrush that uses a gyroscope, accelerometer and microphone to measure how well you’re brushing, the water bottle that glows to remind you to hydrate and the “smart condom” that measures a man’s performance in the bedroom.
There’s a connected toothbrush that streams live video of the inside of your mouth to your smartphone, the smart floss dispenser that churns out just the right amount at the tap of a finger, a smart changing pad that monitors your baby’s weight, diaper changes and food intake, an umbrella that tells you when you’ve misplaced it (and where) and a whole slew of smart trash receptacles and Keurig-style appliances for everything from cookies to tortillas — just to name a few.
These devices aren’t even solving first-world problems anymore. They’re solving problems that literally do not exist. Luckily for developers, there’s a market for that.
That market may consist largely of people buying gag gifts for Yankee swap holiday parties, but it’s there. And certainly there’s a large population of hipsters who love to buy things “ironically.” For this market, perhaps the Echo was just too mainstream. Perhaps jumping the shark was exactly what the IoT needed to do to suck them in.