The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is known as the launching pad of some of the most influential technologies in human history, and certainly in the modern age. Over its 49 years, the event has featured the debuts of the VCR, the Xbox videogame console and high-definition television.
But CES can also always be counted on to deliver its share of duds. With thousands of products launched at the show every year, it is safe to say the signal-to-noise ratio weighs heavily towards noise. The vast majority of gadgets that make their debut in Las Vegas are quickly forgotten, or never see the light of day in the first place.
This year’s show was no different, with companies of all sizes trying to pass off stinkers as the next big things.
Smarter, a British company with an ironic name, believes it can persuade people to buy its Fridge Cam, which is exactly what it sounds like. The US$100 fish-eye camera sticks to the inside of a refrigerator and takes a picture of its contents every time the door closes.
The idea is to relay those pictures back to its owner, who can use them to determine if more ketchup or Coca-Cola is needed. At last, a method for never running out of those crucial condiments again.
The gadget’s makers evidently did not take into account that fridges are often not photogenic. If yours is anything like mine, it is crammed full of cartons, jugs and bottles, plus copious Tupperware with last week’s leftovers. The only thing a camera stuck to the back of the fridge is going to see is just how expired that container of yoghurt in front of it is.
It’s not just small companies that come to CES guilty of wishful thinking. Samsung’s Family Hub, also introduced at this year’s show, also has an inside camera for the same purposes. But worse still, the fridge has a 21.5-inch tablet stuck to its front, in case you want to look at the weather or a map.
Clearly, the South Korean company learnt nothing from the mockery it faced at the 2011 CES, where it was pushing a refrigerator that ran Twitter. The more things change, apparently, the more they stay the same.
Samsung seems to be a particular glutton for punishment, with the company also trying to sell this year’s attendees on a smart belt. This follows last year’s laughing stock Belty, which, incredibly, was back at this year’s CES for another go.
Both companies still believe people want to have sensors and apps that track their expanding waistlines, because growing pants sizes and the slow disappearance of our feet from our line of sight are not enough of a reminder.
In Samsung’s case, it is even worse because the product is named Welt – as in wellness belt. Or as in the mark it leaves when slapped against your backside – that’s what you get for eating that extra doughnut.
But are smart fridges and smart belts any worse than smart water bottles? Virginia-based LifeFuels debuted the Smart Nutrition Bottle, which connects to your iPhone so you can monitor your water intake. The world’s entrepreneurs are clearly running out of things to connect to the internet.
And then there are the products that will probably never happen, or that will not deliver what they promise, such as the ili. It looks like an old Apple remote, but it’s actually a necklace that can supposedly translate instantly between English, Chinese and Japanese. It doesn’t need to connect to anything – not a phone or the internet. Its language libraries are all stored on the diminutive device itself.
That is, if you believe Logbar, the company based in both California and Japan that is working on the device. Company representatives were tight-lipped about pricing or a release date when asked, which suggests the ili could be vapourware – a product that never really takes material form.
Logbar spent last year’s CES talking up the Ring, a piece of jewellery that doubled as a sort of master control device that could connect to and take over virtually every other kind of gadget. Early reviews savaged the device, which raised nearly US$1 million on Kickstarter, for working poorly.
While the Ring did eventually come to fruition, it has not exactly made much of an impact. It will be joined shortly on the pile of forgotten CES gadgets by a whole slew of new companies.
Peter Nowak is a veteran technology writer and the author of Humans 3.0: The Upgrading of the Species.
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