Every day, there’s a new connected home gadget claiming to make life easier.
Some of these gadgets are easy sources of scepticism, but others can be worth buying. The Amazon Echo has genuine, if simple, uses. Roombas, smart lights, and WeMo switches have their virtues as well.
With some other products, it’s harder to see the mass appeal.
The past few years have brought a wave of self-proclaimed smart devices that take the “things” part of “Internet of Things” very seriously. Sometimes, these go past the point of utility and into the land of cynicism. They’re often overpriced. And few companies ever seem to care about keeping them secure. (Sometimes, to disastrous effect.)
To illustrate just how far the tech world is willing to go to make anything and everything connected, let’s look at a few of the more out-there smart gadgets we’ve seen recently:
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- Ultimate IoT Research Bundle
All prices are in Australian dollars.
The Quirky Egg Minder solves a question as old as time itself: 'Why can't I connect my egg tray to the internet?'
Made in partnership with GE, this thing syncs with your smartphone and sends you push notifications when you're on the verge of being eggless. LED lights on the tray itself tell you which of its 14 eggs nearing their expiration date.
It's only $A17.19 on Amazon at the moment, which isn't so bad compared to some of the other gadgets here, though its user reviews have been pretty brutal thus far.
The Hidrate Spark is one of a few 'smart water bottles' that've popped up in recent years, most of which do the same thing: pair with a companion app over Bluetooth, then walk you through staying properly hydrated.
To be fair, the 24-ounce Spark does look nice, and the fact that it glows when you hit your thirst-quenching goals is cute. But paying $72.75 to be reminded to drink water might be a bit much, especially when you can already log this stuff with one of several free fitness apps.
Tech companies are all in on this water thing, apparently. The $59.50 Brita Infinity bills itself as 'the future of hydration' -- it works like any other Brita you've seen, only it can sense when its current purification filter has outlived its usefulness.
When it does, it will automatically order a new $7.95 filter from Amazon. (Brita teamed with Amazon's Dash Replenishment Service for this one, if that wasn't clear.)
As a neglectful Brita owner, I could see this being somewhat useful. It's certainly good business for Amazon, too. Still, it's hard not to find the idea of automated commerce being particularly, let's say, thirsty.
Yep, there's smart baby stuff too. Putting an infant on the Hatch Baby Smart Changing Pad lets you keep tabs on their weight, diaper changes, food intake, and so on, all of which goes back to a companion app. If needed, you can share that data with a pediatrician.
This isn't unhelpful, especially if your kid is dealing with allergies or other early health concerns. As CNET notes, though, the app does most of the heavy lifting here; the $330.50 pad isn't much more than a comfortable scale on its own.
Again, the Onvi Prophix isn't the only 'smart toothbrush' in existence, but it's likely the oddest. It connects to your phone, naturally, but it uses its app to show you photos and live video of the inside of your mouth. It can do that because there's a 10-megapixel camera built into the brush itself.
If you have serious dental concerns, maybe you could get something out of the $528.80 necessary to jump on the bandwagon here. For most others, a bathroom mirror should do the trick.
In related 'dental hygiene in the 21st century' news, there's Flosstime, a smart floss dispenser that mounts to a bathroom mirror and churns out 18 inches of tooth rope when tapped. The idea is to get you in the habit of flossing regularly, which seems feasible given that you'll have a white floss shooting machine staring you in the face whenever you go the bathroom.
If nothing else, Flosstime realises the kid-friendly potential here, as the company sells a handful of cutesy covers to snap over the device. If you're a floss-conscious adult with no discipline, though, the dispenser goes for $39.70
Kuvée is like a Keurig for wine. Its WiFi-connected, touchscreen-enabled wine bottle sleeve -- which raised $7.95 million in funding last year -- works with a select number of wine 'cartridges.' Slot one in, and you can scroll through various tidbits about what you're drinking.
When you're done, you can buy a replacement on the bottle itself, because of course you can. If you're not turned off by paying $199 for a wine dispenser you have to periodically recharge, Kuvée does claim those cartridges will stay fresh for up to 30 days.
The Juicero is a $527.50 connected 'juicing system' that won't make juice if your WiFi is down. While that slice of modernity may sound frightening, it's not the most expensive a juicer has been (the Juicero itself debuted at $925.40), and the whole thing does appear to be a simple, effective way of making healthy drinks.
The company recently installed a former Coca-Coca exec (with a great name) as its CEO, and says it's slowly rolling out across California, Nevada, and Arizona before expanding further later in the year. It's also setting up shop in some Whole Foods stores. So for all the Silicon Valley hype and subsequent backlash it's received, it seems to be sorting things out.
The Flatev brings Keurig-ization to tortillas. You stuff a Flatev-approved pod of dough into the grey toaster-like box, press a button, and watch it go. Flatev hopes to ship the device this summer. It will retail for more than $528.80, with an 8-pack of pods going for about $US6. That's a lot!
Still, there's been interest -- the company's raised millions in funding, and it earned more than $179,792 through Kickstarter last year. Its creators say they want to make the device work with other types of flatbreads, too, for what that's worth.
So it turns out people are pretty fond of that Keurig business model. The Chip is a little WiFi-connected oven that works like the Juicero and Flatev, only with cookies. You buy a set of proprietary 'cookie pods,' pop them in, and let the oven do the work. There's an app, of course, that notifies you when your batch is done and lets you order new pods as you wish.
All this comes from SideChef, which does run a relatively established cooking app. It raised more than $132,200 on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo last year, and is set to ship by October. The oven itself will cost $US249 when it becomes available, with cookie pods going for $1.32-$2.65 depending on your dough or $18.55 a month through a monthly subscription.
While it's hard to call anything that facilitates cookie-making bad, it's not like baking cookies is a terribly involved process as it is. If nothing else, it's definitely more affordable. SideChef says the Chip takes about 10 minutes to bake its batches, too, which isn't that much faster than usual, and the oven only appears to make four cookies at a time.
Still, the Chip is more or less an Easy-Bake Oven for adults, so if you're a cookie fiend with money to burn and no desire to actually make your snack of choice, maybe keep an eye out.
The June is a smart countertop oven that uses internal cameras, an Nvidia Tegra chipset, and artificial intelligence to recognise different foods you place within it, then cook them automatically. It was made by former Apple engineers, and it's actually available to purchase today. Various reviews suggest that, when it works, it works very well.
Plus, unlike some other items on this list, the June oven is actually getting at a good idea. You might not need an oven that can send messages to your phone, but plenty of people have no idea what they're doing in the kitchen, and the idea of coming home after a long day and having your oven bake a perfect salmon with no effort has appeal. If people aren't willing to learn the 'finer things' of cooking and just use Seamless anyway, why not encourage more home-cooked meals?
The problem is that the June costs $1,983, and it still lacks the nuance to recognise anything you throw at it. For now, it's still a bit ridiculous, and still a bit of an emblem of Silicon Valley excess. But if it gets better (and cheaper), there's potential.
The HapiFork is a Bluetooth-enabled 'smart fork' that vibrates when it senses you're eating too fast. As goofy as it sounds, it aims to solve a genuine problem in some form or another. Whether or not you need to pay actual money and subject yourself to a Pavlovian experiment to solve that problem, however...
I've left umbrellas at bars and restaurants across the country, so I'm not totally opposed to a connected model like the Oombrella, which can send its last known location to your phone. That it can send weather alerts to your phone isn't the worst thing, either, although weather apps (and human eyes) exist for a reason.
Putting your $105.80 toward umbrella stats, though, may be a bridge too far. The device also seems to have run into manufacturing issues -- not uncommon for these kind of things -- so exactly when you'll be able to buy one isn't yet clear.
The Belty Good Vibes is the second 'smart belt' from French startup Emiota, and serves as a sort of leather, waist-worn fitness tracker. It pairs with a companion app and vibrates when it senses you sitting too long, not standing up straight, drinking too little water, and so on. Emiota planned to launch it by last December for a hefty $522.20, but as of this writing it isn't yet available for purchase. Again, we're talking strange IoT gadgets here. C'est la vie.
In any case, it's not the only group getting in on the smart belt idea: A Samsung spin-off is working on a similar concept named
the Welt that aims to tell you when you've eaten too much and reportedly started shipping to its Kickstarter backers earlier this month.
The iCon is a sex wearable currently up for pre-registration by British retailer British Condoms for about $97.85. It's picked up steam in the press as a 'smart condom,' but that's not accurate: Instead, it's an adjustable, waterproof ring that goes around a guy's base and is said to track his 'thrust velocity,' skin temperature, calories burned, and other stats during intercourse. You'll then be able to share those stats with other iCon users, because what even is privacy anymore. (Though you can keep everything anonymous if desired.)
The iCon doesn't have a set release date other than sometime later this year. The whole thing feels like a goof, so it's best to treat it as such. Moving on!
There are other connected home cameras aimed at monitoring pets remotely, but the Furbo's 'ridiculous' bit comes from how you can shoot dog treats out of it via your smartphone. It has a two-way radio that ostensibly lets you talk to your pet, too, and sends notifications when it senses barking. It's essentially a Nest Cam, just for dogs.
Apparently people want that: The device raised nearly $661,000 through an Indiegogo campaign last summer. It's now available for $319.95.
The Bruno is another gadget that's faced repeated manufacturing troubles, and though it's not the only smart trash gadget out there, it has at least some promise. Yes, it's a $170.55 trash can that needs to be recharged every month and requires proprietary bags to work. (There's also a $236.65 model that can alert you when those bags are running low and when it's trash day.) All of that is a bit dystopian.
At the bottom of the can, though, is a small vacuum cutout that will suck up whatever crumbs, hairs, or general crud is manifested on your floor. That means no more dustpans. It's a dehumanising device aimed squarely at a first-world problem -- but at this point, that should be a given.