Listen, I love new smart devices as much as anyone else. I am a tech writer. Anything that lets me write articles on the toilet while potentially having an awkward Skype chat with my sister is number one in my book.
More importantly, I am inspired by the latest trends and technological developments. IoT, smart devices, space exploration, you name it. Technology is becoming smarter and more useful on a daily basis.
With that said, however, some companies need to take a chill pill on the things they’re trying to make “smart.” I was reminded of this fact recently when I sat down and came across an article talking about the Haptifork: a smart fork meant to make you a better eater.
More on this one in a moment. This is a prime example of what I mean: there are things that some companies are trying to make smart for no reason other than they can. Some things have reached the pinnacle of their technological evolution. Anything more would be a crime against technological innovation.
Here are four case examples to prove my point.
As I mentioned, this is a $60 smart fork that will let you know when you are eating too fast. In theory, this is actually trying to solve a common problem. The issue here, however, is that everyone is unique when it comes to their own appropriate eating habits.
This is affected by metabolism, age, fitness level, and other physical indicators that a simple fork can’t take into account. More than that, it’s difficult to argue that the fork needs an update. It’s last related invention was the spork, which while a unique and wonderful idea, has failed to reach popular demand outside of Taco Bell utensils suppliers.
Quirky Egg Minder
The egg tray is a simple device. It’s so simple, in fact, that eggs already come with their own carton tray. This means, most people won’t have any use for anything extra.
The fine creators of the Quirky Egg Minder disagree. Not only have they developed a dedicated egg tray, but they have given it super powers to detect when you are running low on eggs or when an egg is about to expire.
The latter feature actually has a logic use if you want to avoid the potential for salmonella. But for something to track my eggs, that’s what I have eyes for. You could market it as a device for the visually impaired, but I’m pretty sure many of them would prefer a more hands-on approach.
Okay, this one seems good on the surface, but requires a little bit more thought to see the reality. The Oombrella is a smart umbrella that will text you its last known location should you lose it.
For those who are always losing an umbrella, this is perfect. This is right up there with phone, tablet, and car trackers. Unfortunately, it’s not practical.
At $80, the Oombrella rivals some of the finest designer umbrellas available. For a few bucks, I can buy something that I’m perfectly okay with losing and replacing. You can argue it’s harming the environment, but chances are the umbrella I lose will just be found by someone else. In that case, more people benefit without having to kill any rocks for the metals used in the batteries.
Belty Good Vibes
Seriously, what’s with the names of some of these products?
Belty Good Vibes is the name of something its creators hope to be commonplace fashion. This is a smart belt which follows many of the latest trends of smart clothing and wearable design.
You might wonder how a belt could get any smarter. Current belt design seems to be more than adequate for the primary function of “avoiding embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions should you unfortunately under or over estimate your waist-to-garment ratio.
This product has a health angle to it. It will let you know if you have been inactive too long, if you ate too much, or if you aren’t standing up straight. This would be all good if most of these features weren’t already available on a typical Fit Bit.
This is simply an example of a product failing to be competitive in an existing space. Why replicate the features of a successful device in order to create something I can only use when a belt is required?
Lessons Smart Devices Should Learn
I’m not saying that innovation is wrong or harmful. Sometimes, even pointless information can lead to unexpected discoveries and inventions. It’s to be expected since smart technology is currently in that awkward teenage phase where it’s trying out new things that the older folks know are pretty stupid.
However, this innovation doesn’t need to happen blindly. Research and development is best when done intelligently. Tech companies are more than capable of asking themselves whether their product needs to be sent to the marketplace.
These companies need to be assessing whether or not a potential product is going to actually enhance anyone’s life overall. The same basic entrepreneurial requirements apply: successful products need to be in demand, which usually means meeting a need or desire of the consumer.
If a product is simply doing cool techie stuff for the sake of it or duplicating features found on other devices, it’s only proving the point that not all smart devices need to be smart.
There’s something to be said for being dumb. Life tends to be more simple and rewarding if you can enjoy the simple things around you. While it may be tempting to upgrade every common household object in sight with wireless technology and machine learning algorithms, it is not necessary.
Until the industry gains more experience with consumer expectations and demands, only they can decide where to put their resources. I, for one, encourage them to think strategically about this aspect and to ask themselves, “Does this object need to be smart?”
If more companies answer “no,” then we could potentially avoid a future where even the common houseplant has a Bluetooth connection to my phone.