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Magnificence and Mediocrity: Prospects from CES 2014

This year’s installment of the Consumer Electronics Show concluded on Friday, but not before showing the world’s press a bevy of eye-catching gadgets and gizmos that will provide them with material for weeks of keyboard-based clicking and clacking (possibly even dull thudding for those with shedding and persistently workstation-adjacent animals.) As is inevitably the case with an event like this, the products on display consisted of a mixed bag quality-wise, with hotly-anticipated wonders looking radiant next to numerous results of generic I don’t see why not innovation. Some will sink, dragging companies into the murky depths of failure, while others will rise majestically to sell countless units and make some CEOs even richer. That said, I’m not great with predictions, but I will tell you about a small number of things that left me impressed, bemused, or enraged.


“Where can I get one? I want one!”

I don’t know if I’d ever use it—being a person for whom food is the product either of kindly-offered parental effort or the ruthless and dispassionate machinations of huge supermarkets—but I can’t bring myself to deny the desire I have for the internet-accessible Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker, set to launch at $99. Packing WeMo connectivity courtesy of the router-peddlers at Belkin, it finally gives cookery aficionados with unpredictable working schedules a way to have their casseroles ready to go when they get home. The only thing stopping me from ordering one and using it to heat up store-bought rib sandwiches is my expectation that a future iteration will offer a webcam stream of the contents. You won’t catch me out this time, early adoption!

This one is a winner slam-dunked through a net made of sure things pulped and turned into stringy lengths. Yes, it’s the Crystal Cove Oculus Rift prototype. 1080p OLED displays with halved latency and extra motion recognition in the form of a Kinect-style external camera. Please excuse me while I visit Oculus VR’s website and throw my wallet at my monitor in the ludicrous hope that company officials will sense my presence and offer me the latest model for whatever price they name. They can take one of my lungs. In fact, they can have two. I was born with six and have since stolen three from confused vagrants. What I’m saying is this: give me one, world. I’ve been good, I swear.

“I do not wish to pursue this particular item”

Like the Crock-Pot Cooker sprinkled in fairy magic and put on a course of culinary steroids, the Discovery IQ Dual-Fuel is the kind of nutritional powerhouse anyone would want in their kitchen. But it’s $12k, so forget that unless you’re a reclusive billionaire with a screw loose. If you are mega-wealthy, then you should already be paying for the premium versions of my articles, pretty much the same as the normal ones but with embossed gold lettering for the reasonable price of $200 per paragraph.

Next up, the TrewGrip handheld keyboard is a weird tablet-cradling button assortment. Apparently it has “garnered a lot of interest from the healthcare community,” but perhaps their classic bedside manner compelled doctors to be complimentary. Really though, I can definitely see how it might be useful in certain circumstances, but it just seems so unwieldy and unnecessary. If I want to type quickly on my phone, I use Swype or another such keyboard. I’ve never thought “I sure am enjoying using this tablet, but the experience would be twice as good with a questionably-useful input aid in the form of a huge and clunky $250 case.” Bring down the price, size and weight, and we’ll talk.

“Why would you…? What’s the… WHY?”

Leading from start to finish in the category of making me confused, Kolibree’s smart toothbrush managed to damage my brain on two fronts. It firstly demonstrably existed, then followed up that attack by being received with some genuine interest. Consider the following: “[Amid] this glut of smart junk, there’s usually one or two products that are actually worthwhile. Kolibree’s smart toothbrush is one of those products.” When I read that, I almost had an existential breakdown.

Maybe it’s because I’m not an American and correspondingly not obsessed with having gleaming white and absolutely straight teeth, but I just do not see the point of it. Dental care is important, sure, but there is such a thing as parenting. If you find yourself incapable of adequately communicating to your offspring why they should brush their teeth, maybe you need my new product concept, tentatively titled Alistair’s smart parenting tiger. It lives in your house and brutally mauls you whenever you make stupid decisions that pertain to your kids, like buying $200 toothbrushes.