Feature Creep

First, allow me to extend an apology to Maggie and Peg. They directed my attention to the Surfing Cats and the Cat Butt Coasters I talked about last week. Their bravery in exploring the dark underside of feline-themed collectibles is awe inspiring, and I deeply regret my failure to publicly acknowledge them. I won’t let it happen again. Belated thanks to both of you.

Which brings us to today. Let it be known that Maggie is also responsible for pointing out these two examples of technology run amok.

Look, I’m a big fan of multitasking tools. I fondly recall my first Swiss Army knife–even though the scissors never really worked–because having two knife blades and a screwdriver in one package was incredibly handy. (My current Swiss Army knife, for the record, only has one knife blade, but it adds a pen, nail file, screwdriver, a 1 GB flash drive, and scissors. And yes, the scissors work.) I like having one tool that can do the jobs of several without adding to the clutter around the house.

But I still think both of these objects fail. Let me tell you why.

Let’s start with “The HYDRA: SmartBottle“. First, it fails because it uses the word “smart” in its name. The widespread use of “smart” to mean “has an electronic component” completely misses the point; can’t we at least agree to limit it to devices that have some capability to make decisions?

But that’s language neepery, and doomed to failure. The HYDRA’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t have a clear idea of what it wants to be. It can’t decide whether to be a safety tool or an entertainment device. I could quibble over whether replacing your headphones with a Bluetooth speaker really adds to your safety while walking or biking*, but I’ll admit that there’s an argument to be made for their position. Safety light, great. Flashlight/lantern, OK. Seems like overkill as a flashlight or underkill as a lantern, but again, I can see their point. All at least arguably good things to have when hiking or biking.

* My suspicion is that the safety gain from improving your ability to hear your surroundings will be counterbalanced by annoyed bystanders who don’t appreciate your musical tastes.

Then there’s the whole “Rainbow” party light mode. If I want to host a retro-70s party, I’ll splurge for a full-sized disco ball and a smoke machine. A single LED lamp isn’t going to cut it. The less said about the “Nighttime Sleeper App” that pipes ambient noise masking sounds through the speaker the better.

Did you notice, by the way, that the light, the speaker, and the smartphone charger all have separate batteries? Hey, can you charge the light by plugging it into the smartphone charger, or do you have to plug all three into their own outlets? Way to reduce clutter, guys!

And all of the functions they’re promoting make the device’s core function–transporting drinking water–lessconvenient. Do you really want the “BRIGHT, FLASHING RED light” blinking in your eyes while you take a drink? No? OK, then you need to turn the light off, drink, and turn the light back on. Very convenient!

Let’s move on to the “iBackPack Revolutionary Wearable Technology“.

Yes, you read that right. What’s revolutionary about this thing? It’s a backpack, for crying out loud! Actually, it’s half a backpack, because only half of its nominal storage space is available to schlep your stuff. The rest of the space is filled with electronics. A GPS tracking system so you can hunt down the backpack when it gets stolen. A Bluetooth speaker (yes, another one) you can annoy everyone around you with. A personal hotspot so you and five of your closest friends can share a single 4G phone connection. And, of course, “Massive batteries*”–this thing can carry “Multiple and up to 40,000mAH” batteries. A little googling suggests that each 40K battery will add about three pounds to the weight you’re lugging around.

* Without doubt, the single most offensive sentence in an advertisement I’ve seen all month is “The girls will flock to you for your massive battery.”

A side note: the “Anti-theft security system” won’t actually prevent your backpack from theft. If it does get stolen, you can use the app on your smartphone to turn on a siren, and then use the app to track the pack via GPS. Better not carry your phone in the backpack.

Even the people making this thing don’t see a real market niche for it–they’re trying to arrange a package of “deep discounts from airlines, hotels, rental cars, restaurants, and many other places you frequent”. In other words, buy the discount package, and we’ll throw in this somewhat-usable backpack.

It’s not clear, by the way, whether the built-in gadgetry pulls power from the “massive” batteries, or if the GPS, hotspot, and speaker have their own batteries. But either way, as best I can tell, to charge whatever needs charging, you have to remove it from the backpack, plug it in, and then remember to reassemble the whole works before you head out. Is this really any improvement over buying the bits separately and tossing them in your regular pack?

“Revolutionary?” Feh.

2 thoughts on “Feature Creep

  1. And, then … in the end … they just wrap all that techno stuff up in a boring black backpack. What they needed to do is deck it out in silver and blue and add the little white cap, so it looks like Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons. At least then it wouldn’t be entirely stupid. And, I’m not even sure there’s room for candy. And, if there’s no room for candy in a backpack, it is NOT the backpack of MY dreams, I don’t care what they say.


    • Actually, if you look further down the page, it appears that they’ll be offering the pack in a variety of colors and possibly some eye-searing patterns as well.

      Totally with you on the candy question, though.


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