Published February 14, 2012
Could Facebook bucks replace the dollar? Could Google move from your TV to your glasses? Could your next iPhone speaker cost $30,000?
Sony, Logitech, Apple and Microsoft make great products. But they also make the occasional boner, something with a confusing interface, a silly design, and a basic purpose in life that frankly perplexes.
Indeed, many companies are cooking up inane products and services that might nonetheless see the light of day. Here’s a look at eight of them.
1. Facebook Bucks
The concept of an economy ruled by Facebook is not that far-fetched, considering 850 million people use the social network, some as a primary means of online communication. “How long before Facebook currency is a global world currency that supersedes the dollar and the Euro?” asked popular tech commentator Leo Laporte in a recent Week in Tech podcast.
Conspiracy theorists and end-times junkies think Facebook might someday print currency you use to buy products at the store. And the idea might be grounded in some truth: Facebook already offers an electronic gift card system called Facebook Credits. In the next decade, maybe Mark Zuckerberg will turn the idea into a physical product. With the coming IPO, he can basically print money anyway.
2. The Indestructible Car
The idea: Automakers could use carbon fiber materials which do not dent as easily as the reinforced steel used in the typical Buick. In September, BMW opened a carbon fiber plant in Washington and has announced plans for two carbon fiber models. And the concepts sort of make sense: they are lighter, rust-proof, and get better gas mileage. However, there will never be an indestructible car. Try pushing one off a cliff and see what happens.
3. Google Goggles
Google is always cooking up something new. The Google Goggles app, which the search giant recently upgraded with new features, lets you point your phone at any object – say, a book or a CD – and see a description of the object. Someday, the app might even tell you the make and model of a car at the local dealership or even the species of a bug crawling up your leg.
Neat! But the latest rumor is a bit more peculiar: Google plans an actual pair of goggles you wear that would show a pop-up display with a description of whatever is in front of you. They’re close to real. And if they're anything like the prototype above, you won't be able to see the street in front of you. Now how does that make sense?
4. Why You're Single.com?
This new “anti-dating” site is currently in beta, and let’s hope it stays there for a while – especially since we know people who have broken up recently. At WotWentWrong.com, you first type in your name and who you dated. You can use a template for a letter that describes your relationship and what went wrong. Then, curiously, you provide some ratings for your date on kissing, conversation skills, and attractiveness before sending off the missive.
The problem? If you went out on a date, the last thing you want to do is respond to a formal request for info to pass around on the net. And if you’re the one who had trouble on the date, receiving a bunch of negative messages about what you did wrong sounds depressing.
5. Tesla Model X -- an electric SUV
The electric car industry is here to stay. And there’s a conundrum that few car companies can really explain: it takes an enormous amount of energy to make an electric car, transport the energy to charging stations, and build the infrastructure. Yet, that hasn’t stopped Tesla Motors from announcing a new electric SUV.
In some ways, the idea could work: having a bigger car means cramming more people inside for your commute. Yet, the new model will undoubtedly weigh more than the 3,800-pound Tesla S (most of the Model X specs are still unannounced). That means more energy to move the vehicle, and a larger battery. Good luck. And gull-wing passenger doors? Sure, they look cool, but they’re hard to use when you just want to load groceries.
6. World’s Largest Scrabble Game
Get this: what if you could play Scrabble on a game board that measures almost 50 square feet? That’s the idea behind this wall-mounted set from Hammacher Schlemmer. Maybe the idea makes sense for coach potatoes who are glued to the sofa playing Xbox all day. You have to actually stand and move around, after all. The set is made from Russian birch plywood and uses magnets to hold the pieces in place. But the pricetag of $12,000 quickly pushes the idea into the realm of the unaffordable. And, just imagine the FedEx charges!
7. Behringer iNuke Boom
Speaking of larger-than-life products. I first heard about the Behringer iNuke Boom -- basically a ginormous iPhone speaker dock -- at CES. I asked the company to send me one to test in my own office. Oops. I didn’t realize the speaker weighs 700 pounds, measures 8 feet by 4 feet, and costs a bit under $30,000.
Yes, you can crank out 10,000 watts of power with it, or enough sound to level a small house. The problem, of course, is that no one really needs that much power. Behringer seems to be in on the joke: the iNuke is really just a demo -- I hope.
8. Wireless power for your car
A company called Witricity is working on a new way to charge gadgets wirelessly. The company has demonstrated how large coils can transfer power over the air using “inductive charging.” But the suggestion that this technology could be used to charge your electric car “within a year or two” is absurd. Few companies have made wireless charging reliable even over short distances. The closest anyone has come is Powermat, which makes a full line of charging mats for gadgets.
The bigger problem: When you change a electric vehicle charger in your garage, it sometimes bursts into flames.