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CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas

CES launches some of the coolest gadgets on the planet. But with more than 3,000 exhibitors this year, not everyone could be a winner.

CES 2013: 9 Cool Gadgets
CES 2013: 9 Cool Gadgets
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could," Jeff Goldblum's character dramatically warned in Jurassic Park, "that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Nearly 20 years later, the same admonishment could be directed at some of the engineers and designers behind the new products recently hawked at CES. There weren't any dinosaurs rampaging through the Las Vegas Convention Center at this year's show -- but if there had been, at least some of the dumbest exhibits might have been trampled into extinction.

Indeed, although the annual tech fest sometimes points toward technology's role in a better future -- or at least a better entertained one -- it also has a legacy of launching bad ideas. Here are five of the most egregious offenders from this year's show.

1. HapiFork.

The HapiFork is an electronic fork that tracks how many mouthfuls of food you consume during a given meal, how many seconds pass between bites, and how long the meal took to complete. Despite wireless connectivity being a big theme at this year's CES, the gadget has to be plugged into a computer via a USB cord before any data can be examined.

Why is this dumb? For one thing, the device has no idea what you're eating. Five mouthfuls of salad or five mouthfuls of chocolate mousse -- it's all the same to HapiFork. For another, it doesn't know whether you're taking big bites or small bites. Filtered cigarettes don't stop carcinogens from reaching a smoker's lungs -- they just compel the smoker to inhale more aggressively. Likewise, it's easy to imagine that a HapiFork user will limit the number of times he brings the fork to his mouth by simply scooping up more food each time. It's a well-intentioned device, sure -- but it's also dumb.

HAPIfork

2. iPotty

The iPotty is a training toilet onto which parents can attach an iPad. Apps are available to persuade their diaper-dependent offspring to wipe and flush. To be fair, more than a few people at CES lit up at the mention of this product -- but this probably has more to do with the fact that toilet training is so challenging as to make any beleaguered parent desperate for help. At least one doctor has already expressed doubt over its effectiveness, and one has to wonder, given the tantrums toddlers throw, whether you want your iPad anywhere near the process. It's terrifyingly easy to imagine a child who sees his first wipe not as a triumph but as an opportunity to apply a defiant smear across the device's screen.

[ See the brighter side of CES 2013: 7 Standout technologies. ]

3. Huawei's Ascend Mate.

A "bigger is better" attitude might work for the CES exhibitors touting TVs, but for smartphones, not so much. Huawei's Ascend Mate, which runs the company's Emotion UI on top of Android, will be one of the heaviest smartphones on the market at almost 200 grams, and with an unnecessarily large 6.1-inch screen, it's beyond unwieldy. You'd better use a headset if you want this phablet, because holding it during a long conversation is likely to give you hand cramps. What's even more off-putting is how little mileage Huawei gets out the superfluous screen real estate. The device's designers were evidently unaware that pixel-dense, Retina-type displays are all the rage, as they gave the Ascend Mate a relatively meager 1280-pixel-by-720-pixel resolution.

4. Panasonic's 4K Tablet.

Credit must be given where it's due: Panasonic's 4K Windows 8 tablet prototype is an impressive piece of engineering. Its 20-inch screen boasts a 3840-pixel-by-2560-pixel resolution for 230 pixels per inch and vivid, compelling images. The device's innards are pretty compelling too, with an Intel i5 processer, NVidia graphics and a 128-GB SSD.

So why it is a dumb idea? First of all, there's not a lot of software optimized for 4K displays. Major vendors have only recently added support for Apple's 2.7K Retina-equipped MacBook Pros. Second, the tablet is huge. As a 3M-style retail display, the gadget, if it ever comes to market, might have some use. But as a portable consumer device, it's way too big to easily handle, let alone haul around. At least all that size means that if a thief tries to steal the tablet from you on the subway, you'll probably be able beat the criminal into submission with it.

5. Lucien Elements iPhone Case

If the machines ever stage a Skynet-style takeover, their motivation will probably be to stop us from making them look stupid at CES. An incredible portion of the convention center's 3.2 million square feet was dedicated to smartphone and tablet cases. The gaudy multitude of blinged-out, Swarovski-covered cases was bad enough -- throwing so many sparkles around the exhibit booths that it's a wonder no one had a seizure -- but the worst offender was the $650 crocodile-skin case from Lucien Elements. Yes, the venue was Las Vegas, so a certain amount of excess is to be expected. But paying more for a case than for the iPhone itself? That's just dumb.

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Gadgety
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Gadgety,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 12:57:44 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
This article was the dumbest out of CES2013.
sorli
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sorli,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 7:50:39 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
You may have something with iPotti or however they spell it, but the HapiFork was a great idea and I love the concept.
John
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John,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 7:59:03 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
agree w/ all except the cases. bling cases are hot products - you are out of touch man. in asia all the kids stud their phones w/ crystals for $200-300 for no-brand gems.
joecassara
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joecassara,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 8:43:16 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
What was it InformationWeek said about the original iPad? Something about a heavy, oversized iPod with a niche market at best?
Dick Fabulous
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Dick Fabulous,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 8:46:37 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
You need a case to protect that $650 case.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/13/2013 | 9:01:42 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
Thanks for the comment, John. You make a fair point-- a lot of people like the bling, and there's definitely a market.I was referring more to aesthetics than sales potential--and I'm okay being out of touch on that one. Still think a case that costs more than the device it protects/ decorates is silly, though.
Good Guy
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Good Guy,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 9:02:31 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
+1
Mika Vasquez
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Mika Vasquez,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 9:03:14 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
I AGREE!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/13/2013 | 9:05:47 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
Thanks for the comment, sorli. The HapiFork could be useful for people who have acid reflux or similar conditions that require pacing the rate at which one eats. I think some of the other shortcomings noted above limit its value as a broadly appealing way to monitor one's diet. But if the fork helps thousands of people to lead healthier lives a year or two from now, more power to them. I'm skeptical but I'll happily admit I missed the boat.
XiroMisho
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XiroMisho,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2013 | 9:57:39 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
something many tech people still feel is the case, in all honesty, and while people are buying them up like crazy still doesn't really mean the device is useful or a wise purchase. Tablets are a trend, I'll admit, however in all honesty I've yet to find a use for having one - yes, still. The 7 inch ones are at least a bit more weildy, but I only recently became interested after the Windows tablets hit. Before I get the Apple fanboi's panties in a bunch it's not because it's MS, it's because these newer tablets promise to run a full OS and not a mobile OS. The "Mobile" OS has been a cop-out for engineers to take a break and not push as hard as they could to get all the performance possible out of these devices. the iPad could do so much more, so very much more than it can now, it's major limitation is the fact it runs a mobile OS still, despite it's improved processing power and memory.

If apple sold a tablet running MAC OSX, bam, I'd own that in a heart beat - but iOS? Eh... it's still no sale. But that's because I'm a techie, and I know I cannot multi-task on the device, as any tech writer is also a techie, the iPad was not made for us, it was made for grandma and grandpa, for mom and dad, for the people who do not want to customize, configure, or install things. It's designed for the non-computer people, and that's why the entire Tech community, from bloggers to market analysts, didn't expect the iPad to sell. Apple took a big risk with the iPad, and it worked out great, but if they want to sell even more tablets they'll get a MAC OS version like MS has a Windows 8 version coming soon.
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