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1/11/2013
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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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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2013 | 6:56:30 PM
re: CES 2013: 5 Dumbest Ideas
The story I wrote about the introduction of the iPad wasn't that way at all:
http://www.informationweek.com...

Gizmodo on the other hand didn't have a high opinion of the iPad:
http://gizmodo.com/5458382/8-t...
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.
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.
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