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Why most ‘smart’ devices are actually pretty dumb

CES 2013 Coverage

Every year, the International CES show in Las Vegas unleashes a torrent of tech goodies. But for all the amazing TVs, ultra-thin laptops and insanely fast new phones, the show also brings its fair share of duds, bandwagon also-rans, and just plain strange devices that seem to be taking it too far. This year, the ongoing trend toward offering “smart” devices has reached a fever pitch. Except most of these devices are just plain dumb.

In the race to cram Wi-Fi, apps and other widgets into everything, manufacturers seem to be forgetting that we already own smartphones, set-top boxes and other multipurpose gadgets that already do these things, making them completely redundant.

Samsung is trying to convince you that you need a fridge with Evernote. Dacor brings us the world’s first Android oven. And one company even thinks you need a smart fork to tell you how to eat. Let’s look at a few of the standout money wasters from CES 2013.


OLED and 4K technologies are everywhere at this year’s show, but they come at pretty steep price points. Most of us will have to settle for lesser upgrades, which invariably means a TV packaged with “smart” technology.

The majority of smart TVs offer features that you already have, but done worse. A Wi-Fi-enabled TV with streaming support is pretty redundant if you have an HTPC, a set-top box like an Apple TV, or a game console to get Netflix and browse the Web. The smart TV doesn’t just double up on the functionality; it introduces yet another user interface to muddle through – one that’s invariably worse than the already challenging interfaces we have.

Smart TVs also offer you features that you can’t imagine wanting. Panasonic showed off a new TV model that allows you to write on the screen with a special “Touch Pen.” I’ve wasted years persuading the kids not to touch the TV screen, and now Panasonic wants us to draw all over it? Having said that, drawing a mustache on a local news anchor would be hilarious. Once.

The really crazy stuff

Of course there are plenty of devices at CES 2013 that make the latest TVs look sensible and essential. Take the Samsung T9000. Sounds cool right? Well it is … it’s a fridge. Not just any fridge, but a Wi-Fi fridge that has an LCD display and can run apps like Evernote and Epicurious. That way if you notice you need milk and your partner is out shopping, you can update them via Evernote on the fridge door, just in case you can’t be bothered taking the phone out of your pocket. Let me give you another scenario: You’re grabbing a cold beverage from the fridge, but suddenly want to know what the weather is like. Well, in case you can’t be bothered to look out the window or (once again) take the phone out of your pocket, just check the fridge door. It gets even better, because the LCD on your fridge can also display advertisements thanks to a deal with Unilever. That’s definitely what’s missing from my kitchen, and all for just $4,000? Who can resist?


And the smart devices at CES 2013 get even crazier. Listen to these specs: a 7-inch LCD touchscreen, 1GHz Samsung processor, 512MB RAM, a PowerVR SGX 540 VGU, stereo sound, Wi-Fi, and Android 4 (ICS). What’s this, a budget tablet perhaps? No it’s the world’s first Android oven from Dacor. This wall-mounted beauty will only set you back $4,500 for the single-oven version. Just think: You can cook all your food remotely now and use the built-in app for preprogrammed timings. You only need to be there to actually put the food in the oven and then at the end to take it out and eat it, so it’s … well, it’s sort of like a normal oven, come to think of it.


Finally, would you believe there is such a thing as a “smart” fork? I’m serious. The Hapifork has Bluetooth, a USB connection, and will cost you a cool $100. What does a fork 100 times the cost of a standard fork do for you? It tells you whether you are eating too fast. Seriously. It tracks the number of “fork servings” per meal, and emits irritating vibrations and lights when you eat too fast. You can then upload the results to your computer and get advice on your food schedule. It even claims to help you lose weight.

But I’ve got a tip for overeaters: Just grab bigger forkfuls and you can fool your fork. Not so smart now, are you Hapifork?

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