July 25, 2021

Gadget of the week

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IO_Hawk-4CES is basically a Toy Fair for grown-ups. Is that a bad thing?

By Chris Taylor From Mashable

LAS VEGAS — Here at CES [last month], buzz spreads faster digitally than it does by word of mouth. So when a third reporter on Mashable’s internal chat room for the show enthused about their experience on the IO Hawk, I finally felt peer-pressured into trying this odd little Segway-skateboard hybrid for myself.

There has been a crowd at the IO Hawk booth all show, as attendees from around the world lined up to try their luck — and their innate sense of balance — on this tiny piece of transport. Each one of us thought we would pick up the knack faster than the guy before; each one of us was surprised by the level of muscle relaxation required to ride what amounts to a high-tech teeter-totter.

It was only hours later, flush from the triumphant experience of navigating the halls on wheels by tilting my toes, that I even paused to consider the all-important question: Who would actually use this in real life? The price is $1,800 — too steep for the skateboard crowd, who probably won’t dig the 6 mph top speed either. It’s too small for mall cops, too disruptive for sidewalks. I could see a few rich guys buying one for kicks, but other than that, its main purpose appeared to be providing novelty rides at trade shows.

This sort of thing happens a lot at CES — which, being on the Las Vegas strip, is about as far removed from real life as you can get. In the roaring din of electronic noises and distant thumping bass, surrounded by overstimulating lights and screens, it’s easy to feel like you’re a kid at a cavernous toy store. Indeed, it’s sometimes hard to discern the difference between CES and the International Toy Fair, held every February in New York.

Companies know this. They play up to it. More than ever before, veterans say, they remembered to bring the fun at the 2015 show. Whether that translates to sales is another matter entirely.

This year, there’s a clear mini-trend of kids’ transportation for big kids. Not just the IO Hawk, but the electric-powered Rocket Skates ($500, with a battery life as low as 45 minutes; check them out in the video, below) which one reporter called “expensive Heelys for grown-ups.”

The InMotion scooter we checked out last year was back — this time without the Segway-like handle for balance. We had not seen it in the wild in the intervening year. Toys like this seem to exist nowhere else but the magical world of CES.

The foot-based fun continued when I tried the 3D Rudder, a $130 device that looks like a foot massager. It lets you control virtual-world games and other software with your feet, by tilting it in the direction you want your on-screen character to walk.

I say “other software” because the company is making a half-hearted play for the architect and industrial designer market: “Walk” around that skyscraper you just 3D-modeled with your feet, and “free your hands to do more,” as a company rep put it.

But mostly, it’s pitched at first-person, shooter-game players and virtual-reality systems such as Oculus Rift. And if it looks strangely familiar, you may be having a nostalgia flashback to the Roll ‘n Rocker for the Nintendo Entertainment System in the early 1990s.

The more I looked around the show floor, the more I saw devices that basically seemed like excuses to do all the crazy things you might’ve wanted to do — but were told you couldn’t — as a kid. In this magical land, you can throw electronics in water, have a cage match between flying robots, go up to 20 mph on a skateboard, wear dresses that light up like a Christmas tree, play beer pong with a robot or listen to music via a Dalek. I loved all of them.

Still, how badly do you want to do these things day after day, as opposed to once at a trade show? Probably not so much. The 3D Rudder is currently seeking $50,000 on Indiegogo; despite a wave of positive CES press, it’s still only reached $17,000.

I don’t mean to denigrate the developers of this or similar other items. Without them, CES would be a far duller place full of all-too-similar TV screens and smartphones. The more entrepreneurs branch out and find inspiration to build entirely new categories of things, the better for business in general. Childhood nostalgia is a fine place to find inspiration for new products. One of them may well turn out to be a breakout hit (my money’s on the electric skateboard).

But the “Look! Shiny!” products do tend to obscure the incremental, far less newsworthy innovations. These are the kind that people actually want — and the kind you can still find at CES if you hunt hard enough.

For example, Fortune and SurveyMonkey released a poll Wednesday that showed consumers desire better battery life on their smartphones far more than any buzzworthy gadget. And that dovetails with my experience, even here in this never-never land.

I’ve been walking around the show floor with two Power Bank USB battery chargers just to keep my iPhone afloat. These devices are both my savior and the bane of my existence — the latter because they run out of juice themselves so fast, largely because the big power button on the top keeps activating in my bag.

In a less-traveled section of the show floor, far from the crazy toys, I happened upon a company that was selling the same kind of Power Bank tubes — but with a tiny activation button on the side. Impossible to jostle, they kept their charge.

Knowing this wasn’t by any means a sexy innovation; the CEO was even apologetic. “It couldn’t be more low-tech,” he said.

And yet, it was exactly the tech I needed at that moment. And that’s worth a whole barrel of buzz.

IMAGE: The IO Hawk: fun at a trade show, ridiculous in the real world? IMAGE: MASHABLE, CHRISTINA ASCANI

For more on this story and video go to: http://mashable.com/2015/01/08/ces-toy-fair/?utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

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