Overpriced connected face masks are a thing now — a side effect of the pandemic. The latest person to hop on the smart mask train is Will.i.am, the Black Eyed Peas rapper with a penchant for developing tech that falls flat on its face.
This time around, Will.i.am is partnering with Honeywell to create the, sigh, Xupermask (pronounced like “supermask”). It’ll cost $US299 ($391). For that small sum, the Xupermask features dual 3-speed fans, HEPA filters, active noise-cancelling headphones, a microphone, LED “day glow lights,” Bluetooth 5.0, and a magnetic earbud docking system. It also has 7-hour battery life.
According to the New York Times, the mask was designed by Jose Fernandez, the guy who made the SpaceX suits for Elon Musk. (Fernandez is also a Hollywood costume designer.) It launches on April 8 in a Supreme-style “drop” that you can sign up for on the incredibly bare Xupermask website. Supposedly, there are also future design collaborations with “artists and other brands” in the works.
Understandably, mask tech is having a moment. There’s whatever Razer’s doing with its RGB mask, and there were more than a few at this year’s CES. But of all of them, this cyberpunk egg mask makes me wonder, “Have we possibly gone too far?”Read more
If it seems odd that this face mask is coming out after vaccine rollout has already begun, it is. To be fair, products take time to prototype, test, and manufacture. This thing has apparently been a year in the making, and in an interview with the New York Times, Will.i.am suggests that masks will still be commonplace post-pandemic. That’s debatable. Some states have already started easing mask restrictions, and frankly, the U.S. threw a hissy fit about wearing masks during the pandemic’s peak. Even if mask culture were to stick around, something tells me a $390 novelty mask isn’t going to be most people’s first choice.
Also, while the Times suggests this is the first connected smart mask, it’s really not. The smart masks were out in full force earlier this year at CES 2021. There’s one that tracks air quality and your breathing data. Another looks like a Daft Punk helmet. Yet another $65 mask already features integrated earbuds and a built-in microphone so you can take calls. The Xupermask isn’t even the first futuristic one that lights up. That dubious honour belongs to Razer’s Project Hazel. It’s just the first one with celebrity backing.
Celebrity side projects are whatever, but Will.i.am’s track record as a gadgeteer is objectively bad. He has put out a hideous smartphone case, dumb Bluetooth earbuds that even Kendall Jenner couldn’t make look cool, the so-terrible-it’s-impressive Puls smartwatch, yet another godawful smartwatch called the Dial, and in 2017 his company i.am+ acquired smart home platform Wink. The company then proceeded to run Wink into the ground, with staffers accusing i.am+ in 2019 of stiffing them seven weeks’ pay.
It’s possible that against all odds, this mask somehow takes off among the hypebeasts it’s obviously trying to court. But given Will.i.am’s history, I wouldn’t count on it.