Spooky Season is upon us! Growing up, I was terrified of scary movies. These days, the stuff of my nightmares is mundane by comparison, though no less disconcerting. Namely, those off-the-wall, bizarre products that seem to exist for no other reason than to leave you wondering, “Why is this a thing?”
This line of thinking haunts me. Who thought this was a good idea? Better yet, who gave it the OK? You’re telling me that business executives, engineers, advertisers, and countless other teams signed off on this during development? How? I just have so many questions about what comedy of errors led to these train wrecks and I can’t look away.
Starting this list off strong is the Twitter Peek: a $139 handheld just for using Twitter. That’s it. No email, no phone calls, not web browsing — nada. This device’s sole purpose was to put the hellsite at your fingertips for just $11 per month.
Look, I get that the aughts were a wild time for tech. Smartphones were still a new thing, handhelds had physical QWERTY keyboards and companies were still placing their bets on where the nascent mobile industry might go. Devices that only let you read and send emails, like the original Peek, weren’t laughed at immediately and actually saw moderate success among consumers still waffling about whether smartphones were worth the monthly fees.
But by 2009, the writing was already on the wall. So when the weirdos behind Peek rolled out a Twitter-dedicated device, critics eviscerated it. Rightly so, too. Its tiny 2.5-inch display could only handle the first 20 characters of the tweets on your timeline; you’d have to click on each tweet individually to read the rest. What I would give to be a fly on the wall during whatever focus group thought this was a good idea.
The Real Feel PoolShark Pool Cue Controller
This combination computer mouse and pool cue simulates “authentic pool action using a real pool stick” for playing PC games. Or at least, that was the sales pitch when it rolled out in 2000. Mind you, this wasn’t built for a specific game: The PoolShark was marketed as a peripheral that players could use for any and all pool games on PC. And it worked about as well as you can expect.
Its scroll wheel is oriented horizontally, moving left and right as opposed to up and down, and is on top of the mouse where the plastic forms a small hollow. That’s where players perch their pool cue, hopefully having already cleared off half their desk because the stick it comes with is more than two feet long (the controller works with full-size cue sticks too for added chaos). Moving the mouse adjusts the angle of your shot and the scroll wheel controls the strike’s speed.
The PoolShark was reportedly planned to be the first of several PC controllers themed to golfing, fishing, and other sports as part of a collaboration between gaming peripheral manufacturers InterAct Accessories and Miacomet. The PoolShark’s lacklustre sales ultimately led to those plans being scrapped. Still, you have to admire that level of undeserved confidence.
Poma, the Wearable Computer
Another aughts abomination, the Poma was marketed as a PC you could wear. Finally, a convenient way to surf the web on the go! Just strap on a keyboard to your forearm, clip the processor (featuring a whole 32MB of RAM!) onto your belt, and slip on a head-mounted display that would make Google Glass look cool, and huzzah! You too can look like a bargain-bin Star Trek villain.
The Poma, which cost a whopping $2,078, came onto the scene in 2002, a time when companies were convinced we were but a few short years from a cybernetic utopia filled with flying cars and robot manservants. It was a joint venture between Xybernaut, an ill-fated hardware and software firm convinced that wearable tech would be the next big thing, and Hitachi, a Japanese industrial giant whose name has become synonymous with a vibrator.
The mTUNE-N2 Cordless Stereo Headset
Unlike a lot of the other tech companies on this list, Macally is still around today, continuing to push out accessories for Apple products. Back in 2006, it had the unhinged idea to create a pair of cordless, over-the-ear headphones that could dock a whole-arse iPod Nano.
With its mTUNE-N2 headset, Macally concluded that the best way to keep your iPod’s click wheel and display within easy reach would be to slap the thing to the side of your skull.
“What happens if it rains?” I hear you ask. “Or a random person swipes it while walking by?” Both excellent questions that I suspect zero people brought up during this eyesore’s development.
Yep, there is a pair of gadgets that lets you “tele-kiss” your long-distance loved ones.
Each Kissinger robot has highly sensitive pressure sensors beneath a pair of silicone lips. Whenever someone gives it a smooch, it mimics the pressure, position, shape, and movement of the user’s lips on their partner’s device in real-time. The developer, Lovotics, is also working on a version that plugs into your phone to let folks give each other a peck while video or voice chatting.
The concept’s a bit unsettling and undeniably dystopian, but I can see how there might be a market for it that’s not totally disturbing. Except it gets even weirder. Lovotics also advertises that the Kissinger can also simulate “human to robot” kisses and “human to virtual character” kisses, so that “humans can kiss virtual characters while playing games and receive physical kisses from their favourite virtual characters.”
OK, never mind. Burn it. Burn it all down. Humanity was a mistake.
This one does exactly what it says on the tin. Burn your likeness onto a piece of bread to feed your body and inner narcissist a well-balanced breakfast.
For such a silly concept, getting your hands on a Selfie Toaster is a surprisingly convoluted process. First, you send a digital photo of yourself (and roughly $139) over to the Vermont Novelty Toaster Corp, then their designers create a custom metal plate of your face using Photoshop and a plasma cutter. That plate gets installed in one of the company’s toasters, and you get the finished product in the mail: a custom Selfie Toaster that’ll etch your mug on up to two slices of bread at a time.
If you actually use this in your home, I have so many questions for you.
Conair Quick Twist Hair Braider
I remember seeing commercials for the Conair Quick Twist growing up, and it looked like a QVC-branded torture device even back then. “Create beautiful, twist braids in seconds” is its pitch: Just feed your hair into the rotary gears of this plastic, girl-power-pink styling wand (batteries not included) and pray that it doesn’t rip out every last strand.
Unlike a lot of other gadgets on this list, this one’s still being sold in stores today. Godspeed to any of you brave enough to try it out.
Nintendo Knitting Machine
It’s easy to forget that when video game consoles first made their way into our living rooms, they weren’t geared toward just kids. Atari, Nintendo, and others marketed them as home entertainment systems, something multiple generations under the same roof could enjoy (in fact, the Nintendo Entertainment System’s original name in Japan, Famicom, literally stands for “family computer”). With companies targeting such a broad audience, early game consoles got some bizarre accessories like this knitting peripheral for the NES.
The Nintendo Knitting Machine could hook up to your console via an NES controller and would convert whatever pattern was up on screen into a knitted design on a textile. Nintendo demoed a prototype of the peripheral for its business partners in the late ‘80s, but it never made it onto store shelves, according to former Nintendo exec “Gamemaster” Howard Phillips, who first shared a brochure confirming its existence and cringey tagline: “Now you’re knitting with power.”
Polaroid OneStep Talking Camera
With Polaroid’s cameras making a comeback, I hope this one stays in the past. The company’s 1995 OneStep Talking Camera has a built-in speaker to play an audio clip before the shutter clicks. You can either record your own clip or choose from several garbled, pre-programmed messages — because a disembodied robotic voice saying “Cheese” will surely help capture a natural-looking smile.
Ronco’s Sit-On Trash Compactor
Again, exactly what it says on the tin: a combination trash compactor and kitchen stool that crushes your garbage when you sit on it. It’s one of several home appliances that Ronco, the company credited with adding “-O-Matic” and other infomercial buzzwords to the American lexicon, pushed out throughout the ‘60s and ‘70 that helped popularise the kind of weirdly specific, single-use gadgets we have today.
Priced at just under $28, Ronco marketed it as “the trash compactor everyone can afford!” In a 1977 infomercial, the company claims it can fit two to three days’ worth of a family’s trash into a single bag and comes with a deodoriser. My favourite part is that it’s billed as “a practical gift.” Practical to whom, Ronco?? Where was the demand for this? I need to know!