One of the perks of writing about technology and innovation is the opportunity to get your hands on all sorts of new products, usually made by folks with a vision of how their new gadget will change the world. The downside of this privilege, however, is the knowledge that many perfectly fantastic products will never become household names, no matter how deserving they might be. With that in mind, I wanted to pay tribute to five products that, unfortunately, I fear only total nerds like myself will ever truly fall in love with.
Of the five products I've selected here, three of them are not likely to ever be topics of mainstream cultural conversation, another is a sibling to a similar product that has been modestly successful, and the final product is something that has garnered lots of mainstream attention – mainly as a curiosity – but seems unlikely to me to ever become a global bestseller.
SolowheelThis motorized unicycle is half as dorky as a Segway (which still makes it pretty dorky) and twice as hard to use. The process of learning to use a Solowheel is frustrating, tiring and a little painful, but once you've got the hang of balancing on the thing, it can be an exhilarating delight. But then you need to learn how to turn it.
For those with patience and US$1,500 to spare, the Solowheel could just be the closest thing to a futuristic hoverboard available right now. Unfortunately, the price, learning curve and general quirkiness of the thing will likely prevent a Solowheel-powered personal transit revolution taking place in the foreseeable future.
PengpodPengpod is one of the better grassroots personal technology stories of recent years that no one knows about. The brainchild of a family operation based in Florida but made in China, this crowdfunded line of tablets is fully open source and can run Android and Linux operating systems.
Much like Linux itself, Pengpod seems destined to never become first choice for the masses in the face of competition from behemoths like Samsung, Google and Apple, despite its power and nearly infinite open source possibilities. If the world were filled with nothing but nerds, we'd surely all be living a Linux-fueled life, and this would be the tablet of choice for such a Utopian society, but alas...
Eskuche's line of retro-styled headphones are bulky, funky, and perfect for hipsters looking to reclaim something from those painful years of youth and re-brand it as a fashion statement.
Anyone who came of age in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – or went to an especially underfunded school in a later decade – surely remembers these stuffy, sterile headsets from various "listening stations," filmstrip machines and even record or cassette players of the era. They seem to have been forced upon educational institutions and certain audiophiles of the times.
Unfortunately, I think the negative associations of this design and the increasing quality of smaller headphones might keep Eskuche from fully returning this look to the mainstream.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega
When I spend a few weeks with a new smartphone for the purposes of reviewing it, I'm usually already over it and looking for the next big thing coming down the line by the time I need to send the device back. Surprisingly, Samsung's stretched-out version of the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Mega 6.3, has been the phone that I've had the hardest time letting go of so far.
Despite the fact that its specs are lesser than those of its successful siblings, the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3, the Mega's thin profile and huge screen made it a device that I loved reaching for. I'm also a big fan of the Nexus 7, which makes me think that 6 to 7 inches must just be my personal usability sweet spot,
However, the most common response I was met with when using the Mega in public was downright (and sometimes cruel) mockery. The world simply isn't quite ready for a phone this big, especially if it doesn't come with a stylus... and that's a shame.
I've had no more than a few minutes of actual hands-on time with Google Glass, and it's far more well-known than the other products on this list, but I felt I had to include it because it seems the perfect example of a nerd's dream device that may never catch on.
There's been so much hype around Glass that it's helped to fuel a burgeoning backlash long before the augmented reality specs have even been made available to the general public. The idea seems to be to allow many months to get the public (and developers) accustomed to the concept, but the clamor for Glass still seems to be largely limited to the nerdy elite of early adopters, while everyone else rants about privacy concerns and the questionable aesthetics of Glass.
I really hope I'm wrong about this one. I think a major, stylish redesign could go a long way towards making Glass a best-seller, but my sense right now is that non-nerds are most definitely not on board yet.
Let me know in the comments below and @ericcmack what you think of these selections, and which products I've left off the list that you think deserve a place here.