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The rise of the Swiss army gadget

A router that is also a speaker. A mirror that is also a lamp. An image frame that charges your smartphone. Welcome to the hybrid gadget revolution! It's a little Swiss army knife, a little bit Doctor of Moreau .

Convergence has long been a staple for progress, from multitools to kitchen utensils to everyone else as seen on television. Certainly some medieval archers formed a backscratcher out of an arch. But over the last year or two, the combinations have come faster and grown both increasingly and scaryly useful. For that you can thank or curse, depending on your tolerance for news – a summary of factors.

Let's start with the advance you've already guessed or at least already noticed in your own life: Alexa. Well, voice assistants in general. But it is Amazon that has the toughest hardware manufacturers that opened a software development package in August 201

7, which made Alexa something for a movie. As a year ago, about 50 third-party devices had Alexa baked. In December 2018, this figure had doubled. Add them the 28,000 smart home devices that work with Amazon's voice assistant – as in, they can't speak for themselves, but you can tell your echo to turn them off and on – and you've got yourself a menagerie. One that contains both a microwave and a toilet.

Kohlers Numi 2.0 toilet brings Alexa and mood lighting into the bathroom.

Amy Lombard

Yes, Kohlers Numi 2.0 "intelligent" toilet will listen when you talk to it. It accommodates the extreme end of the hybrid trend and introduces unlikely technological options – such as built-in surround speakers and LED mood lighting – to the bathroom. Need a toilet that listens? Want to pay $ 7,000 for the privilege? Numi 2.0 was understandably plump (sorry) for more than a few jokes when it debuted at the CES tech show this week. And yet in these heights of apparent absurdity there is a case to be done.

"We already know that 80 percent of consumers bring a phone or tablet into the bathroom to do something," says Kohler project manager Jonathan Bradley. "We know that 13 percent are already using voice in some respects. That's what drives this push into the bathroom. Consumers are already doing it. Kohler has the opportunity to do it in a more gracious experience." [19659003] gracious. Kohler has also added Alexa, as well as Google Assistant, to a number of bathroom mirrors and sells a kitchen sink voice command; It represents a world where you can chat with all your fixtures. And even though it feels like a maximal technology overload, Kohler claims it actually has the opposite intent. "Think of the bathroom: It's a spa-type environment. It's a place of rest, relaxation, respite," Bradley says. "It's strange to try to have peace and relaxation and technology together. We're trying to automate tasks so you don't have to bring your phone."

A more streamlined manifestation of the same philosophy comes from Simplehuman if Sensor Mirror Hi Fi combines a mirror, lamp and speaker. You can also upgrade to a Google Assistant-powered model. This is where the contours of convergence begin to make more intuitive sense. It's nice to get the breath or listen to the NPR as part of your morning routine; It is useful to have solid lighting when using foundation. And it's really convenient that you don't have to use your hands or confuse your vanity to do any of these things.

Simplehuman Sensor Mirror Hi-Fi Assist carpets a speaker, Google Assistant and a lamp in a bathroom mirror.

Amy Lombard

"We see it as the whole experience the consumer has when interacting with the products. In this case, it becomes clear in the morning," said Simplehuman founder and CEO Frank Yang. "We only add one function if we think it adds it meaningfully."

Take the presence of Google Assistant. At one level, it prevents the need for a separate Google Home device, which also means less device and power cord near your sink. But joining assistant versus Alexa was also a deliberate choice, although Amazon makes voice integration easier. "We chose Google because of the morning routine. We know that the purpose is not just another device, so you can check who is at the front door or turn on a light. Lots of things can do that," Yang says. "It's more like, if you do your makeup, you need to know when to leave your meeting, what's on your calendar."

Voice represents only one piece of complicated puzzle. The necessary components, for one thing, have recently become much cheaper; Yang says you could have made Sensor Mirror Hi-Fi years ago, but at a price beyond what a reasonable consumer would pay. Today, Frankengadgets are not only possible but relatively affordable.

"It is a testament to how cheap it is to renew and experiment that we see such unnatural and unusual combinations," said James McQuivey, chief analyst at Forrester Research.

Moreover, as ubiquitous as the "product, but it speaks" box, oversimplify would stop the more nuanced way gadgets have converged. Take TwelveSouth PowerPic, enjoy this fall, hiding an iPhone-compatible Qi wireless charger inside a perfectly comfortable picture frame. The only giveaway is that it has its own power cord connected. But otherwise you do not sacrifice anything you love about picture frames – it looks great, it has a 5×7 photo – to benefit a fast battery boost for any room in your home.

And then there is the most delightful multi-use gadget by CES, Sony's powerful Bluetooth speaker behemoth, whose top unfolds to reveal four cupholders. You know, for tailgates.

"These products are absolutely superfluous," McQuivey says. "But they are superfluous in a fantastic innovative way."

Not all hybrid gadgets rely on Alexa. The twelve South PowerPic stores a wireless charger inside its perfectly comfortable picture frame.

Amy Lombard

Some of them are also beautiful. Take Barisieur, who comes from the designer Josh Renouf's mind. It is a coffee maker and an alarm clock, but also clean eye lights. What started out as an Indiegogo project in 2016 now actually exists as a product that combines two functions in a way that raises both, at least aesthetically.

"You want to design the product in a way that doesn't look like you just" mashed "two products together, and you've done it in a timeless and subtle way," Renouf says.

What key challenge is Swiss gadgets? Not just in design but in function. Not all companies will rise to it. The ability to attach more functions does not mean that you have to, even though the sky knows someone will try.

"When we add a function, we always think: Is it negative, outweighs the positive?" Says Yang. He points to the emerging tendency to integrate screens into mirrors as an example where the math does not work. "I haven't seen a mirror where it has a good display that you can see clearly and the mirror is good. So why would you have that mirror?"

Expect over time that more and more people have a good answer to the same basic question. Why do you want it? Because it's fun and because it gives you a small thing to worry about.

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