The Vessyl calorie-counting cup is probably the most ridiculous, unnecessary gadget I've seen demoed in all my years as a tech journalist--yet somehow, inexplicably, the company behind it has just announced that it's surpassed $1 million in pre-order sales.
I have to ask why? What makes this $99 product so compelling that more than 10,000 consumers are willing to throw down for it?
Seriously. Someone out there, please tell me why.
Vessly identifies liquids, counts calories
I won't go into all of Vessyl's details (you can learn more here), but the short story is that this sensor-packed cup can automatically determine what kind of liquid you've poured inside it, as well as report the calorie content of whatever you poured. "It knows what's inside," promises the Vessly webpage. "No more guessing or journaling."
Let me explain everything that's wrong with this basic product promise.
Most people already know what they're drinking.
If you need a "smart" feature to remind you of what you just poured inside a cup, you might have a serious neurological problem. Seek help. I, meanwhile, will continue to identify coffee, fruit juice and various adult beverages on sight alone. Plus, all commercial cans and bottles have labels. These labels are precise in describing the liquid trapped inside.
We consume much more than liquids
Calorie counting is important, yes, but liquids probably only account for a minority stake in your total nutrition profile. So why would anyone buy a liquid-only calorie-counting gadget when upcoming handheld sensors like SCiO and Tellspec promise a fuller picture?
One cup: totally impractical
OK, let's say you buy into the premise that all of Vessyl's magic tricks will lead you to better nutrition and hydration. Are you really prepared to drink everything from the very same cup? This isn't practical. Your cup will need constant cleaning, and it's not dishwasher safe. And to stick with the program, you'll need to lug Vessyl from home to work and back again. You'll also need to bring it to restaurants. "Yes, my good man, I'll have the 2006 Perrot Minot Charmes--and pour it inside my fancy digital smart cup."
Calories locked in liquids are self-evident
Relative to widely variable food items like cheeseburgers and burritos, liquids aren't particularly confusing calorie puzzles. Save alcohol, most liquids in cans and bottles have their calorie numbers right on the label. And even non-packaged liquids like fresh-squeezed orange juice and home-brewed coffee have relatively consistent calorie numbers. Just consider the capacity of your glass or cup, and then consult one of many publicly available calorie data resources.
One-time, one-trick pony
Let's say that for some inexplicable reason, you found incredible value in learning that your 12-ounce Mountain Dew contained 170 calories. Because, you know, you couldn't ascertain this information by reading the label on the can. OK, great. But how many times do you need to "re-learn" this data? Do you really drink so many different types of liquids that you need a $99 cup (or $199 after the pre-order period is over) to keep you informed? Sure, the Vessyl system can help you track the total calories in all the liquids you consume throughout the day, but again, who only drinks liquids?
Why I'm complaining about Vessyl now
I was among the original group of journalists who saw Vessyl under an information embargo. My tech-press colleagues wrote about the cup when the embargo lifted on June 12, and I was simultaneously horrified and disappointed to see so many of them cover Vessyl without calling out its obvious drawbacks and dubious features.
I knew I had only bad things to say about Vessyl, so I decided to ignore the cup--a decision I now regret. At the time I was subscribing to a philosophy of "If you can't say anything nice...." My intention was to wait for a final review unit before passing judgement. But now, when I see that more than 10,000 early adopters have purchased the cup, I'm compelled to think I should have written something sooner. On its advertised product features alone, Vessyl makes absolutely no sense.
That's my take at least. Someone, anyone: If you purchased Vessyl on pre-order, tell me why I'm wrong. Tell me why Vessyl isn't a poster product for silly tech start-up excess.
And it looks like Stephen Colbert may want an answer too...