If 2016 was the year of “Uber for X,” 2017 was the year of Silicon Valley “inventing” things.
The tech industry officially ran out of ideas this year. Rather than tacking on some tech element to things that already exist, it edged closer to just renaming the things that already exist. To be fair to Silicon Valley, it rarely claims to have “invented” anything. “Disrupting shit” is the preferred vernacular. But so many new ideas this year weren’t really innovating or improving much of anything. If there’s anything that the top “inventions” accomplished in 2017, it’s finding a way to make rich people feel good about paying too much money for something that previous innovations made affordable for most.
As more and more of these dumb contraptions from startups hit the news, it became a common refrain on the internet to lol at X company for having “invented” something. Only one tiny group needed any of these things: startups and venture capitalists. As TechCrunch put it back in October, 2017 marked “the end of the startup era.” Rather than a few guys cooking up something in a garage that blows the world away, we have startups latching on to a few categories of hot development hoping to sell out as soon as possible to one of the big five tech giants.
The big boys weren’t immune to dumping stale ideas on the public either. When they weren’t copying each other, or adding tiny tweaks to their current products, the tech juggernauts were mostly focused on taking over existing industries while adding little of value.
From the bowels of Amazon’s research & domination department to the kitchen tables of deluded startup bros, here are 2017's most unoriginal and infuriating ideas:
10. The helicopter
Every year it becomes clearer that we’re never going to get flying cars. But every year, a handful of companies claim that they’ll be putting you behind the wheel of one in the very near future. Uber, the world’s most valuable startup, announced that it will be launching a flying taxi service in Los Angeles by the year 2020. Ya know, it’s Uber for flying cars. Concept designs were like every other “flying car,” it’s just a helicopter/drone thing that requires a pilot and that only rich people will ever be able to afford. On top of that, NYC already has an Uber for helicopters. To Uber’s credit, this was one of the smartest things it did this year.
9. The mailbox
This one barely skirts the line of falling into the specific category we’re talking about here. A lot of people actually want their apartment building to have a mailbox that’s just for Amazon packages. It would be convenient, and help prevent package theft. But Amazon’s “Hub” service is still just a mailbox. And as Amazon gobbles up every piece of every industry, it doesn’t sound like such a great idea to let them build out dedicated infrastructure that keeps us all inside its walled garden.
8. The low-rise building
You could also just call this a building. Maybe you want to call it a corporate campus, that’s cool too. Google prefers to call it a “landscraper” or a “horizontal skyscraper.” Granted, the new headquarters that Google is building in London is a really big building—1,082 feet long, holding 7,000 workers—but it’s just a building. What’s more, the landscraper is the opposite of what we need right now. Densely populated metropolitan areas need big tall buildings to make the best use of space, keep rents low, make public transportation more efficient, and countless other reasons. Google’s landscraper is 11 stories tall. It will include an innovative elevator that goes sideways as well as up and down, though. Of course, if it were a regular skyscraper, the elevator would only need to move vertically. Two useless inventions in one!
7. The bus
Imagine this: an automobile travels along a set route at all times, it stops along that route, and you can get in and ride along that route as a way to get within walking distance to your destination. Because other people are doing this along with you, the cost of the ride is reduced. It’s called Lyft Shuttle. But before that, it was called a city bus. And when it was the bus, it cost less per ride, was subsidised by the public, accommodated more people, and was financially viable for low-income passengers. Proceeds from the bus went back into the system that keeps the bus running, not into the coffers of a VC fund. Great job, Lyft.
Of all of the mega-funded startups out there, WeWork probably baffles me the most. With an $18 billion (£13.4b) valuation, it’s worth more than SpaceX. But unlock Elon Musk’s rocket startup, WeWork has no moonshot ideas. It just rents real estate and brands properties. WeLive is its communal housing offshoot. A bunch of people live in a place and share common areas. This is called “co-living” in the world of WeWork. In the real world, it’s called having roommates. If you elect to have a roommate rather “co-living” with someone, it tends to be cheaper, and you get to choose your own decor.
5. The teapot
I don’t drink tea, so there might be a difference between a teapot and a tea infuser, but it’s all a teapot to me. Teforia’s line of internet-connected teapots wasn’t supposed to be Uber for tea, it was supposed to be Keureg for tea. Like Keureg, Teforia made a product that’s more wasteful than doing it the old-fashioned way, and it used a closed ecosystem of buying tea from Teforia. Gizmodo’s former resident Brit Libby Watson does drink tea. She found that the $400 (£299) Teforia Leaf made a tea that was inferior to what she made with her handy $7 (£5.24) infuser and none of its internet of things features were useful. After raising $17 million (£12.7m) in funding, Teforia shut down. And now a handful of people have a £300 teapot.
4. The storage locker
MakeSpace has raised $57 million (£42.6) for its “cloud storage for physical stuff.” If that sounds like a storage locker, that’s because it is. MakeSpace has been going since 2013, and this year it had a “completely amicable” executive reshuffle. It didn’t invent “cloud storage for physical stuff,” and it didn’t invent a new way to quietly whisper “things aren’t okay.”
Photo: Odd Company
3. The tent
Long days at the office, terrible sleep habits, caffeinated delirium, and open office space has us all wanting to crawl into a hole and die. Or at least, take a nap. That’s where Odd Company’s Pause Pod came in. It’s a portable “private pop-up space free from stressful moments.” It’s a tent—a tent that you open in the middle of the office, and all your co-workers wonder if you’re fiddling with yourself inside.
2. The vending machine
Bodega set a record time for a startup to experience public backlash. It’s an app-enabled vending machine with bougie products that aims to put your beloved, locally owned corner store out of business. “The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” Bodega’s co-founder Paul McDonald told Fast Company. That interview ran on September 13th. On September 14th, Bodega apologised to “to anyone we’ve offended.” The apology focused on the name, which the company assured us it had market tested in “Latin American communities,” and 97 per cent of respondents didn’t think it was offensive. What Bodega missed is that the entire concept is offensive.
Image: Chrissy Trampedach
Ah Juicero, the top spot was always going to be reserved for you. You were a hilarious ray of sunshine in the middle of a gloomy year, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude. Regarding this list, the only decision to be made was figuring out what Juicero invented that had already been invented. As a $400 (£299), internet of things juicer, the logical answer would be that it “invented” the juicer. But no, Juicero didn’t really juice fruit or vegetables. It squeezed out bags of prepared fruit or vegetable product. You had to buy these bags from Juicero, and some top-notch investigators at Bloomberg found that you could squeeze out the bag with your bare hands just as well as you could with the machine. Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn defended his invention, saying, “hacking consumer products is nothing new.” It’s not a hack to do the thing a product does with your bare hands. So, Juicero invented hands. Five months and $118.5 million (£88.7m) of investment later, Juicero was dead. Dunn was last seen emerging from Burning Man, drinking an expensive snake oil from a company that calls it “raw water.” Take comfort in knowing that Dunn doesn’t just take you for a sucker, he happens to be one himself.