Wearable gadgetry was out in full force last week at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, with many-a-start-up clamoring to capture the growing market for personal fitness and health devices with so-called “life-bands” and other peripherals like the Jawbone UP, the Fitbit Flex and the Hapilabs Hapifork. But as the Adult Entertainment Expo takes over the Las Vegas Convention Center -- it's using the same convention space that CES used last week -- companies are debuting new kinds of wearable technology that were conspicuously absent from last week’s tech event: Sex toys.
Thanks to Jimmyjane -- the design-friendly sex toy company whose co-founder and chief creative officer, Ethan Imboden, has been called “the Steve Jobs of the sex industry” -- the gap between gadget porn and porn-like gadgets has been filled this week. On Tuesday, Jimmyjane introduced its newest product line, the “Hello” series of wearable vibrators, starting with the glove-like fingertip vibrator called “Hello Touch.”
Jimmyjane first won mainstream acclaim for its simple, pared-down approach to designing vibrators that helped bring the devices into popular TV shows like “Sex and the City” and fashion magazines like Vogue. The company’s Totoro-shaped Form 2 vibrator has been celebrated as one of the most revolutionary approaches to redesigning the modern vibrator since it was first released in 2009, drawing comparisons to Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPod in the process.
Imboden said in a phone interview that the idea for the Hello Touch came from the goal to “create a Form 2 that could fit on your hand.”
"We like the idea of the enhanced, empowered human," he added, showing slides of Sigourney Weaver's iconic mech suit from the "Aliens" movie and other geeky references that have recently entered into the world of high fashion.
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“Think ravioli meets pod-racer,” Imboden joked of the orb-like pod-shaped devices that slip onto two of the user’s fingers.
Imboden said that his primary interest in developing the Hello Touch was to reduce the scale of the device relative to previous Jimmyjane products, both in terms of its physical size and its cost. The Hello Touch will retail for $65 -- less than half the price of any of Jimmyjane’s other vibrators. The only thing he had to compromise on for the new product, Imboden admitted, was not having a rechargeable battery. Instead, the Hello Touch uses two AAA batteries, which he said should let the device run continuously for six to seven hours.
These constraints put a certain limit on Jimmyjane’s design sensibility, however, and the Hello Touch stands out in its lineup of vibrators. While the device is certainly smaller than its predecessors, it’s not necessarily more discrete or unobtrusive as a result. Being a wearable gadget, the Hello Touch’s battery pack is strapped to the user with a wristband and connected to the two vibrators with a white cable.
Imboden walked me through the research and development process for the Hello Touch, explaining that many of these design constraints were due to “prioritizing the function of the vibrator.” Previous models by his competitors, he said, have often been far too heavy or ungainly in size and shape when a developer tries to build a stand-alone wireless piece of hardware.
Similarities to other forward-thinking but undeniably awkward wearable gadgets are inevitable, and Imboden even acknowledged that he was inspired partly by Nintendo’s (PINK: NTDOY) “Power Glove,” an ambitious flop that sounds like it could be the name for its own sex toy.
“Some may feel that it’s almost too modern, so it becomes almost clinical, or medical,” Imboden said of the Hello Touch’s pristine design. But he said that the gizmo-friendly feel of the device was intended to “allow it to be what it is,” which is “a little bit techie, and a lot of fun.”
“We weren’t trying to make it disappear into the body,” he added, saying that other manufacturers of finger-tip vibrators have often made the mistake of either “pretending that [their product] is jewelry” and making something that’s too ornate to function as a sexual object or “assuming that they know what sexy is,” thus producing comically raunchy products. Even with his previous vibrators, Imboden said, their nature as stand-alone products stopped them from being fully and seamless integrated into the user’s body the way that wearable gadgetry may someday be able to do so.
“It was almost a threesome in a way before,” he said of Jimmyjane’s earlier models. “Now, you’re becoming sort of super-human; but you’re still you.”