Friday, March 6, 2009

What you can learn from in-flight gift catalogs

The staff of Tech-media-tainment returned from a five-day vacation to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on Thursday, hence the lack of posts on TMT.
On the flight back to Chicago from Cancun, after finishing a stack of magazines, I flipped through United Airlines’ early spring 2009 SkyMall gift catalog. Here are a few things I observed about the gadgets, household problem solvers and other products for sale:

There’s no shortage of overpriced gizmos from the likes of Brookstone and Hammacher Schlemmer. And Sharper Image founder Richard Thalheimer is back with another company to peddle electronic gadgets now that the Sharper Image retail chain has gone bankrupt.
Thalheimer’s new company is RichardSolo. The products it carries aren’t much different from those sold by the Sharper Image, such as nose and ear hair trimmers. He devotes a full page to a pocket-size backup battery for Apple iPhone or RIM BlackBerry phones. It also features a built-in laser pointer and LED flashlight. Price: $69.95.
Or how about three flameless candles with a remote control for $49.95. They use energy-efficient LED lights. Perfect for the “player” who wants to set the right romantic mood lighting.

People like to pamper their pets.
You can buy steps for your tired, old pooch who needs help getting up on the couch or bed ($39.99) or a ramp for Fido to get into the car for $119.
The catalog also touts cabinets that hide kitty litter boxes inside a “handsome piece of furniture” for $99.95 or a decorative potted plant for $129.95.
My favorite is the pet doorbell set. “Train your pet not to scratch at the door! Pets simply push the Pet Paw to tell you when they need to come in or go out!” Yeah, right. Price: $69.95.

Then there’s a category of products that offer solutions for problems you didn’t know you had.
How about a self-propelled pool float for $159.99? Apparently it’s too much work for some people to paddle with their hands. They need a floating lounge with motorized propellers controlled by joysticks on the armrests.
Even better, how about a radio-controlled, motorized snack float that brings food and drinks to you for $49.99? “No need to paddle around or get out of the water for a cold drink or snack – make ’em come to you!”
I like the electronic feng shui compass for $399.99. The gadget supposedly “locates and calculates energy fields” so you can position furnishings in your home to provide positive energy for family and friends.

Spy technology is going mainstream.
On sale in the SkyMall catalog were a wireless stealth DVR camera that can record up to 45 days of high-quality digital video on a 2 GB SD card for $274.99 and an all-in-one, four camera video security system with night vision for $1,499.99.
You can also get a pen that discreetly records video and audio on 2 GB of internal memory for $149.99. A cheaper spy pen sells for $99.99 in the same catalog.

Apparently there are a lot of germaphobes out there.
Several manufacturers are selling toothbrush sanitizers that use ultraviolet light to kill germs. “A single toothbrush can harbor millions of microorganisms, including those that carry colds and flu,” says one ad for a $39.99 device. Probably only a real concern if you share toothbrushes, I say.
Or how about disposable, antibacterial-infused covers for remote controls? “A recent study of germs in hotel rooms found that germs abound, and television remotes rarely get wiped down, let alone disinfected,” the product description says. The remote control covers cost $39.99 for a 15-pack and $49.99 for a 25-pack. My suggestion: buy a cheap pack of disposable antibacterial wipes if you’re worried about that sort of thing.
But wait there’s more. The catalog advertises a touch-less paper towel dispenser as helping to prevent the spread of germs. Just wave your hand in front of the sensor and one sheet automatically dispenses. Only $59.99, not including paper towels or the required four D batteries.
On the high-end, there’s a UV disinfection scanner for $79.99. It’s a wand that you wave over hotel beds and carpet to kill dust mites, lice, flea eggs and germs. “Stop the spread of infectious diseases – from the common cold and flu viruses to deadly E. coli and Asian bird flu,” it says. You supply your own light saber sound effects.

Phoenix-based SkyMall is owned by N.Y.-based private equity fund Spire Capital Partners and the Greenspun Corp.

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