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November 2nd, 2000

The CueCat Fiasco

I got a CueCat in the mail from Wired a few months ago. I didn’t know what to think… here was this nice little box proclaiming a "special bonus" from the mag, even though my subscription had just lapsed. I opened it to see the much chagrined CueCat.

In case you haven’t seen one of these things, it’s a barcode scanner that looks like a cat with its mouth – albeit a strange square mouth – wide open. I think it resembles a certain device designed to aid in female stimulation, myself. The CueCat plugs into the keyboard port and has a pass-thru for your keyboard.

What’s it do? Surprisingly, it scans barcodes. These barcodes then take you to the manufacturer’s website. There are plenty of these barcodes in issues of Wired, but I have yet to see them elsewhere.

The problems with the execution are plentiful. First, it assumes that people read in front of their computers. That’s a huge assumption… lots of people read in (gasp!) a living room, and you’ll find tons of computers in kitchens and bedrooms. Second, it’s not perfect; scans aren’t bulletproof, and characters might be off once or twice (just like the barcodes at your grocery store.) And finally, it’s a solution looking for a problem. How many people complain about forgettable domain names? How many people don’t know that works in many cases? And how many people don’t know that if that doesn’t work, Yahoo! is a good place to start?

On top of that, Digital Convergence – the pretentious name of the CueCat’s parents – tracks your scans, allegedly. Couple that with the lashing out at hackers… when folks wanted to try to do something useful with this piece of plastic, DC came after them with lawyers and threats.

What a waste. A much more useful device for this problem would be a portable device that you attach to your computer, and lets you enter any letter or number you choose.

Oh, wait, that’s a keyboard. -pm

Posted in Technology

Shii January 29, 2008, 8:56 pm

I wish someone had recorded that CueCat infomercial.

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