First Click: Sometimes the best technology doesn’t need electronics

April 27th, 2016

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Call it a backlash to the unfulfilled promise of the Internet of Things. Or maybe it’s just a reaction to what Nilay calls the post-smartphone “divergence.” No matter what you call it, I’ve grown increasingly fond of high-technology products that lack any electronics whatsoever. Just look at this inflatable Lamzac Hangout lounge and marvel at the brilliance of its simplicity.

What makes the Lamzac so interesting to me right now is that it’s a product that stands in opposition to the trend du jour of putting chips inside everything and then calling it an advancement. Most of the time, these so-called "smart" devices are more expensive and more complicated to use than their simpler counterparts. The Swiss army knife is a classic example of the no-electronics gadget. Victorinox can’t make it better by adding Bluetooth (though it tried).

At one point I thought about calling products like the Hangout "no-tech" gadgets. But my colleagues Sam Byford and Vlad Savov were quick to correct me. Although we’ve grown accustomed to equating technology with electronics, they’re not synonymous:

technology |tekˈnäləjē|

the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry: advances in computer technology | recycling technologies.

  • machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge.
  • the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.

The $79 Lamzac Hangout is a smartly engineered product from Marijn Oomen which he invented for very practical purposes: lazing about at the beach, music festivals, or in the backyard. "I like all gadgets (with electronics or without) when they add value to my life," wrote Oomen to me over email. "A new fancy app, computer, or auto-something is something which your brain is already partly prepared for. But I probably will be more excited when I see a gadget without electronics that changes the way I see established products." That’s exactly how I experienced his Lamzac Hangout.

I’ve been testing a review unit for a few weeks. It takes a bit of practice to perfect the inflation technique but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Setup and teardown can both be done in seconds — I’ve got each down to less than 30 and I’m still improving. By comparison, an air mattress I own takes me about five minutes to inflate using a built-in electric compressor (longer with a hand pump) and another five to deflate (assuming it fits into the box the first time). When not in use, the Hangout folds away into its sack measuring just 7 x 14 inches. Best of all, the Lamzac is bizarrely comfortable for what amounts to an inflatable sofa. It does get a bit awkward with two or more people (the Hangout has a claimed capacity of 440 pounds) but all the jostling you feel is still preferable to sitting on the cold wet ground. I haven’t been able to test it in hot, sunny weather where the Hangout’s ripstop nylon might get hot or stick to sweaty skin. But that's nothing a beach towel, sheet, or blanket couldn’t alleviate.

The Lamzac is just one of several high-tech, no-electronics gadgets I’ve used recently that have left me acutely aware of the intelligent engineering within. Here’s a brief list of some of my recent favorites:

  • My Muji broom, but you know that already.
  • My wife’s Cairn Magnetik ski goggles with its ultrafast interchangeable lens system that uses what else: magnets.
  • Mahabis’s slogan is "slippers reinvented" — and I have to agree thanks to that detachable sole which is perfect for quick trips to the mailbox or for taking the trash to the curb.
  • I haven’t tried it yet, but I love the "ejector tabs" on this North Face backpack.

Those are mine, what are yours?

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