Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! Please find your seats and silence your phones… it’s time now for the 13th annual Pogie Awards!
To be clear: These awards don’t go to the best products of the year. You really don’t need another one of those articles.
These are awards for the best feature ideas within products—even if the products themselves aren’t so hot. The point is to celebrate the inspiration that struck some designer or engineer—and to hail that idea’s successful journey out of committee, past the lawyers, and into the hands of the public.
So what were the best ideas in tech of 2017?
The Safety With Numbers Award
This new feature in iOS 11 could save your bacon—or your life. It’s called Emergency SOS.
Once you’ve set it up, it works like this: If you ever feel that you’re in danger—walking down the street, or someone’s assaulting you, or you’ve been in an accident—you click the power button five times fast. You can even do that in your pocket without looking at the phone.
After a 3-second countdown, it automatically dials 911 … texts anyone you’ve setup in the Settings, letting them know you’re in danger and showing where you are … and starts a loud whooping alarm, to rattle whoever’s bothering you.
Just knowing that your phone is an emergency beacon can give you a little boost of confidence—and a big boost of safety.
A New UI for You and I Award
The public wants bigger screens on their phones, and also wants more features every year. But if you’re the manufacturer, it’s hard to expand the screen without taking away buttons.
But HTC’s U11 phone introduces a new form of user-interface that adds features without adding buttons: Squeezing the sides. Since you’re already holding the phone with your hand wrapped around the sides, it’s a natural, one-handed, useful move.
You decide what that action does. It can open the camera app, bring up the Google Assistant, turn on the flashlight, take a screenshot, start a voice recording, ask a question of Alexa, or turn the personal hotspot on or off, for example. You can also make a short squeeze and a long one do different things.
The Cut Cord Award
At this point, tens of millions of us own voice-assistant speakers, like Alexa on the Amazon (AMZN) Echo, or OK Google on the Google Home. But this year, both companies added a killer idea: free phone calls. To regular phone numbers.
Without budging from the couch, you can say, “Alexa, call Casey’s cellphone,” or “OK Google, call mom,” and boom—free speakerphone call. Free as in hands-free, and free as in, the calls are free.
The Massive Transportation Award
The buses are luxury liners, with power and WiFi at every deluxe, reclining seat. (OurBus doesn’t actually own any buses. It supplies only the technology and software to existing bus companies—usually charter bus companies whose buses aren’t being used to their full capacity.) If you can find 100 people who’d be interested in a certain bus route, they’ll put it together.
The Pedal Wins a Medal Award
Buses aren’t the only way to get around without choking up the air and the roads. Bikes are free to ride, free to park, great exercise, and they never get stuck in traffic. Too bad you show up at work panting and sweaty.
Electric bikes are all the rage in Europe, but the nice ones are very expensive. But suppose you could electrify the bike you already have? Suppose you could just pop off its wheel, and replace it with a motorized one—without giving up the frame, seat, brakes, gears, and handlebars you already own and love?
It’s a beautiful, compact, simple-looking machine. There’s nothing on your handlebar, no cable snaking up your bike frame. Instead, the shiny red capsule hub of your wheel contains everything: motor, battery, circuitry, and 74 sensors.
When you start to pedal, the Wheel amplifies the power of your foot. The boost is smooth, silent, and controlled, and the feeling is exhilarating. Everyone who tries it utters one delighted exclamation or another: “WOOHOO!!” or “Whoa!” or “Oh, wow!” or “Omigod!”
The huge benefit of replacing your rear wheel is, of course, that the Wheel knows when you’re pedaling, and how hard. It gives you a boost proportional to the effort you’re expending.
The Stick It in Your Ear Award
Like it or not, the smartphone headphone jack is gradually going away. It’s gone from Apple’s phones, Google’s phones, HTC’s phones. We’ve entered the age of wireless earbuds.
Apple’s AirPods look bizarre, because of that little stick, and because they’re completely detached. (The Airpods technically went on sale in December 2016, but the idea behind them really took off this year.) The beauty is that you can pull out just one when you need a quick listen—some phone call, some Facebook video—and then pop it right back into the charging case.
You may love the AirPods or you may hate them, but the idea here—two completely detached earbuds—puts them into a new realm of instant access. (It also means double the battery life, because each earbud plays for 5 hours on a charge.)
The Pogie Ultimo
And finally, we come to our biggest award of the evening: The Pogie Ultimo!
The one idea that has the most potential to improve the lives of the downtrodden technology-using masses with a single, ingenious stroke. And that award goes to: the MoviePass card.
It’s like Netflix for movie theaters. You pay a flat 10 bucks a month, and for that flat fee, you can go out to the movies all you want! A movie every day, if you want. But with movie tickets at $15 in cities, even if you see one movie a month, you’re coming out ahead.
Movie Pass buys you a ticket at full price, so the theaters don’t lose out, either. (MoviePass says that it will make money by selling the data it collects about its customers—anonymized, of course.)
The only footnote is that 3D and IMAX movies aren’t included. But otherwise, this is the deal—and the idea—of the year!
Happy New Year
And there you have it, folks—the 2017 Pogie Awards. Let these bursts of inspiration show you that even products that are turkeys… sometimes harbor a little bit of gravy. Good night, everyone—and happy New Year!
More from David Pogue:
David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, is the author of “iPhone: The Missing Manual.” He welcomes nontoxic comments in the comments section below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.