The USB Implementers Forum: Surely, you know the name. Since 1995, this organization has worked tirelessly "for the advancement and adoption of universal-serial-bus technology." But after 10 years, what do they have to show for it? Boring memory devices and unimaginative external drives. Isn't there anyone with guts enough to test the limits of this dynamic and, dare we say, universal port?
Say hello to Thanko, a Tokyo-based consumer-electronics company that has created enough outlandish USB contraptions to make Rube Goldberg jealous. If you've wondered, "Where's a good USB-powered manicure set when I need one?" well, your search is over. Also in the Thanko line: a heating pad for your coffee mug, a piezo negative ionizer, a speaker shaped like a flowerpot — all powered off your computer's garden-variety USB port.
Before you run out and drop 50 bucks on a USB-powered humidifier, let us warn you: These aren't the sorts of products that come with instructions and extended warranties. The massagers (one each for eyes and scalp) were practically shedding parts on arrival. And they're not exactly paradigms of design: The chintzy plastic casings looked as if they'd been jerry-rigged to accept USB plugs. (Thanko definitely is not a member of the USB Implementers Forum.)
Still, it's hard to argue with the soothing pulse of an electric gizmo. At $15 and $24 for the eye and scalp massager, respectively, we say yes. The manicure set (we, um, had one of the women in our office test it out) was a different story: This is more a dollhouse trinket than a tool for the cuticle-conscious CEO on the go. While the electric file worked wonders, the buffer and polisher were ornamental at best. Save your $60 for the nail salon.
Hungry for more? Thanko's full range of USB devices is available through a variety of importers online. Remember what the folks at the forum say: "Once you've tried USB, we think you'll grow quite attracted to it!"
A version of this article appeared in the June 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.