Smartphones aren’t great at everything. If you’ve ever tried to use the iPhone as an Apple TV remote, you probably learned quickly that sometimes a physical device (like a remote control) can be easier than fiddling with apps.
So it was with some intrigue that we discovered this $80 software-powered barcode scanner, which attacks one of the classic smartphone use cases Steve Jobs demonstrated at the launch of the iPhone in 2007: keeping a shopping list.
The Hiku, as it’s called, is an example of a new wave of dedicated devices that are challenging the assumption that an app is always a good replacement for a discrete device or real-world tool. "Connected devices is a super-exciting space right now, and feels a lot like mobile did back in 2002," says Hiku founder Rob Katcher. "It’s very wild west, very fresh."
Of course, Hiku still relies on an app to display your shopping list. But the device itself speeds up the worst part of the process—the actual data entry of shopping list items. You can use the optical eye on the bottom of the device to scan the SKU of an item you need to buy; say you finish the last of the detergent, just scan the barcode from the empty bottle to add it to your shopping list. If there’s no barcode to scan, you can speak the item and Hiku will transcribe the item onto your list.
Katcher says this is a new business model, not just a new device. "We are not an Apple business model that makes fat margins selling hardware," he says. "We are more of an Amazon business model a la Kindle. The next logical step is for our users to be able to buy products right from their shopping list. Bringing simplicity and beauty to people rules in our world, so advertising/coupons enter in only when it is helpful and valuable to them."
Hardware is a tough business, but Katcher says we’re facing a resurgence of dedicated hardware devices. "At a high level, there is a general misconception that runs through the tech community that everyone wants to do everything on their mobile phone. But not everyone wants to use that Swiss Army knife. Can your oven toast bread? Sure it can, but lots of people prefer a toaster."