By Andrew Liszewski
We first brought you news about Sphero around a month before CES 2011 was set to begin, and it immediately became one of the things I was most excited about seeing at the show. And given the amount of time I spent playing with their white plastic ball at their booth, suffice to say it didn’t disappoint.
The most common question raised by other attendees while I loitered around the Orbotix booth was “why?” and it’s exactly that question that has me most excited about Sphero. At the moment most people see it as nothing more than an RC toy, but it’s the endless possibilites of what it can also be that I think will be its ‘killer app’. Just like how every day a new app comes along that takes advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities in a unique and interesting way. More of my thoughts and hands-on impressions of Sphero after the jump.
Now since they’re still a while away from hitting the market, the Spheros that Orbotix had on display at CES basically just served as RC toys, not to imply that made them any less fun. Using either an iPhone, iPad or Android-based device and a Bluetooth connection, the Sphero is controlled just like any other wireless RC toy… well mostly. You see since it’s a perfect sphere the Sphero doesn’t really have a ‘front’ per se, and when it’s stopped you can’t really tell which way is forward.
So using the on-screen controls for the Sphero is a bit different than controlling an RC toy with a physical joystick. Moving the sphere is accomplished by pushing a circle sitting in the middle of a larger circle away from the center. The farther it goes to the edge, the faster Sphero rolls. And steering is accomplished by continuously sliding your finger around the inside of the larger circle. As long as you’re sliding, Sphero continuously makes an arcing turn in that direction. It does take a few minutes to get used to, and one of our writers who will go unnamed needed a few attempts at it to wrap his head around the concept. But once you get going you’ll be navigating obstacle courses like a pro!
Since they’re all controlled by Bluetooth you can easily have multiple Spheros running at the same time as well, as was the case at Orbotix’s booth. So battling it out Sumo-style on a table with a friend is no problem. And keeping track of which Sphero is yours isn’t an issue either since each one has a set of colored LEDs inside which can be customized from the app to make it glow in any color of your choosing.
At the moment Orbotix didn’t have many details about when the Sphero might be hitting the market, though they seemed optimistic about having them available later in the year if all goes well. Pricing was also completely up in the air, but if they manage to come up with some slick new ways to use it between now and Christmas, I don’t think a higher price tag would do much to harm their sales.
And while I’d like to say I was the biggest Sphero fan at CES this year, during one of my visits I was easily bested by this young ‘leader dog for the blind’ pup in training who desperately wanted to play too.
[ Orbotix’s Sphero ]