Freedom from Greasy Fingers?
Newsfrom JapanGuide to Japan Lifestyle Food and Drink
New Tech Allows Chip-Eaters to Multitask
We all know what it’s like to reach for an afternoon snack, just to take a break from work. But snacking has long been plagued by the problem of dirty fingers. Last year, the confectionary manufacturer Morinaga announced that it would discontinue its popular Choco Flake line by summer 2019, in part because consumers had made it clear that chocolate-coated fingers make it difficult to use a smartphone. Many Japanese seeking to avoid the greasy fingerprints on their screens use chopsticks for their snacking. On June 29, 2019, Takara Tomy will release a product serving the same purpose: the “Smart Potato Chips” snack grabber.
A gripping arm complete with anthropomorphic finger and thumb, the Smart Potato Chips is a result of collaboration between the toy manufacturer Takara Tomy and confectionary manufacturer Calbee. At the push of a button, the thumb and forefinger pinch together to pick up potato chips.
The arm comes equipped with a variety of features. The gripping fingers have a clutch that applies just the right amount of force, so that chips are not crushed. The arm itself comes with a built-in stand to ensure that the fingers do not come into contact with surfaces when the user sets the arm down, keeping things hygienic. There’s also a cleaning function that rubs the thumb and forefinger together to knock off crumbs.
Nearly a decade ago, in 2010, Takara Tomy released a gripping arm named the Potechinote (“potato chip hand”), which also featured the functions listed above. But the Smart Potato Chips goes beyond its predecessor with a fourth, new function: smartphone touch. Specifically, the other end of the arm is fitted with a touch stylus that enables the user to operate a touch screen while snacking.
The Potechinote, released nine years ago, was a hit with consumers who wanted to eat chips without getting their hands dirty. A total of 300,000 were sold. So why did Takara Tomy decide to release Smart Potato Chips now, even though the Potechinote had solved the problem of dirty screens years ago?
A Gadget for the Times
“I heard that young people were eating potato chips with chopsticks because they didn’t want to get grease on their smartphones,” explains the project leader at Takara Tomy. “I recalled our Potechinote gripping arm and was inspired to relaunch the idea. Rather than simply creating another Potechinote, though, we wanted a product that was ‘now.’ We thought it would be cool if the arm could be used both to eat chips and to operate a smartphone. And so the Smart Potato Chips was born.”
The project leader continues: “People who eat potato chips with chopsticks while operating a phone with a touch stylus are unlikely to hold the chopsticks in one hand and the stylus in the other. In other words, they’ll need to keep swapping implements. However, the Smart Potato Chips allows users to effortlessly use their phones while snacking, all with one device. Being a toy company, we also wanted to inject the arm with a little quirkiness.”
The Potechinote was enough for those who simply wanted to keep their hands clean while munching, and touch pens have long been available for those who want to keep their screens clean. For a device to be truly smart, however, it needs multiple features. The Smart Potato Chips, says the manufacturer, takes the hassle out of snacking by eliminating the need to keep swapping between chopsticks and a stylus—an elegant response to changing consumer demands from their snacking experience. The new device is already attracting attention on social media, although there remain some holdouts: “Interesting idea, but I’ll stick with chopsticks and a touch pen.”
Appealing to Diehard Chopstick Advocates
How does Takara Tomy aim to persuade those who usually use chopsticks to embrace the technology? “I think the biggest issue is that you can’t use chopsticks to operate a smartphone,” says the project manager.
“We also think chopstick advocates will enjoy the arm’s toy-like appearance and the finger cleaning function.”
The arm comes in four colors, named “Lightly Salted,” “Salt and Seaweed,” “Chicken,” and “Potato Pizza” after potato chip flavors. It can be rinsed after use. The ¥1,280 (plus tax) device has already seen heavy pre-ordering.
Takara Tomy says it’s not currently planning to release any more gadgets for multitasking snackers, but the firm continues to develop products that make eating more fun. The performance of this low-tech “smart device” for screen browsing as you snack will be something to track.
(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on May 29, 2019. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)
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