October 26, 2006 12:32 PM PDT
Nabaztag: A conflicted Wi-Fi rabbit
This was no ordinary bunny. This was a Nabaztag, better known in geek circles as the "Wi-Fi bunny."
It's hard to describe what Nabaztag really is, especially because of its name, which may be the weirdest, least attractive product name since Nintendo's forthcoming video game console, the Wii.
Nevertheless, the bunny was intensely intriguing, and I found myself bending low over my friend's table staring and prodding at the plastic object. It has a nearly nondescript smooth, white, semi-cylindrical plastic body with a little black painted nose and two black oval eyes. It also has two detachable white ears.
As I would soon find out, a Nabaztag is a fun, if somewhat confounding toy. It's hard to deny its cuteness, and the novelty of a rabbit that can communicate with other bunnies across the globe, but it can be difficult to get it to do what you want, and the Web interface that controls it leaves a lot to be desired.
As I said, Nabaztag is hard to explain. Basically, it's a communications device dressed up as a cute little multimedia plastic bunny that can tell you the time, give you traffic, weather and news alerts, let you know when you have e-mail waiting, play your favorite music and much more.
From New York, I went to San Diego to cover DemoFall, and naturally, Nabaztag was one of the products on display there. Its maker, France's Violet, was at Demo to formally unveil the bunny, and it had three of the little beasts on stage--each flashing colors, their ears spinning happily, and basically being the totally different product during a show of somewhat indistinguishable enterprise-class hardware, online photo-sharing tools and other gizmos and gadgets.
Then I heard that at Nextfest, Wired magazine's futuristic carnaval in New York last month, Violet had brought 100 Nabaztags, lined them up and put on a bunny orchestra.
Enough was enough. I had to have one.
What's in a bunny name?
Next thing I know, a box arrived in the mail, and I had my very own bunny. I unpacked it, plugged it in, went to Nabaztag.com and gave my rabbit a name. It's called LapinLED, a nod to the French word for rabbit if anyone wants to know.
I was very excited. I still didn't entirely understand what LapinLED could do, but those beautiful flashing lights and rotating ears had me beyond eager to find out.
Almost immediately after registering LapinLED and turning it on, it sprang to life.
"Yippee," it shouted at me in a plaintive male British voice that could have belonged to a bit player in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
"I've been given a name."
Then it told me it didn't know what I wanted it to do and directed me to the Web site, where I would be able to give it all kinds of instructions and, presumably, commence my new, improved, Nabaztag-oriented life.
So I did as I was told, went to the site, clicked on the "services" tab and began trying to figure out what I could get my new bunny to do.
That's when the trouble began.
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