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The Microsoft iLoo, 2003
On 30 April 2003, MSN UK, a division of Microsoft, issued a press release announcing the imminent introduction of the iLoo, the world’s first internet-enabled port-a-potty. The introduction of this product was described as part of Microsoft's effort to allow people to log on "anytime, any place, and anywhere."
The iLoo, the press release promised, would include a wireless keyboard, a height-adjustable flat plasma screen, a six-channel surround-sound speaker system installed under the sink, broadband internet access, toilet paper conveniently printed with url suggestions, and (last but not least) a toilet outfitted with vacuum suction to guarantee maximum hygiene.
The press release continued:
A graphic was also released to the media illustrating the iLoo's features.
The announcement received widespread attention, including coverage the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the Associated Press.
Reporters pestered Microsoft with questions about the iLoo. For instance, wouldn’t the queue for it be miles long? Were beer-soaked, sweaty music festivals really the ideal place to introduce it? And what about keeping it clean? What kind of fluids might get on the keyboard?
Microsoft representatives explained that a security guard would be posted outside the toilet, and a cleaner would swoop in between uses to keep it spotless.
Nevertheless, reporters kept asking questions with increasing concern, until, almost two weeks after the announcement, Microsoft abruptly admitted the entire thing had been a joke. There was no iLoo, the company said. It was just a flight of fancy. Nouri Bernard Hasan, a Microsoft spokesman in the United States, described the iLoo as "an April Fools' joke," despite the fact that it had been announced a month after April 1.
Microsoft's confession that the iLoo was a hoax was considered unusual, since Microsoft had never before issued a fake press release. Not even on April Fool’s Day. But the next day the software maker fueled further controversy by changing its mind and issuing a follow-up press release stating that the iLoo actually was not a hoax. MSN UK now claimed the project had been under serious development, but that "corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, looked at it and decided maybe this wasn't a good idea."
Lisa Gurry, MSN group product manager, explained that, "We jumped the gun basically in confirming that it was a hoax and, in fact, it was not. Definitely, we're going to be taking a good look at our communication processes internally."
This reversal inspired numerous tongue-in-cheek headlines such as: "Microsoft dumps internet toilet idea - again" (Mercury News); "MS flushes out iLoo rumours" (the Statesman, India); "Software titan poo-poos iLoo" (New York Post); and "Microsoft admits iLoo was a load of crap" (Independent Online, South Africa).
Microsoft's follow-up press release left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the iLoo. Had Microsoft actually been developing this product, as they said, or did the company simply claim the product was real because it did not want to appear to have hoaxed the media? Microsoft never provided further clarification. It has stood by its final statement that the iLoo was a real, but never completed, project. It does not response to queries about the iLoo.
Andrew Cubitt's i-loo
Andrew Cubitt alleged that Microsoft might have stolen the idea for the iLoo from a product he developed in 2001 as part of a university degree in product design and engineering at Brunel University. Cubitt called his product the i-Loo internet toilet roll browser. Cubitt had displayed his i-Loo at the Ideal Home Show's Future Concepts gallery.
Andrew Cubitt's i-loo
Andrew Cubitt's i-loo
Cubitt's i-Loo was described as: "a novel and unique product designed to make best use of the time you spend on the loo! The product allows you to search the internet whilst sitting on the toilet and print out any web pages you are interested in on your toilet paper. i-Loo brings a whole new meaning to the word downloading. The unit is fixed in front of a toilet on the cubical wall. The product provides up to date information about new products, daily news and lottery results through an easy to navigate software package. Normal operation of the toilet and paper dispenser is evident."
After Microsoft debuted their iLoo, Cubitt told the Inquirer: "Mine did everything that the Microsoft one is meant to do, but additionally printed information on toilet paper and didn't use a keyboard for the interface due to hygiene reasons."
Microsoft did not address Cubitt's claims.
The iLoo inspired a number of spoofs. For instance, the website Scrappleface issued a faux news story alleging that the first "iLoo blogger" was suffering from performance pressure:
The Specious Report later issued a spoof press release alleging that Apple planned to introduce the "P4 laptop" to compete with the Microsoft iLoo. The product was supposedly designed to appeal to people who "think outside the can."
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