“Alexa, please speed up the vibrator,” the PR woman says. “Now play my romance playlist.” Sadly the sex toy she was demonstrating in Berlin over the weekend, at one of the world’s biggest sex-industry trade fairs, did not respond. But, as she quickly points out, very soon it will.
That’s because one of the trends at the annual Venus trade fair, touted as the largest such sex-industry event in the world, was all about interactivity and the Internet of Things.
Mirjana Vukelić Haluška is the global PR manager for Lelo, a Stockholm-based company that has won multiple design awards for good-looking sex toys that don’t look like sex toys. She is here to promote Lelo’s latest product, the F1s, a device that may soon respond to commands such as those you might give virtual assistants like Alexa or Siri. From December, Lelo, which sells in 58 countries, will also be selling what is basically a male masturbatory tool, a small tube with sensors and vibrators that can communicate with an app and even measure male “performance,” including speed and angle.
Estimates suggest the sex toys sector could be worth between $29 billion and $64 billion by 2020, and vibrators play a large part in that.
The devices will be better at connecting, interacting and tracking, says Damian Green, proprietor of the website Neokul.com. The most innovative gadgets on display “are the toys that measure performance. We have become obsessed with things like Fitbit and other sports apps. What I want to know now,” he jokes, “is there going to be a leaderboard?”
“This is a growth industry,” adds Caleb Thompson, probably not intending a pun. He is the founder of the US-based firm Motorbunny, which makes a sex toy you can ride on, and which may well be the most digitally advanced product at the fair. “Integration is the way forward, not hardware.”
That is why the Motorbunny, on sale in Europe later this year, has a matching app for mobile phones. That way you can choose patterns for the machine’s “buzz” and “twirl” movements. The device can also be controlled remotely and, after a recent update to the app, with Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri. To operate the Motorbunny, a long-distance partner only needs an internet browser and a link sent by the device’s rider. “We’ve had couples in the US military give this as a deployment gift,” Thompson says.
The teams at Motorbunny and Lelo have both opened up their software to external developers. Imaginative software engineers have been doing things like synchronizing sex toys to video, making them a part of online games and even working on crowd control, so several partners can use a device at once.
“People are more open to sex toys and it is normal for lifestyle media to cover sex toys,” Haluška explains, adding that it is also “about women’s empowerment.” Thompson agrees. “The orgasm gap is a phrase that’s been bouncing around in the mainstream media recently,” he says. That gap is about inequality in the number of orgasms women get to have in heterosexual relationships. As they say, there’s an app for that.
Cathrin Schaer is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org