The iLoo is Flushed

Did a story in This is True ridiculing an announced new product from Microsoft result in its cancellation? Let’s look at the evidence, starting with the story that appeared in True’s 11 May 2003 issue:

Flushed with Pride

Microsoft has unveiled its newest innovation: the iLoo. The self-contained port-a-potty includes a waterproof keyboard and screen so that a seated …um… user can get on the Internet. Possible add-ons include a keyboard and screen outside the door, so the first person in the queue will have something to do while waiting. The company also says it is also in talks with toilet-paper manufacturers to get special rolls printed with addresses of interesting web sites. “The Internet’s so much a part of everyday life now that surfing on the loo was the next natural step,” said marketing manager Tracy Blacher. “It’s exciting to think that the smallest room can now be the gateway to the massive virtual world.” (Seattle Post Intelligencer) …Suggested slogan: “When you think of crap, think Microsoft.”

Microsoft even released a diagram of its WWWC showing how the port-a-public-access-point would be configured.

The Ewww Factor

The iLoo: a real Brew-Ha-Ha. (Click to see larger)

The “Wireless keyboard can be used on lap,” the graphic points out. Yeah, terrific: would you want to touch a wireless keyboard that who-knows-how-many people had on their laps …when their pants were down?! You can forget “I got a social disease from a toilet seat” since “I got a social disease from a public Internet kiosk” is a much more modern excuse!

It notes at the bottom, “Festivalgoers in Britain this summer will be able to try out Microsoft’s Internet-enabled portable toilet.” The Associated Press reported that was “perhaps [the] Glastonbury” festival, a mostly-annual performing arts festival that takes place near Pilton, Somerset, England, which is best known for its contemporary music.

The project was announced by Microsoft’s MSN UK division on April 30, 2003, and the story I used as a source appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on May 6; happily, the story is still online, here.

Microsoft: Mightily Confused

As noted above, my report first appeared in True on May 11. The story was also covered by the Associated Press, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal, among others.

The very next day — late on May 12 — Microsoft headquarters issued a press release calling the announcement a hoax: “This iLoo release came out of the UK office and was not a Microsoft sanctioned communication and we apologize for any confusion or offense it may have caused,” Microsoft spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold said in a horribly run-on sentence.

That caused quite some consternation with the MSN UK’s public relations agency, Waggener Edstrom. The company’s Malina Bragg confirmed it was a real project.

The next day, Microsoft retracted the “hoax” angle with another press release: “We jumped the gun basically yesterday in confirming that it was a hoax, and in fact it was not,” said MSN group product manager Lisa Gurry. “Definitely, we’re going to be taking a good look at our communication processes internally.”

In any case, Microsoft said in the second press release, the project has definitely been canceled by MSN senior vice president David Cole. Gurry explained the project “didn’t really map to our global branding objectives.”

CNN Money called the debacle one of the top Dumbest Business Moments of 2003.

I find the timing delicious. Might This is True‘s ridicule had something to do with the project being canceled? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so!

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20 Comments on “The iLoo is Flushed

  1. This was before tablets truly hit mainstream. Now, we just simply use iPads and other such tablets in the loo, making something like the “iLoo” totally unnecessary.

    Now whether or not your coverage of the story attributed to the iLoo’s cancellation, I am with you on this; I want to say yes. Yes it did!

  2. “perhaps [the] Glastonbury festival, a mostly-annual performing arts festival that takes place near Pilton, Somerset, England, which is best known for its contemporary music.”
    Actually it is best known for the huge crowds, copious quantities of mud and very, very long queues for the mostly unpleasant loos.

    I guess they really needed the iLoo, then. -rc

  3. It’s quite funny how many ideas find their way out to be presented to the public before anyone in the big corporations say “hey, this is retarded”.

    But then again how many ideas reach the public as a product (like many infomercial products).

  4. And thanks to the power of the smartphone, guess where I was when I read this “10 Years Ago in True…” entry?

    Turn on the fan. -rc

  5. I wonder if Microsoft was innovative on another front?

    Taking a crappy, overpriced, electronic gizmo and giving it a name starting with a lower case ‘i’ and ending in the common name for that object. Could this be where Apple came up with the name iPhone?

  6. That idea is so strange that the real surprise is that it did not happen in a Florida trailer park near me.

  7. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that Randy uses his powers for good. Imagine if he instead PROMOTED this sort of idiocy. Good grief I’m having iNightmares already.

    Just think: you could have responded to queries of “What took you so long?” with “iPood.” -rc

  8. I suspect this was a Microsoft April Fool joke.

    Great theory. Except that Microsoft is known never to do gag press releases, before or since. And it was announced on April 30, not April 1. And they confirmed it was, in fact real. In other words, it’s a great theory except that it was easy to prove it wrong from the very start. -rc

  9. Microsoft insists it wasn’t a hoax, but something in the story makes me believe the iLoo was never meant to be taken seriously: the name of the thing.

    By 2003, Apple had already released a number of products with the small i followed by a name. The most famous were the iMac (1998) and the iPod (2001). There were other, less successful Apple products following that naming device by 2003. That is why I suspect the iLoo was just someone at Microsoft doing a satirical project, despite Microsoft’s later denial of its earlier denial.

    Your suspicion is warranted, so it just leaves everyone wondering why, then, they were so careful to put it writing that it was not a hoax. -rc

  10. I don’t doubt that this was an actual product that Microsoft wanted to bring to the marketplace. It might have run afoul of the BBC, though, since it looks quite a bit like the TARDIS of Doctor Who fame…sorry, I meant the iTARDIS.

  11. Well, it’s not quite the iloo, but almost as silly. They’ve apparently installed video games IN the urinals at our local minor league ball park. Yes, the “controller” is what you think it is.

    I’m not normally a big fan of The Morning Call, but have to give them credit for “streaming video game”.

    Gives new meaning to “game-controller joystick.” -rc

  12. I would imagine that adding a computer to surf the web in a public restroom would make the lines and wait time even longer. “Just a minute! I’m checking Facebook!” or “I’m watching a LOL cats video!”

    Either way, with our smart phones, we don’t really need a computer in the restroom, so even if it had come to fruition, it wouldn’t have lasted long…right?

    Right. -rc

  13. “…would you want to touch a wireless keyboard that who-knows-how-many people had on their laps …when their pants were down?!”

    Yep, THERE’S your computer virus.

  14. You discount the ‘hoax’ theory on the entirely sensible grounds of date and denial by Microsoft; but it wouldn’t be the first Microsoft project to be a couple of months late. In fact, that’s pretty much standard. And it wouldn’t be the first to be a total disaster … just look at Windows 8; only a matter of time before they deny that ever existed.

  15. The mind boggles. Surely this would have been along the lines of New Coke or the Edsel.
    Two plasma TVs in a Port o Potty? Surround sound? They likely wouldn’t last a day. And the wireless keyboard would have to be fished out of the iStool. I wish Dilbert had seen this.

  16. @Carl, @Paul – Nope, it would be the iTURDIS.

    And have to agree with @Jim, it really sounds like an internal satirical “project” to lampoon Apple’s overuse of the iWHATEVER naming structure — only to be turned into a real project by a dumb regional executive looking for a quick way to climb the corporate ladder with an “innovative” idea before saner heads higher up finally prevailed.

    This despite the fact that yes, quite a few people do use their smartphones in the loo these days. Just ask the Apple store techs what the #1 warranty damage claim is — it’s water damage, typically from folks who drop them in the bowl.

  17. This is why I talk to myself — out loud. Lots of things sound good in your head, but when you lay them out in the light of day, you think, “Aaah, no.”

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