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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:

Tracy Blacher, Marketing Manager at MSN said: “The internet’s so much a part of everyday life now that surfing on the loo was the next natural step. People used to reach for a book or mag when they were on the loo but now they’ll be logging on! It’s exciting to think that the smallest room can now be the gateway to the massive virtual world.’

Cutting edge technology is central to MSN’s plans for the iLoo. The world’s first www.c will be broadband enabled using the most up to date wi-fi technology, meaning no unsightly telephone wires. Users will simply be able to sit down, power up, and start emailing, shopping or searching for information. There will also be a six channel surround sound speaker system under the sink unit for use with listening to music from the Internet

Tracy Blacher explains: ‘‘The MSN iLoo is not a bog standard affair. We are looking at vacuum powered options and the very latest broadband enabled technology to ensure the best loo-surfing experience.’

MSN plan to install an external ‘Hotmail station’ on the outside of the MSN iLoo so people can do something useful while they queue. This will include a waterproof keyboard and plasma screen enabling users to surf the Internet whilst waiting.

The MSN iLoo has passed the planning stages and is in the early phase of construction. Details of its launch have not yet been announced but the MSN iLoo will be making an appearance at a majority of the summer season festivals. The pilot project follows the success of the world’s first cyber park bench – the MSN Internet Park Bench in Bury St Edmunds.

A graphic was also released to the media illustrating the iLoo's features.

Reaction
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.

Controversy
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'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.

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.

Spoofs
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 author of the first weblog written entirely from the new iLoo web-enabled portable toilet, said he feels pressured to gather his thoughts and write quickly.

"There's not time for long thoughtful essays," said the creator of www.portaloo.blogspot.com. "I have to get in, get it down, upload and get out, because there's always someone out there knocking at the door."

The iLoo blogger said he resents having to shut down his Moveable Type blogging application just so "some clown can check his Hotmail account." However, he said he knows the challenges.

"I can't be discouraged by the obstacles," he said. "I blog from the loo not because I want to, but because it's a calling....nature's calling, if you will."

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."

Links and References
  • "MSN Launches World's First ‘Internet Loo’." (May 2, 2003). Press Release.
  • Rust, Adamson. (May 12, 2003). "Did Microsoft borrow the iLoo concept?" The Inquirer.
  • Kanellos, Michael. (May 12, 2003). "iLoo makes Microsoft gag." CNET News.
  • i-loo. nmabathrooms.co.uk.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.