The multimillion-dollar novelty market has become, much like the adult video market, flooded with product. Figuring out what will trip consumers' triggers is a Herculean challenge, with manufacturers attempting to cater to every possible variation on a theme.
But what sets cutting-edge products apart from the pack? Toys with big buzz at the 2006 Adult Novelty Expo, held in Universal City, Calif., combined iPod-inspired technology with online community- building software, a la iTunes.
"Interactivity," says Regina Lynn, author of Wired.com's "Sex Drive" column. "Internet-enabled adult appliance seems to be the big term coming out."
One of these appliances, not represented at this year's show but still a hot topic among industry insiders, is the Je Joue.
Created by London-based CliQ Limited, the Je Joue is a "hand-held," similar to a large cellphone with flatscreen display, rechargeable battery, a USB port, four operational keys and a socket that can be fitted with different "pleasure pads" for clitoral stimulation.
"What's cool about that is that the different little attachments on it give you different sensations — one has little grooves on it, one has little fingers," Lynn says. "Its motions are different. It's not just clit-numbing vibration. It's up-and-down, round-and-round, side-to-side."
The Je Joue comes loaded with 10 different "grooves," or programmed vibration patterns lasting from five to 20 minutes, that control the action of the stimulator, but a web-based "Pleasure Ware" program allows for further customization.
With the software, Je Joue users can access graphic tile palettes with each tile representing a different motion in a groove pattern. By clicking and dragging the tiles into a sequence, users create their own grooves, which can be further customized by varying intensity and duration. Personalized grooves can be stored in the user's own library, posted at the Je Joue site on a "Pleasure Share" board and even emailed to other Je Joue owners for download onto their handsets.
"I can make whatever turns me on," Lynn explains. "It gives me so much power over the tool."
Rachel Venning, co-founder of Babeland, says her company has exclusive distribution in the U.S. for the Je Joue, which retails on Babeland.com for $290.
Continuing the trend to pimp your vibe, the OhMiBod wand vibrator plugs directly into an iPod or MP3 player with vibration intensity reacting to music. Packaging, with silhouetted graphics and sleek design, taps into the iPod's iconic popularity and is sure to appeal to the hipster demographic.
Launched a week after the Expo, the OhMiBod website has direct links to the iTunes store, downloadable mixes by guest DJs and a message board where users can share their own play lists. The vibe is available on-site for (wink, wink) $69.
Newbies on the sex toy scene, the OhMiBod's inventors are a young married couple from the Northeast, proving you don't have to have a huge research and development department or unlimited funding to become an industry player. The husband's frequent business trips to China for his regular job allowed access to electronics engineering, components and production facilities, putting the OhMiBod on the fast track to market.
Preferring to remain anonymous for now, he says, "Until you actually feel it, it's hard to explain that it works so well. The way we've designed the technology in the chip, there's almost zero latency in how the motor reacts to the music and the vibrations."
Online community-building also is an important feature.
"Part of our mission statement and what we're trying to do is to make it really OK," he adds. "The whole taboo around women's masturbation needs to be broke down, so it's all about sharing, making it OK to talk about, giving it kind of a fun atmosphere to discuss what is a new technology."
But what if your vibrator did all the talking? What if it said things like, "Did you lose some weight? Your ass looks fantastic!"
The Talking Head Rabbit Vibe with MP3 capability by My Little Secret LLC is the invention of Cheryl Berry and retails for $149.
"It has 64 megabytes of RAM, a CD stereo-quality speaker, headphone jack and the ability to interchange heads," Berry explains.
With 40 minutes of talk time, users will be able to access prerecorded dialogue from the Talking Head website or can record their own messages through a toll-free number, then email the recordings for downloading.
"It's a different avenue for stimulation," Berry says. "Audio has never been put into a vibrator. We've had good sales, picked up some new distributors, and we have a lot of interest in integrating adult film stars into this."
Innovation in technology is not always dictated by multiple features or complex software platforms. Much also can be said for the sophistication of streamlined design.
"What high-tech means to us in terms of new products and toys is that it improves the functionality and makes it more user-friendly," explains Christian Trinker, CEO of the Fun Factory.
"For women using the product, they are not really looking for an instructional manual that tells them how to use it while they're actually using it," he said in a clipped German accent.
Another Fun Factory product, the Sinnflut vibrator, allows ergonomic, one-handed operation. A small "joystick" controls intensity and pulsations and, when plugged into the vaginal-looking dock/table stand, becomes part of the interface for recharging. Made of velvet- soft medical-grade silicone and completely waterproof, the Sinnflut's organic aesthetic suggests an erotic work of art.
Engineered and manufactured at Fun Factory's facility in Bremen, Germany, the company's entire line has a retail-friendly, Ikea-like shelf appeal featuring bright colors, refined packaging and enigmatic, Norse-sounding product names. The Sinnflut sells for $149 through retailer Good Vibrations.
Hard-edged, space-age materials also represent an emerging segment of the market.
From re-entry to rear entry, Phallix Glass owner Rick Plank has been experimenting with Dichroic, a compound used to protect the Space Shuttle's windshields that can be incorporated into glass to make intricate designs.
"It's this beautiful, high-refraction material that sparkles like gems from every angle," Plank explains. "It's a space-age material that, in my opinion, combines the ancient art of glass-blowing with some of the most progressive materials."
The Hot Rod G-Spot glass dildo, which features a Dichroic design in flames, from Phallix's Vivid Vixen series, retails at $299.99.
Or feel the cold, clean caress of the vibe of steel with hand-milled, exotic metal vibrators produced by Elemental Pleasures, based in Santa Rosa, Calif.
"There's no porosity, so you can clean it very easily," says company Supreme Commander Peg McIlnay-Moe. "It's also very indestructible. It'll last forever."
Waterproof, the vibrators come in stainless steel, anodized aluminum and titanium. Starter kits include a vibrating wand and three interchangeable tips presented in a velvet-lined attaché case, retailing from $495-$695. Refurbishment packages also are available if your vibe needs a tune up.
Sold online and through luxury retailers like Luxe in Beverly Hills and Kiki de Montparnasse in New York City, McIlnay-Moe claims customers don't mind high ticket price when purchasing high tech and high quality.
"The consumer wants something nice and they'll buy it," she says.