We've seen devices like Willow become a phenomenon before. Hapifork dominated the CES 2013 conversation with the somewhat absurd premise of tracking how many bites you take, how long you chew and how long you eat. Unfortunately, using the Hapifork was a big letdown. Hapifork is far from the only oddball connected gadget that got a strange amount of attention: The creepy Mother connected home platform and ridiculous Belty smart belt are two more examples of bizarre gadgets that got more attention than they deserved, because that's what happens at CES.
Willow was also likely helped by the fact that it's a smart, connected device. While the promise of the Internet of Things has largely gone unrealized thus far, our readers seem to have a fascination with the weirder connected devices that we cover -- particularly the devices that have no business being smart in the first place (like this toaster!). It's not surprising, then, that a smart breast pump garnered so much attention -- but the fact that it turned out to be actually useful made it more than just a punch line.
There are a number of other reasons that Willow dominated the conversation this year. Crucially, the Willow attempts to solves a real problem in a way that other products don't. That's a rarity at CES. New mothers have to pump several times per day for months, and it sounds like the Willow can make that experience easier. For starters, the Willow can be worn under a normal nursing bra, which means frazzled moms can continue to get other things done (or just hold on to their newborn) while pumping. It can also track output for them, and the pump's bags can be stored right in the freezer and cut open when they need to fill a bottle.
For various reasons, no one on team Engadget was able to actually try out the device, but our research showed that there's nothing quite like Willow on the market. Yes, other smart pumps exist, but based on our research, Willow appears to be the best option by far. If it delivers on its promises, it could make a tedious activity easier, and that's worth celebrating.
However, it's not good enough for Willow to have just made a good product. Thousands of companies exhibit at CES every year, and surely they're not all selling iPhone cases, backpacks with e-ink screens and similar nonsense. But oftentimes, one of the big companies showing at CES delivers something that ends up being the buzz of the show, sucking much of the oxygen out of the room for the smaller companies with lesser marketing budgets.
Gallery: Hands-on with Willow smart breast pump