Do you remember Ember? Maybe not by name, but perhaps you recall the company’s defining concept: a mug that keeps your drink at your preferred temperature, and not a degree cooler, for hours at a time. On Wednesday, it got just a little bit better.
Please know up front that the latest news from the Ember Ceramic Mug and Travel Mug is about as iterative as it gets. In fact, it’s barely about the mugs themselves at all. Instead, the associated app now integrates with Apple Health to help with easier caffeine tracking, a feature that Apple has offered since 2014. The travel mug version also comes in white now, and you’ll be able to buy both in the Apple Store.
Not so world-bending, as far as improvements go. But take a step back. No, take several steps, however many it takes to get to October 2015, when the Ember Travel Mug first launched on Indiegogo. Ember was then the long-simmering dream of thermal scientist Clay Alexander. It epitomized of certain conceptual category, extremely common in Kickstarter’s heyday, whose potential usefulness was greatly outpaced by its specificity and expense.
When first Ember announced the Travel Mug, it gave itself a six-month window before it would make the product available. Anyone who’s dabbled in promising, crowdfunded gadgets knows how much can happen within that gap—or more specifically, what can not happen, namely the actual manufacturing of the product at hand. The web is littered with projects that, however well-intentioned, never made it off the launchpad. Or, honestly, anywhere near the launchpad in the first place.
All of which is to say that Ember’s products felt for all the world like the exact kind of disappearing daydream that gives gadget quirk a bad name. That pain is real: The makers of Popslate 2 raised over a million dollars from investors. It went out of business soon after, providing neither the promised product nor a refund. That’s how this story too often goes.
And yet, here’s Ember. Not only did it deliver on its Travel Mug, it followed up with a Ceramic Mug. It graduated from Indiegogo to its own web store. And its products, it should be noted, worked exactly as advertised. “It’s hot without scalding, and leaves enough room for you to taste the flavors of the coffee rather than simply broiling your taste buds,” WIRED wrote of the Ceramic Mug’s effectiveness last year. “Ember keeps my coffee exactly right, for hours on end.”
In fairness, WIRED staffers who have used the mug since have not all come to as effusive a conclusion. The Ceramic Mug stains, for instance, which “makes it look gross,” according to one editor. It also, despite the high price, doesn’t look or feel especially premium—especially the included coaster. (Those decisions are also likely functional, given that the coaster doubles as a charger, and Ember needed a mug material conducive to its heat-distribution aims.) As for the Travel Mug, well, you can find plenty of vacuum-insulated models that keep things warm for hours, and for much, much cheaper.
But in a Juicero world, the mere fact that Ember’s magic mugs not only exist, but work as advertised, and continue to improve? That’s worth celebrating, warts and all. Consider, too, that Ember’s underlying principle has many more potential uses—the company says it plans to move into health care next—that it has yet to explore.
With the Apple Store’s imprimatur, Ember seems certain to have that chance. With the addition of caffeine tracking, its app comes a little closer to justifying its existence. Again, this is as incremental as it gets. And the idea that anyone needs a heated mug—much less one that costs $80, or $150 for travel-size—remains absurd. But even if they’re not for you, Ember’s mugs represent something all too rare in the gadget landscape: an outrageous pitch that somehow actually worked.