A Rumba with a Roomba

Verity puts her feet up


Stob Don't tell me. I've heard it already. You've got the iPadFever. Or Obsession for iPhone 4. Or iMac Mini Madness.

Apparently nearly everyone is contemplating dropping hundreds of not-as-big-as-they-were-once ones on an Apple product, and joining in the chorus of boring bores who bore on in boring detail about how lovely the internet looks on it. (Yes, I am looking at you Graham Linehan, because from you I expected so much better.)

At the risk of drawing the malic malice of every fan-boi and -goil upon my head, I would like to make a radical and impertinent suggestion.

Why not buy a non-Apple gadget?

Domestic epiphany

I come not to bury Apple, but to praise something else.

For much less than the price of an iPad, I have become a Roomba owner, and it is the best thing ever.

In case you don't know, a Roomba is a disk-shaped robot about the size of a 12" long-playing vinyl record (or, if you are too young to remember such things, about the size of a 30cm long-playing vinyl record). Here is a short, unsatisfactory film of one in action (unsatisfactory both because of the dreadful singing, and the cat obscuring your view of the machine).

Its task in life, as you will have tumbled, it to trundle about on the floor vacuuming. It stores the dirt that it picks up in its tummy. When it becomes tired and hungry, it seeks out its charging point, and drives carefully onto it, like the Minis driving onto the coach in The Italian Job. It knows about stairs, and declines to fall down them. It adjusts its mowing height to accommodate both the pile of bedroom carpet and the tiles of the kitchen floor. It cleans under the sofa with equanimity, and it charges blithely into the gunge area behind the kitchen bin without flinching.

Ok, it is not perfect. It is jealous: thou shalt have no other gadget before it. I found this out the very first time I switched it on. It made straight for the Wii and grabbed the thin wire that connects the sensor bar, and tried to eat it. It wound it around its little, secondary brush, the one that looks like whiskers, and throttled to a halt. However, it was easily rescued and I like to think it learned its lesson, because we have had no repetition, although a couple of times I have caught it sniffing around the charging cable of my Palm Pre.

Anyway, since I got it, I have tried to infect everybody I can with my enthusiasm. Not without success. I even had my boss reconsidering his moving house plans, because the upper floor of his new place is segmented by steps. Should he build a series of Roomba ramps - the domestic robot equivalent of fish ladders - or should he just get four?

But I knew you would be a tougher nut to crack, you cynical old so-and-so. So I have worked 12 good-and-true reasons to follow Stob's lead and eschew Jobs'. Here we go.

A Roomba Dozen

1. To sit at home every day in a room with an ultra-clean floor, where one has contributed nothing at all to the effort of cleaning, is one of life's great unsung luxuries, like cold sausage sandwiches and not having to listen to Radio 1. You could get used to this.

2. The Roomba is uncritical. In the same way that satnav, unlike a human map reader, doesn't whinge at you if you miss a turn ('Oh, yeah, well done Verity, actually I didn't mean "the other right" back there'), so the Roomba refrains from passing comment on finding biscuit crumbs dating from the Blair administration.

Actually, that is not quite true. When it hits a particularly disgusting bit of carpet, it turns on a blue light on its back and does a spontaneous little dance. It doesn't so much berate you for your dirt as celebrate it.

3. You know how a hard disk defragmenter, scurrying around its sectors in a neat graphical display, is the most hypnotically fascinating thing to watch? Of course you do. Everybody in the whole world except the Microsoft Disk Defragmenter team knows this. Well, a Roomba is even better. 'Ooh look, it's coming back again. It's coming back for that lump of dust. Here it comes... and it's dived under the chaise lounge instead. Why are you going under there, you stupid thing? Now it's making the funny thumping noise again. John, do come and look, it's making that thumping noise again.' The hours fly by.

Next page: Postscript

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