The first time I saw one of the new Coca-Cola Freestyle fountains, I could only say one thing: What.The.F.?!
If you are not familiar with these machines, they really look - and probably are - the next generation of soda fountains, with a touch screen that gives you access to more than 100+ flavor combinations. One may wonder if you really need 100+ flavor combinations, but this is America, baby: if you can think it, you shall have it. (And I love this about the US).
I have talked about this aspect of the American mentality many times: the theme of endless choices - think about Starbucks versus the coffee options you have in the average bar in Italy - the possibility for the consumer to ask whatever he wants without being told to shut up like it would happen in Belgium if you asked for an additional piece of bread. I am not saying this all translates automatically into better flavors, but it definitely says a lot about the concept of freedom.
It was about time this all transferred to the fountain soda, frankly. I am surprised it took so long.
So what's so special about these fountains?
Well, putting one of these next to the traditional fountains is like putting a 21st century car next to a car from the 's70s. Same feeling, really. Plus - and this is the real selling point, I believe - you can literally get a lot of flavors that are not available in the traditional fountains. You can also create your own combination...feel like Fanta zero (which I had never seen elsewhere) with a dash of Sprite peach? No problem, you can have it. Feel like a raspberry coke with some Powerade zero in it? No problem.
Of course you can also be as boring as I am, and take a simple flavor like Coke zero: the machine will gladly give you that too. I understand the machines also send data back to Coca Cola, so that the company can collect information on what we drink, and come up with something that suits your needs. You may find this disturbing or wonderful, it is up to you.
What I like about these machines is that they can also provide free entertainment: take your non-American parents to a place that has those, and see how they interact with it. When I brought my parents to have a burger at a nearby Five Guys, I purposely told them to go fetch the drinks, laughing to myself. My parents are not super old (mid-60s), but they couldn't figure it out...
One real disadvantage as far as I am concerned is that the touch screen really gets greasy: people are dirty, and they use their dirty fingers to select their drink...so whatever they have touched will end up in your mouth, because chances are you will use your fingers to eat. You may say that this is true for all fountains: perhaps you are right, but here it is visible. If I were Coca Cola I would try to make the screens matte or have service agreements with the vending locations to have someone wipe the screen every 10 minutes.
So, if you find one of these machines somewhere go and play with them. And mix some crazy drink: you may see it sold on the shelf someday...