By Todd Bernhard on Fri, 02/20/2009
I represented iPhone Life magazine at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and there was plenty of news to report for iPhone and iPod touch users. The following are notes from the event, plus brief reviews of some of the gadgets we were able to get our hands on after CES was over.
At least two vendors are trying to integrate headphones or speakers into something you already wear.
Trispecs (www.trispecs.com) is a set of eyeglasses that even Bono wouldn’t mind wearing! They have built in retractable earbuds and can be used for phone calls or to listen to music via Bluetooth communication. I wear glasses, so it was nice to know that they can be fitted with prescription lenses. The noise cancellation capabilities were impressive, especially on the crowded tradeshow floor.
We just need Apple to release A2DP-compatible version of the iPhone OS. Until then, you could at least use the Trispecs for phone calls and pair it with a separate A2DP MP3 player or iPod adapter.
The iCap (www.iCapMP3.com) is an MP3 player with speakers, built right into the lid of a baseball cap. The sound is directed straight down, so instead of a cone of silence, you have a cone of music! It’s not ready for the iPhone yet, but the developer tells me that a Bluetooth version is a logical next step!
Headphones and earbuds
There was plenty available at CES for those who prefer more traditional headphones or earbuds. (Although “traditional” may not be the right adjective for some of these accessories.)
Ifrogs offers a variety of cases and headphones—you can mix and match colors and features to create your own.
I’m a fan of ifrogz (www.ifrogz.com). They offer a number of kid-friendly products, including small headphones and iPod cases that are easy for small hands to grip. They also have products that appeal to teens, tweens, and adults, including their Ear Pollution line of headphones. These are offered in a wide variety of colors and with a variety of features. Check out their customizable Made-To-Order models, with over 200,000 options! You can mix-and-match just about every element of their headphones or earbuds to create something that is truly unique.
ZAGG (www.zagg.com) is probably better known for their incredible invisibleSHIELD full body, transparent skin for the iPhone and other gadgets, but they also offer the Z.Budds, earbuds that not only sound great, but fit well in any ear thanks to the three different sets of earbud adaptors that ship with the product. The fabric cord (originally available in red or black, but now also in yellow or pink) is the best thing about Z.Buds; it’s durable and prevents tangling. An inline microphone with volume and pause control is located on the cord. Finally, the Z.Buds support the narrow jack opening on the original iPhone, but work with the 3G as well.
CES is the largest electronics show around and I could devote the entire article to the headphones and ear buds on display. However, I’ll limit my comments to a few more standouts:
- Earbud Yo-Yo (covington-creations.com) is a pair of earbuds that roll up into a yo-yo-like case, making them easy to carry around. The design helps keep the earbuds untangled and accessible, and the product is offered in a number of fashionable designs and colors.
- Coosh (coosh.com) is a new earbud brand from the BIC pen company. They are available for the iPod, iPhone, and other devices, and they have a version that includes a microphone. Coosh earbuds are very comfortable to wear and include a soft rubbery loop that automatically adjusts around the ear to help them stay put. I found them quite comfortable while wearing them with my prescription eyeglasses.
- iPopperz (i-popperz.com) are colorful and attractive iPod earbuds meant for teens and tweens, but suitable for any adult. They don’t have a microphone, but they do fit the original iPhone headset jack, so you can use them for listening to music. I come home from tradeshows with my suitcase full of gadgets. This is the first item my kids grabbed.
Best “case” scenario
There were plenty of case vendors at the show, but two of them caught my attention:
Speck cases (speckproducts.com) are available in a variety of styles in prices ranging from $20-$35. They have some really fashionable fabric fitted cases, rubber ToughSkin cases, and brightly colored hardshell designs, so you should be able to match your case with the occasion and your wardrobe.
OtterBox (otterbox.com) offers the best ruggedized cases around. I’ve used them for years with various mobile devices. They provide extra protection when I travel, and I wouldn’t think of taking my iPhone anywhere exotic without one. And now OtterBox is offering cases in white or pink (to support the fight against Breast Cancer) in addition to basic black or yellow, so you can choose style as well as substance.
Helping app developers
A wide variety of iPhone apps were on display at the show. In addition, two companies were offering SDKs to help third parties develop GPS-related solutions. While there are a lot of road-based GPS solutions available, Navionics (www.navionics.com) offers a free SDK to help developers create GPS apps for marine use. PosiMotion (www.posimotion.com) already offers a number of GPS-related products, including G-Park (which helps you remember where you parked) and G-Spot (a GPS heading, speed, and position-sharing app). But they also off G-Fi and G-Fi VS, mobile network routers and GPS antennas that allow up to 200 Wi-Fi enabled devices—including the iPhone and iPod touch—to connect to each other for ad-hoc networking. Interested developers should visit their Web site.
I’ve also been playing with the Pogo stylus from Ten One Design (www.tenonedesign.com). It’s not an app, but it has made my screen taps more accurate and really helped me improve my scores on fast-paced action games like Squares2.) They also offer the SoundClip, a plastic clip-on that improves your audio experience with handheld games such as Wooden Labyrinth 3D. The problem is that users’ hands can cover the downward-facing speakers on the iPhone and iPod touch. SoundClip redirects the audio towards the user, where it belongs.
Cool Bluetooth with a Parisian flare
Parrot (www.parrot.com) offers a variety of cool Bluetooth accessories. I’ve used a GPS unit of theirs for a while, hardwired into my car’s speaker system, and I wanted to see what 2009 would bring from them—they did not disappoint me!
Parrot was showing off its new Zikmu wireless speakers created by world-renown designer Philippe Starck. These attractive, stylish, and expensive speakers provide 360 degree stereo sound and have an iPod/iPhone dock at the top. They can also connect with a PC via Wi-Fi or a Mac and other mobile devices equipped with A2DP stereo Bluetooth. Again, the iPhone has Bluetooth, but it is not A2DP enabled.
Many iPhone users have been less than satisfied with its battery life and a number of developers have introduced solutions to extend it. A number of vendors were demonstrating power solutions at CES.
Powermat (www.powermatusa.com) has developed a dramatically different charging technique. Your iPhone and other devices are placed in an unobtrusive case. This case is placed on the Powermat, which resembles an oblong mouse pad, and the device is charged by the magnetic field generated by the pad. Powermat solutions will be available in stores in the Fall of 2009. Eventually, this technology could be incorporated into mobile devices and you’d never have to worry about connectors and power adapters again.
Several vendors demoed portable battery packs to power and recharge your iPhone on the go. (See iPhone Life Magazine for brief reviews of other portable battery solutions.)
Fueltank (www.callpod.com) is an attractive portable lithium ion battery that can simultaneously charge two small electronic devices. With a capacity of 4,300 mAh, it has almost four times the power of an iPhone. It uses device-specific adapters, which allow you use Fueltank with a wide variety of devices.
Powerstick (www.powerstick.com) is a small portable charger about twice the size of a USB thumbdrive. To charge it, remove the cap and plug it into your computer’s USB port. Once charged, you can connect it to your iPhone, other mobile phones, or any device with a mini-USB port using one of nine mini-cables that ship with the Powerstick.
The 24/7 Xtreme Portable Power Solution (www.mdistechnologies.com) uses fuel cell technology to recharge your iPhone or other mobile devices with USB connectors. The power is stored chemically in the charger and can’t be use until you activate the fuel cell by squeezing it. When you’ve used up the power, you send the fuel cell in for recycling and purchase a new one. I can see this being useful for an emergency kit in your basement or car. This is a revolutionary product and I’m still trying to fully comprehend what it could mean to the rechargeable battery business.
CES 2010 the place to be
One bit of news that Apple announced late last year was that MacWorld 2009 would be Apple’s last MacWorld. The rumor is that they will be attending CES in 2010. Whether that’s true or not, we do expect developers of iPhone apps and accessories to be well represented at the next CES.
Many of the announcements at CES were pre-release notices. We’ll be reviewing more items as they become available.
Todd Bernhard, Founder, No Tie Software, makers of the bestselling soundboard app, 100sounds, www.100sounds.com, and is a Contributing Editor for iPhone Life Magazine. Read Mr. Bernhard’s online blog at www.SmartphoneMag.com/iPhone/Todd.Bernhard