While smaller in scope than in its heyday, Macworld still draws a large number of Apple enthusiasts. One of the most surprising things about the show for me was that Microsoft had a large presence, but there was none for Apple. Macworld gives iPhone and iPod touch venders an opportunity to show off their latest apps and accessories. Believe me, there was plenty of innovation on display. Here is a look at some of the more interesting iPhone and iPod touch accessories and apps I saw at the show. I have to admit I got caught up in the buying frenzy and already bought several of these for myself.
By itself, the iPhone is an impressive device, but creative accessory developers have come up with ways to improve the experience of using one.
Budsock—No more tangled earbud cords
I hate when I have to untangle the wires on my earbuds and I usually end up doing it several times a day. It gets old very quickly. A new product I saw at the show was called Budsock and it actually does eliminate the need to fight with your wires. It's a canvas sleeve that you put on your earbuds. When you're done listening to music, you simply pull your earbuds into the sock, place the plug in the opposite side and close the snaps. This creates a loop of cable that, try as hard as I could, would not tangle. This is a simple, clever solution to a problem that has plagued me for years. It's one of those things you see, hit yourself on the forehead and say, "Why didn't I think of that?"
UNCOMMON—design your own iPhone case
One of the coolest accessories was from a producer of hard cases for the iPhone called UNCOMMON. They have many interesting and artistic stock cases but the neat thing is that you can upload your own pictures or graphics to their Web site and they will put them on a case for you. Cases cost about $40 and are sent out within 2 days using standard shipping. They even have an iPhone app that you can use to create your personalized case. You can also go to their Web site and create it there. The quality is impressive and the artwork amazing because you created it yourself. They make wonderful gifts for your friends and family.
4iThumbs—makes iPhone typing easier
$14.95 Portrait mode, $16.95 Landscape mode, $19.95 both modes; 4ithumbs.com
4iThumbs is a clear plastic overlay for your iPhone screen that helps you type on your iPhone or iPod touch keyboard. The overlay has little bumps on it and according to 4iThumbs, can really speed up your typing. There are versions that can be used in portrait or landscape mode, and they store on the back of the iPhone when you're not using them. If you text a lot, these might be just what you need.
Thiphone: thigh mount
for iPhone/iPod touch
I saw lots of iPhone and iPod touch mounts at Macworld but this was one of the more unusual. It's a mount that you strap on your thigh called a Thiphone. It has a suction cup that you use to attach your device to it, and though it may seem a bit odd at first, it really has many uses. If you commute and want a stable place for your iPhone, just stick it on and go. It's handy for frequent flyers, the disabled, private pilots, or anyone that needs to have their iPhone securely placed near them at all times.
X-mini: portable speaker for music on the go
I ride my bike a lot in the summer and have always been frustrated with the fact that I can't listen to my music while biking. Riding a bike with earbuds in your ears is not a good idea. This little spheroid speaker hangs from a lanyard (not included) around your neck. You twist it open, plug it into the headphone jack on your iPhone, and off you go. Though it seemed a bit small at first, I was pleasantly surprised at its volume—loud enough to easily hear over traffic. The company states that it can go 10 hours on a single charge. They also offer the X-mini Max, a stereo version with two speakers.
An iPhone Keyboard—coming soon
Price to be announced; XSKN.eu
One of the most exciting things shown at Macworld was a keyboard for the iPhone from a company called XSKN. It had people stopping in the aisle to get a look at it. Don't get too excited though; it's not available yet. They're waiting to hear from Apple for a go-ahead. The company makes keyboards for Apple computers which are quite sleek and elegant. They also sell keyboard overlays for different applications that have the shortcuts right on the keys so you don't have to remember them. This is perfect for the older crowd that has trouble remembering what they had for dinner last night like me. The proposed iPhone keyboard would link wirelessly to the iPhone. It would also provide shortcuts to some of the more popular iPhone apps such as Skype, Google, Facebook, and YouTube. The picture is a prototype of the keyboard.
The iPhone itself is only half the equation. Without the vast assortment of innovative apps, it would not have become what it is today. Macworld provided a platform for developers to display some of their amazing apps and the creative thought process behind them.
This app, a Macworld 2010 Best in Show winner, contains a wealth of information about the stars and planets and includes NASA spacecraft imagery. By pointing your iPhone toward the part of the sky that interests you, the app automatically shows the stars and planets found in that region. Tapping on a star or planet shown on the screen opens up another window with just about anything you'd ever want to know about that object. Carinasoft also offers SkyGazer ($2.99; carinasoft.com) for the casual stargazer, but SkyVoyager is the more complete app, for those who want to view more space objects and have access to more information and features.
One of the most amazing things about SkyVoyager is that it can be used to wirelessly position a telescope. You just tap what you want to look at on the iPhone screen and your telescope moves to the position you indicated with your tap. This is accomplished with an accessory called SkyFi ($149; carinasoft.com), which the company also sells. It enables your iPhone to link with the RS-232 serial interface found on most telescopes.
Inrix Traffic! Pro
$9.99 for one year, $24.99 lifetime; inrixtraffic.com
Inrix Traffic! Pro is another Macworld 2010 Best of Show award winner. This isn't your normal navigation app. It predicts your travel time on normal commutes based on real-time and historic data. It lets you know when to leave to reach your destination at your desired time and uses what the developer calls predictive traffic to show you the quickest way to your destination. It taps into the largest crowd-sourced traffic network in the world.
One neat feature is that you can see how long your ride would be at various times of the day. You can then decide to leave now or wait until your ride would be shorter. That can really cut down on the time you spend sitting in traffic.
Heading to Disneyland in California? This app can help you do more and avoid wasting time standing in lines. The app, which was introduced at Macworld, contains comprehensive information about every ride there. It also has a colorful map with plenty of information about each ride.
The most unique feature of the app is that it can set up a schedule for your day at the park that will help keep down the time you wait in lines. Before you begin your trip, you simply indicate which rides you want to go on and the date you're planning to go. The app then creates a schedule for you that will cut down the time you have to stand in lines. The schedule tells you the order and time to be at each ride. It even tells you when and for which ride to get a Fastpass and puts that into your schedule for the day. They are working on a version for the California Adventure Park and hope to create a similar app for Disney World in the future. (For more on Disney World apps, see page 69.)
This is yet another winner of a Macworld Best of Show award. The app sets up an audible alarm to warn you when your time is almost up on your parking meter. That alone could save you some big bucks in parking tickets, but the app does much more. You can find where you parked your car using GPS markers. If you're in a parking garage, you can input your level and section. The app will send you push alarms when you should be heading back to the car to put more money in the meter and you can input additional notes and photos to help you remember your car's location. It also allows you to share your location via E-mail and find nearby services such as gas, banks, and bathrooms.
Macworld: A vibrant showcase of apps and accessories
Macworld remains an exciting and vibrant showcase of the wonderful things that are available for the iPhone and iPod touch. As I walked through the crowded aisles, I was often amazed at what I saw. It seems that each year Apple introduces a new iPhone or OS with even greater capabilities. This leads to a whole new crop of accessories and apps that take advantage of the new abilities of the iPhone. For me, Macworld is as much about creativity as it is about marketing. I can only wonder what will be on display next year.