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Cool Products from Macworld/iWorld 2013: Part 2

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It’s been a tough week here at TidBITS HQ, with the most significant thing brought home from Macworld/iWorld being a bug that sent Adam to bed for much of the week. Thank goodness for the MacBook Air, or TidBITS might have had to call in sick. Here are the the rest of the neat products we saw at the show.

Flint = Square – Card Reader -- The payment processing service Square made waves for small local businesses with its hardware and software system for accepting credit card payments on an iOS device (see “Square Provides Easy Alternative to Cash and Checks,” 8 November 2011). But the little dongle that plugs into the headphone jack and through which cards are swiped is a bit awkward, and for those who don’t use it regularly, easy to forget or lose. A new payment processor called Flint provides essentially the same service, but eliminates the need for the card reader by instead “scanning” the credit card’s number with the iOS device’s camera. The Flint folks at Macworld/iWorld were very clear that the app is not taking a picture of the card, but is instead digitizing the image of the numbers and sending that off to be processed, storing nothing on the device itself. The result is of course the same, but it’s interesting that there’s a perceived issue with using the camera. Flint also offers extras like social marketing associated with the purchase, customized email receipts, and low rates (1.95% + $0.20 per charge for debit cards; 2.95% + $0.20 for credit cards). Currently, Flint is available only in the United States, and works only with Visa- and MasterCard-branded cards. [ACE]

Extend Wi-Fi Range with BearExtender -- Wi-Fi hacking no longer makes the news, but there are still times when you need more than what Apple’s built-in hardware can do for you. In particular, if you’re just out of range of a Wi-Fi network, the $49.97 BearExtender Mini may be just the ticket. It’s a USB-connected, 1000 milliwatt Wi-Fi transceiver with an omnidirectional 2 dbi external antenna (an optional 5 dbi antenna provides even more range). BearExtender claims two to four times the range of the standard AirPort card, which would have been perfect for our friends who moved in next door and couldn’t quite reach our Wi-Fi network while their cable Internet connection was being installed. The hardware is tiny — not much larger than a house key — and it comes with a clip to attach to a MacBook’s screen. There’s even a 16-foot (4.9 m) USB extension cable if you need to position the BearExtender Mini outside or away from interference. (Note: our own Michael Cohen won one of these in a drawing at the show; although he personally has no practical need for it, he may have something more to say about it once his unit arrives.) [ACE]

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CamRanger and CameraMator -- The most interesting photography-related development at this year’s Macworld/iWorld was the capability to control a DSLR camera remotely from an iOS device via Wi-Fi. In fact, two vendors were showing off devices. Both the CamRanger and the CameraMator plug into a camera’s USB port and create their own ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks (CameraMator can also use an existing Wi-Fi network). After you connect an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to the network, you can get a live view of what the camera is seeing and control nearly all of the camera’s settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and the like. Other software and devices enable this interaction (like OnOne Software’s DSLR Remote Camera HD) but require the computer to be physically tethered to the camera. Compatibility with certain features varies by camera. CamRanger lists models and supported features; so far the CameraMator site doesn’t include this information. Both devices cost $299.99, and use free iOS apps to control the camera. [JLC]

Better iPad Presentations -- As handy as the iPad is for in-person presentations and showing off of portfolios, the screen is a bit small to see across a conference-room table. With a Monitor2Go from Mobile Monitor Technologies, though, you can mirror your iPad’s 9.7-inch display on a 15.6-inch screen that can face your audience vertically while you look and work on the iPad’s screen horizontally. The Monitor2Go connects to the iPad (or any other device) via HDMI, rotates and pivots 180 degrees, and has a slot to hold the iPad. It also uses DisplayLink technology to act as a secondary monitor for a Mac or Windows laptop via USB 2.0 (meaning that it would probably be a little slow; hopefully they’ll get the USB 3.0 version of DisplayLink technology for higher performance soon). Two versions are available, the 1366-by-768 resolution Monitor2Go for $299 and the 1600-by-900 Monitor2Go HD+ for $329 — apart from resolution, they’re identical. It’s too bad the resolutions and aspect ratios don’t match the iPad, but Retina-level screens are probably both pricey and unnecessary for viewing from a distance. [ACE]


Street Photography for iOS Users -- Sometimes you want to take a picture with your iPhone or iPad without being painfully obvious by holding your device vertically to use the camera. With the MirrorCase for the iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 5, and iPad, you can hold the iPhone horizontally, as though you were innocently reading something, and still snap pictures and take videos of scenes in front of you. Or, if you’re using your iPad to take notes in a lecture, it can remain flat on the desk while still having a clear camera view of the lecturer’s slide presentation. It’s all done via smoke and mirrors, without the smoke, and the free MirrorCase app handles the necessary pixel-flipping so everything is right-side up (a $0.99 MirrorCase Plus version adds sharing and in-app access to the Camera Roll). The MirrorCase for the iPhone 4/4S is available now for $49.95, the iPhone 5 version is available for pre-order for $59.95, and the iPad version is also coming soon for $79.95. [ACE]


iPad Note Taking with Synced Audio, Text, and Photos -- I’ve long been looking for a note-taking app with which I could record a lecture and have any notes I take synced to the right point in the audio, along with any photos I take. Synced audio and text is fairly common, but an iPad app I saw at the show, the $1.99 Projectbook, may be the first I’ve seen to include synced photos too, which I want as a way of recording the presenter’s slides. But Projectbook is way more than a note-taking app, also storing to-do lists, Word documents and PDFs, Web clippings, images, and sketches. Notes can contain styled text, handwritten text, sketches, photos, and synced audio. Notes and other documents are automatically related by their contents, and you can also tag notes, file them in folders, or organize them by date. I’m not certain I’d want to use Projectbook for task management, at least until the Mac and iPhone versions are available, but it looks to have compelling features for note-taking and information management. [ACE]

Kanex ATV Pro -- For my “The iPad for Photographers” session, I geeked out by delivering my entire presentation from my iPad, wirelessly, using an AirPort Express and an Apple TV. (I wrote about the setup in more detail in the Seattle Times.) But the day before I was to appear onstage, I ran into an unexpected snag: the projectors used at the show offered only old VGA connections. The third- and fourth-generation Apple TV use HDMI connections as the only way to output video and audio, so I figured I’d have to fall back to an iPad VGA adapter, tying me to the lectern for my talk. Talk about an occasion when it was great to have a bunch of vendors on the show floor nearby! I headed to the Kanex booth, knowing that they’ve offered video adapters of all sorts for years, and sure enough, they had exactly what I needed: the $59.95 Kanex ATV Pro. It plugs into the Apple TV’s HDMI port, and includes a port for attaching a VGA cable. There’s also a 3.5mm audio-out jack to output sound. In talking with one of the company’s representatives in the booth, I learned that the ATV Pro is one of their best-selling products, especially to education customers who aren’t able to upgrade older projectors but want to take advantage of the AirPlay media and screen-sharing capabilities of Apple’s latest devices. [JLC]

Givit and BUZZcard Enhance iPhone Videos -- We went to Macworld/iWorld planning to do some video interviews, and while that didn’t happen much for a variety of reasons, we noticed a couple of video app/service combos that might be of interest to those shooting video on an iPhone. The Givit app and service (free for up to 5 GB of storage, $29.99 per year for 100 GB) let you easily clip the best bits out of longer videos, enhance them with motion effects (slow motion, speed-up, replay), add music, and then quickly share privately or to social media services. BUZZcard doesn’t offer editing (and could use more previewing features), but instead focuses on branding videos, helping you add an intro and an outro, plus music and a watermark over the video. It’s targeted at sales professionals like real estate agents and car dealers who need to show off products but don’t have the skills or time for video editing. BUZZcard’s $9.95 per month service currently posts to YouTube after processing the video; a $19.95 Pro service that’s coming soon will host the videos itself. Read on to see our BUZZcard sample video! [ACE]

Best Bag Demo -- The Platforma bag from Strotter deserves mention both for its elegant design and for the performance demo its designer had worked up to show off all its features. The bag converts from a vertical messenger bag to a sling-type backpack, and with the switch of a clip, creates a hands-free platform on which you can work on the iPad. The iPad sticks tight to the bag thanks to a magnetized polycarbonate case that will also hold your iPad to a refrigerator. The $169 Platforma is made of water-resistant leather with bright red nylon lining, features waterproof zippers, and has one internal pocket along with two front-wall pockets and one back-wall pocket, a magnetic flap closure, and a 1.5-inch seatbelt strap with custom buckle. You can read more about it on Strotter’s site, or watch the video we took and branded with BUZZcard. [ACE]

Cooking with iPad and Chef Sleeve -- For as long as I can remember, the computer has been poised to become a digital kitchen companion — and yet most of us still reach for paper cookbooks when standing at the kitchen counter. Part of the problem is that cooking is messy, and while nature may abhor a vacuum, iPads abhor soup. The folks at Chef Sleeve sell disposable iPad sleeves (25 for $19.99, available directly and at Target) that protect the tablet from ingredients that never completely make it into mixing bowls. The booth representatives said the fitted plastic bags are reusable, but I’m not crazy about having to toss excess plastic, even if it is recyclable. However, what intrigued me more was the company’s $34.99 iPad Dishwasher Safe iPad Stand and $69.99 Cutting Board with iPad Stand. Both products are made from recycled wood fibers and a food-safe resin, and — as advertised — can be cleaned in the dishwasher. The stand can hold the iPad in two angles (45 or 20 degrees) depending on which slot you use; I like that the wider slot accommodates an iPad with a Smart Cover wrapped around the back. The cutting board features a slot for the iPad, so you can keep your recipes right in front of your work. Maybe this arrangement will finally convince me to digitize my old index card recipes. [JLC]


Simplest iPhone Holders -- Lastly, we wanted to call out Insanely Great Products, a small California company that was selling oodles of simple, inexpensive iPhone holders and elegant iPad stands. Their shtick? In an industry where many products are made badly in China by low-paid workers, Insanely Great Products is at the forefront of the Made in America re-shoring trend, doing all their manufacturing in Silicon Valley. Though known mostly for software, Silicon Valley has also always had a rich tradition and ecosystem for hardware manufacturing, and everyone at Insanely Great Products participates in building the company’s products, starting with sheets of acrylic, steel, and aluminum and then designing, cutting, bending, etching and assembling each item by hand. The company got its start in the maker-focused TechShop in the San Francisco Bay Area, though they had to purchase some of their own equipment to be able to produce sufficient quantities. If you’re looking for an iPhone gadget that can prop your iPhone up on your desk, hold it to a window, or dangle it from your car’s vents, their ingenious suction-cup and binder-clip holders really do work. And if aluminum, acrylic, and steel are too industrial for you, their natural bamboo iPhone 5 stand, which also can hold an iPad mini at a nice reading angle, is also an attractive accessory. [ACE]


 

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Comments about Cool Products from Macworld/iWorld 2013: Part 2
(Comments are closed.)

Garry Royle  2013-02-12 08:42
I purchased several of the suction cup holders nearly a year ago and found that yes, they do work, but the suction can lose its "grip" and the iPhone slides off without warning after a period of time. I only use them now where the iPhone can't damage itself when it decides to "let go"
Scott Harrison  2013-02-12 08:43
There is an important difference between reading the magnetic stripe on a Visa or MasterCard card and scanning the face of the card for the card number.
The magnetic stripe includes data in addition to the card number, including the Card Verification Value (CVV) which is stored encrypted so that it can't be easily duplicated. Only the card issuer can determine whether the card used in a transaction is the card it issued or not.

This is a very significant issue for card security, which is not supported in a "Scanning" of the face of the card with a smartphone camera. Cardstock can be stolen and embossed with valid card numbers fraudulently obtained. There is no guarantee that the scanned card was issued by the card issuing bank and the bank can charge back any transaction without such proof to the merchant which accepted the card.

Not a good way to accept cards.
Ashok Misra  2013-02-15 15:22
You are not correct in saying that stolen Cardstock can be embossed with valid card numbers fraudulently obtained and then ‘scanned’ through a smartphone camera to produce valid charges.

This is because card transactions need authentication information in order to be authorized. Whereas it may be possible to capture the image from a copy of a card, a transaction cannot be completed successfully as additional authentication information is required in order to complete the transaction.

I am afraid you have some misconceptions about track and magstripe data. CVV is NOT stored encrypted manner on the mag stripe. It is fact stored in CLEAR TEXT on track 2. (as defined in ISO 7811-4.).

Consumers should be aware that they are protected by regulations against fraudulent charges. The brand operating regs cover how the integrity of the system is maintained and how merchants and cardholders are protected. Consumers need to contact their bank in order to initiate the repudiation process
Rob Gendreau  2013-02-12 10:51
The Camranger dongle looks nice, but only works with some cameras.

If you want some of the same features for more pedestrian cameras, check out TriggerTrap. It won't act as a remote viewfinder, cuz it just connects to the shutter release on a camera. But lots more cameras have that feature. Then you can use an iPhone or iPad to do shutter releases, HDR, time lapse, and some other trick stuff using the iPhone's capability (like distance-lapse-very cool). And with another iOS device you can control it remotely.

And it's only $25. Add a cheap EyeFi card and although you can't do real-time viewing of photos you can get them delivered to your Mac or other device pretty quickly. You can do some pretty cool stuff for a fraction of the cost.