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Macworld Expo NY 2001 Superlatives

This year’s Macworld Expo in New York City may have been an odd show with no spectacular announcements, but that doesn’t mean nothing caught our eyes while wandering the show floor. The main liability this year? As with so many other announcements at the show, a number of these products simply aren’t shipping yet. I’m looking for the last few months of 2001 to boast a flurry of releases, and I’m sure you’ll be able to see many of these products at January’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco.


Shake Hands With Your Mac — The first thing I saw upon walking into the Macworld Expo show floor was Essential Reality’s P5 glove-like controller. It’s a USB device that fits over your hand and enables you to use hand and finger motions to control 3-D graphics programs, games, and more. It definitely wins the futuristic interface award, though it’s not entirely clear to me how well it will work for many types of applications, and it looked as though your arm would get tired if you were using the P5 for a long time. Still, the P5 will be cheap (as in $130) when it ships in a few months – let’s hope Essential Reality comes up with a better name between then and now. [ACE]


Tantalizing Test Drive — One of the handful of reasons I don’t use Mac OS X full-time on my laptop is that Virtual PC doesn’t yet work in Mac OS X. Connectix has improved that situation by introducing the Virtual PC Test Drive for Mac OS X, a free download for owners of Virtual PC 4. Due largely to limitations in Mac OS X itself, the test drive doesn’t support USB devices, can’t use a unique IP address within Windows, and can’t display the virtual PC full screen, but the software is otherwise quite functional. We were delighted to hear that Virtual PC can share drive image files and saved states between the Mac OS 9 and X versions of the software. Connectix can’t say when a final version of Virtual PC for Mac OS X will be available, but promises that a final version (or another test drive version) will appear before this test drive expires on 31-Jan-02. [MHA]


Don’t Forget Your Wallet — You’re going on vacation with your digital camera, but you don’t want to bring a laptop to store photos after your camera’s Compact Flash card fills up. [email protected] has the solution, with the palm-sized Digital Wallet, a 12 ounce battery-powered hard disk with a PC Card slot that operates independently of a computer. The Digital Wallet supports Compact Flash, SmartMedia, Sony MemoryStick, Panasonic SD Memory Card, IBM Microdrive, Intel StrataFlash, and MultiMedia Cards; simply put your camera’s memory card into a PC Card adapter, plug it into the Digital Wallet, and transfer the files from the memory card onto the Digital Wallet’s 2.5-inch hard disk, which is available in 3 GB ($350), 10 GB ($450), and 20 GB ($550) sizes. The NiMH battery lasts for up to 120 minutes of use, and can be recharged about 500 times. When you get home, plug the Digital Wallet into your Mac (or PC, or Linux box) via USB and transfer the files to your computer. The Digital Wallet also features a small monochrome LCD screen, not for previewing pictures, but for seeing directory listings, file transfer status, and so on. The main downside is price, given that you can get a 256 MB Compact Flash card for between $150 and $250, it might be possible to get by on vacation with a couple minuscule memory cards. [ACE]


Smallest Media — While we’re on the subject of tiny media, look for the new DataPlay digital media to appear before the end of the year. Manufactured by Imation, DataPlay’s long-lived optical disks store 500 MB in a package about the size of a U.S. quarter and will be available in five colors. Joining the DataPlay media will be Imation’s DiscGO, a device similar to the Digital Wallet that lets you copy the contents of memory cards to and from DataPlay disks, which you can then copy back to your computer via USB. A number of devices are using DataPlay media, most notably portable music players but also PDAs, an electrocardiogram recorder, and digital cameras. I’ll be curious to see real-world impressions of how well DataPlay media works, since it seems to combine a great form factor with decent capacity (twice the size of large Compact Flash cards) and the promise of archival storage. [ACE]


Best Traveler Gizmo — We already knew Battery Technology, Inc. (BTI) was great for laptop and cell phone batteries and power adapters, but a new product at the BTI booth combined these two areas nicely. An inexpensive USB cell phone charger provides power to charge your wireless phone via the USB port on your laptop or desktop computer. (A full phone charge drains around a fifth of your laptop’s battery charge, a reasonable trade-off if you need your cell phone charged!) I’ve kept mine in my laptop bag since I bought it several days ago, and have used it at the office while my laptop’s plugged in, as well as while traveling. [MHA]


Smallest Hard Disk — If you’re in the market for small media that holds more than the 500 MB DataPlay disks, check out SmartDisk’s sleek new FireLite 5 GB hard disk. It measures a mere 2.4" x .5" x 4", weighs 5 ounces, and is powered from the FireWire bus so no additional power adapters are necessary. The magic behind this minuscule drive comes from a new 1.8-inch mechanism from Toshiba, and once Toshiba provides mechanisms in other capacities, SmartDisk will introduce more options. The FireLite will be priced at $400 when it ships (SmartDisk is saying only "Available soon") so the size does command a premium price, but if size is of paramount importance, you won’t find a single 5 GB package any smaller than the FireLite. [ACE]

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Spider’s Eye View — As Web sites have grown, it’s become ever more difficult for site authors to see just what pages they have, how they link to one another, and how coherently they follow site guidelines. There are a variety of utilities that will give you a list of files with broken links, or let you search across a set of HTML files. But the Java-based (so it runs on Mac OS X, but not Mac OS 9) Funnel Web Profiler from Quest Software goes well beyond that by letting you look at your entire Web site at once in a graphical map view that you can customize to reveal different bits of information about each page. Funnel Web Profiler can apply different colors to pages to indicate how well they match your desired level of HTML quality, change the size of the page dot to indicate how linked that page is, and so on. The $600 Funnel Web Profiler also works with the flexible Funnel Web Analyzer log analysis tool. If you’re responsible for serious Web sites, take a look when Funnel Web Profiler ships later this quarter. [ACE]


Input Device Stars — Apple somewhat dried up the market for third-party keyboards and other input devices with last July’s introduction of the Apple Pro Keyboard and Apple Pro Mouse, but some vendors are still successfully offering alternatives. Adesso’s multimedia ergonomic keyboard, tiny portable USB numeric keypad, and Lilliputian two-button optical mouse with scroll wheel are great examples. [MHA]


Two Half Keyboards Equals? At last January’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, we wrote about the Matias Half Keyboard, which was literally a QWERTY keyboard sawed in half (well, it’s more elegant looking than that). By pressing the space bar with your thumb, you can type the characters from the other half of the keyboard. Although some will want it for desktop use, it’s most compelling in the $300 Wearable Half Keyboard bundle from Matias, which includes a Half Keyboard with five-foot cable, wrist straps, and screen rotation software for the Palm OS so you can strap it and the Palm to your wrists. Portable data entry becomes a reality, and an inexpensive one at that. Anyway, you can imagine my initial confusion at Macworld Expo when Edgar Matias proudly showed me his new Half Keyboard x2, which looks exactly like a normal keyboard. For a moment I thought he was just having some fun with me, but then he explained that the Half Keyboard x2 is a normal keyboard, but by holding down the space bar, you can use either side of the keyboard to type the full range of characters. Without the space bar down, it acts like a normal keyboard. Thus, you’re not forced to use the slower Half Keyboard typing most of the time, but when you really need a hand on the mouse for text editing, desktop publishing, CAD, or even gaming, you can do so. It’s slated for release in October for $100. [ACE]

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RTMac Update — Matrox, whose RTMac real-time video editing card for Final Cut Pro I reviewed in TidBITS-587, was showing a new version of their software, due to ship in September, that will extend the RTMac card’s real-time editing capabilities to users of Adobe Premiere 6. [MHA]

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Best Consumer Audio Devices — Griffin Technology easily takes this award with a pair of devices. The USB-based $45 PowerMate is a elegant knob on a glowing base that you can rotate and press to activate a user-defined action. It’s most obviously useful for controlling audio volume, since it’s far easier to turn a physical knob than to fiddle with a tiny virtual slider. But it’s also totally programmable, so you could press it to have it act as a power key, mute the sound, or do other things. Then there’s the $100 PowerWave, which is a USB audio amplifier and interface. It provides two RCA line level input connectors, two line RCA line level output connectors, a 1/8-inch microphone input jack, a 1/8-inch headphone output jack, a USB hub, and an Apple Pro Speaker connector. Internally it features a 24-bit DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chip for high quality sound, though of course it was difficult to determine audio quality amidst the cacophony of the show floor. Both are set to ship in September. [ACE]

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Closest Zoom — I’m one of those people who’s never been able to use a microscope comfortably, thanks to a fairly thin face and glasses. If only Bodelin’s The Scope had been available back when I was dissecting worms and counting protists! It’s a handheld USB digital microscope that can display 640 by 480 images on a computer screen at up to 200 times magnification. It can even show live video, record movies, or do time-lapse photography at those magnifications. The $200 package includes a 50x lens, the necessary software, backlighting, and standard tripod mount (also for use with The Scope’s optional $125 stand). Also available are an $85 1x lens that turns The Scope into a standard digital camera and $100 100x and $129 200x lenses for increased magnification. Plus, a $20 C-Ring lens adapter enables the use of any standard C-mount lens. The Scope sounds ideal for schools, since a teacher could display magnified images or live video for the entire class to see. [ACE]


Server Software Chutzpah — 4D’s WebSTAR V Server Suite takes this award for putting a ton of effort into moving the leading suite of Mac OS server to Mac OS X despite the preponderance of Unix server programs. But WebSTAR V aims to distinguish itself based on easier setup and administration, better performance (thanks to advanced caching and a multi-threaded architecture), and integrated WebDAV and FTP servers. The software is in public beta now, so if you’ve found configuring Mac OS X’s Apache difficult, give WebSTAR a try. It’s slated for release by the end of this quarter, with the price to be announced at ship date. [ACE]

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