Every year I worry that Macworld Expo will somehow fall flat, that there won’t be many exhibitors, that no one will come, that there won’t be anything that’s even moderately interesting. But every year, it seems, my fears are unfounded, and the Expo ends up showcasing an enthused community of innovative developers and committed users. This year was no exception, with over 330 vendors displaying their wares to more than 90,000 attendees. Never mind that the active show floor space was significantly smaller than in previous years or that IDG World Expo was giving free passes out like they were candy – without exception, all the attendees I talked to were upbeat, and the vendors were all happy about traffic and sales.
This was by far the busiest Macworld Expo I’ve ever had personally, thanks to 12 signings, interviews, and appearances over 4 days (including a quick bit on TechTV, which you can watch at the link below if you missed it live), not to mention a variety of press briefings and other meetings. Harried though I was, I had a great time and managed to see the entire show floor, where the Macintosh development community was demoing the latest and greatest. Without further ado, then, here are some of my superlatives from the show, mixed in with those from the rest of the TidBITS staff in attendance: Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder. Due to issue size restrictions, look for even more superlatives in next week’s TidBITS. As always, thanks, guys!
Cheapest AirPort Range Extender — It takes two to tango with wireless networking, and one way to improve your laptop’s signal strength is to move your AirPort Base Station to a more central location. If you’ve avoided doing so because there’s no electrical power near that ideal spot, MacWireless has a solution for you. The MacWireless Power Over Ethernet product consists of a pair of adapters that send power over unused pairs of wires in the Ethernet cable that connects your AirPort Base Station to the rest of your network. It’s only $30 and should be shipping in a few weeks. [ACE]
Goin’ on an iTrip — Griffin Technology is starting to make a tradition of showing up at Macworld Expo with a hand-assembled pre-production device of some sort. This year’s goodie, available in a few months, is the iTrip, an FM transmitter for the iPod. With the iTrip plugged into the top of your iPod, you can transmit music to any FM stereo (great for cars with no other audio input). Unlike other FM transmitters, the iTrip can use any frequency on the FM radio spectrum, controlled via software installed on the iPod, and it doesn’t require an additional battery. The $35 iTrip can even sit perpendicular to the iPod if you need access to the FireWire port for charging. [JLC]
Best Addition to Your Stereo — This award is shared by the HomePod, from Gloo Labs, and the SliMP3 from Slim Devices. The SliMP3 is an MP3 player that streams music from your computer over Ethernet straight to your stereo. It’s a great way to direct those MP3s to a sound system that offers higher quality than tinny computer speakers. The SliMP3 is available now for $250 and requires that you plug it into your Ethernet network. But what if you can’t easily run Ethernet cable to your Mac? You could attach a wireless bridge like the $100 Linksys WET11 to the SliMP3, but that’s more expensive than buying a $200 HomePod, another MP3 player that communicates via an 802.11b wireless network rather than Ethernet (and in the process, makes true my first prediction for 2003 from "Back to 2002, Forward to 2003" in TidBITS-661). The HomePod is scheduled to ship in March and will be sold by MacSense. Both MP3 players offer remote controls, both can be controlled from a computer, and both have open-source platforms for developers to extend. Some differences though (as far as we can tell): the HomePod has a FireWire port for adding a hard drive or perhaps an iPod; the SliMP3 supports Internet radio; and the SliMP3 uses a bright front-mounted fluorescent display whereas the HomePod has a top-mounted LCD display. They’re both way cool. [ACE]
Most Ingenious Use of Built-In Technology — When I first heard that Riccardo Ettore had ported his popular TypeIt4Me utility to Mac OS X, my reaction was: "No way!" After all, TypeIt4Me is a control panel that hacks into the system to watch everything you type into any application, looking for abbreviations you’ve set up, and, when you type one, expanding it into its full form like some ghostly typist inside the computer. But on Mac OS X there are no control panels and no hacking into the system is allowed, so how could TypeIt4Me possibly work there? What I forgot, though, was that Mac OS X already has a technology that can watch everything you type and replace some characters with others – the Input Manager, which is used to implement "input methods." That’s how you type Japanese and other Unicode characters, after all. So TypeIt4Me is implemented as an input method. To use it, just choose it from the keyboard menu, after which it watches you type, expanding abbreviations as necessary (an extra menu icon lets you access configuration windows). It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and it works remarkably well. If you use any kind of boilerplate text that you’d prefer not to have to type manually every time (your phone number, your address, etc.), TypeIt4Me is a great way to store and access it. [MAN]
Best Windows at Macworld Expo — You thought I was going to mention Connectix’s Virtual PC 6.0 (now with a 6.0.1 update that’s especially useful for those with PowerPC G3-based Macs) here, didn’t you? But no, not this time, because this superlative goes to Andersen Windows, which had a good-sized booth at Macworld Expo showing off their windows (the glass variety) and doors. There are always a few non sequitur booths on the show floor, such as the perennially ignored IRS table (Free audits! Step right up!), but none so completely inexplicable as Andersen Windows. At least they had the humor to display a hand-lettered sign saying, "The best windows for Mac users." [ACE]
Nichiest Niche-Market Device — The iGo is a desk, of sorts, that’s useful only if you have one of the new iMacs, no need for a writing surface, and a retro interior decorating scheme. You know how the iMac’s base is the top half of a sphere; now imagine the bottom half of that sphere, with four huge chrome legs and a flat plank attached to the front two legs. The iMac sits on the half-sphere, and the keyboard and mouse go on the plank (with no room for anything else). It makes a statement, but could you really get any work done? And does it really match your furniture, your wallpaper, and your nightgown? I predict that ten of these will be sold nationwide; on the other hand, I also predicted that the Internet would flop, so there’s always hope. [MAN]
Worst Outfit — Over the years, the use of scantily clad women to attract expo-goers into booths has almost entirely fallen by the wayside. Although we’re happy to see such a crass strategy disappear, we think those women would have felt a lot better about the job if they’d seen Microsoft’s MSN butterfly guy prancing around in his multicolored leotard and wings, as you can see in our picture linked below. We also spotted him when he was grabbing a bite to eat, and he didn’t look at all comfortable. Maybe he was just pining for some nectar. [MHA]
Best Booth Under the Stars — Most booths are either bare-bones functional or attractively designed, but our favorite booth used its product to full effect. The Starry Night booth featured a SciDome portable planetarium, where you could sit and gaze at the astronomy software projected onto the curved firmament above your head. It wasn’t just an excellent way to showcase the program – we liked to pop in occasionally to rest from Moscone’s fluorescent rays. Check out our picture below. [JLC]
PALling around with a DVR — Never let it be said that we don’t try to expand beyond our American parochialism. This announcement may not have made headlines in the U.S., but we’re sure it will be a huge hit with many of our international readers. At Macworld Expo, El Gato Software released a PAL and SECAM version of EyeTV, the digital video recording hardware and software package for the Mac (think of it as TiVo for the Mac). PAL versions of EyeTV should be available in Germany, France, Italy, and the UK by the end of January, and Mac users in other European countries should be able to buy it soon thereafter. The initial European version will not include support for an electronic program guide, which will be added on a country-by-country basis (engineers are already working on electronic program guide integration in the UK, Italy, and Germany). Plus, El Gato encourages Mac programmers to add program guide support to the EyeTV, much as Karelia’s Watson does in the U.S. Although the PAL versions of EyeTV aren’t yet available (and haven’t yet been tested) in Australia, South America, Asia, and Africa, El Gato is working on the necessary distribution agreements. [ACE]
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