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CES 2008 Day 2: From iPods to iShoes

CES continues to amaze, with an astonishing variety of products and services. Here’s what stood out on my second day.

ifrogz caught my eye with their interesting “thumpz” iPod cases with built-in speakers, about the same size as earbuds. Unfortunately, my ears don’t work well enough for me to report back on speaker quality, so I turned down the demo in the soundproof booth. Versions for the 3G iPod nano are slated to ship 14-Jan-08 for $24.99, with a version for the iPod classic to follow.

Earbud or spaceman? Speaking of poor hearing, if you’re interested in keeping your ears in pristine condition, or if you’re encouraging your children to do so, you might want to check out the American Speech-Language- Hearing Association’s Listen to Your Buds campaign. Featuring, er, either an anthropomorphic earbud, or a Lego spaceman, depending upon your interpretation. Essentially, you can permanently damage your hearing with your headphones, and children are especially susceptible; if you’d rather avoid learning to lip-read in noisy environments like I have to, stop by their site.

Are you bored with that monotonous single-color case for your MacBook or iPod? Gelaskins impressed me with their eye for design in their line of custom skin cases. I’m particularly fond of MC Escher’s Drawing Hands laptop case and Hokusai’s The Great Wave for iPods. But if that’s not enough for you, Digiskin showed off their kiosk, which they claim can be used to print custom images for any device, including cell phones. I neglected to ask for the price, but this looks like something a business would use to sell customized cases to its customers. If you can’t pick up one on your own, look for it at a mall near you.

When it comes to design, LaCie offers a wide variety of storage devices with cases by famous designers. They’re now extending their Little Disk product line with even smaller models that look more like Zippo lighters than cases for the forthcoming 1.3-inch 30 or 40 GB hard drives; even so, they still have a built-in USB cable. Larger models (still around the size of a tin of Altoids) offer up to 250 GB and have an option for FireWire. LaCie’s press release says immediate availability, but the Web site hasn’t yet been updated and the booth said “next month.”

TechForward wasn’t demoing any technology, but rather an interesting angle on electronics insurance. They’ll sell you a “buyback plan” which guarantees that they’ll pay you a set amount of money for your hardware at some future date. For example, buy a MacBook today and pay them $39; sell them your MacBook in one year for $460, or in two years for $380, regardless of its market value. Interestingly, they offer plans for iPods, but not for Zunes – I wonder why. They’ll sell this to you directly, or offer it as a point-of-sale purchase from other vendors. (And they’re promising those vendors a cut of the revenue, so that might be a negotiating point for savvy buyers.) The idea is that you can
upgrade your equipment at less than the actual cost, since you’ll get a guaranteed payment later. I suspect you’ll sometimes do better on eBay, but this is certainly a no-hassle alternative.

If you’ve ever wanted to zip around town like Woz on his Segway, but with a gizmo that fits into a backpack, check out iShoes. Somehow they’ve managed to come up with battery powered roller skates that can carry you about 3 miles (not quite 5 kilometers) on a single charge, with a top speed of about 13 miles per hour (21 kilometers per hour). I have no idea how safe this is, but it looks like the coolest locomotion you’ll see until someone can sell us a hoverboard. They’re apparently available now, for a mere $599 plus $20 shipping. If you buy a pair, let us know how it goes.

Finally, a shout-out to the folks from Opera Software, authors of (among other software) the wonderful Opera Mini for cell phones and Java-capable devices. I ran into several of them in the outdoor smoking area, and jokingly introduced myself by saying, “Hey, I think you guys just crashed my phone.” To my surprise, they really cared and asked me all sorts of questions about my usage, then quizzed me about my thoughts on their product and how they could increase usage in the United States. (My reply: the people most likely to need their software are unfortunately the ones least likely to ever hear about it.) If you’ve ever surmised from Opera’s Web site and forums that this is a company made up of really nice Norwegians, I can attest to your accuracy.

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