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Cool Products at Macworld 2011

Face it, we can talk about how useful Macworld 2011 was in terms of education and business networking (and that’s true), but a huge part of the enjoyment of Macworld Expo is seeing cool new products. Or really strange products. Either way, here are our picks for the best, the worst, and the silliest products, and those things that just tickled our fancy in one way or another.

Best Way to Retrieve Files from Home — Local network-attached storage devices seem like a great idea, but can be frustrating when you’re travelling. Dane-Elec thinks it has found a good solution for local and remote access with its myDitto, a plug-and-play network drive that uses USB keys to restrict remote access. Geared toward home and small business users with an introductory price of just $139.99 for 500 GB of storage, the myDitto could store all sorts of shared files—music, documents, photos, and the like—among a family. Authorized users can connect over the local network. When outside the local network, you install software
on a computer—Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux flavors are supported—and plug in a USB dongle with an encryption key. This establishes a secure connection while also authenticating the user. An iOS app is also available for connecting to the myDitto using an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch; apps for other mobile platforms are also available. Two hard drive sleds in the back enable you to increase the device’s storage capacity up to 4 TB. (UPnP port mapping may be required on your router. Apple’s base stations lack this protocol.) [JLC]

Best Imitation of a Marsupial — If you think the Teletubby look is flattering, Alphyn Industries offers a polar fleece pullover with a kangaroo iPad pocket in front. Zipped up, it’s secure, and the iPad inside will also protect you from being punched in the stomach. Unzip it, and you have a little shelf for your iPad. It’s called the PADX-1 LEDGE Wearcom and costs $285. Really. Perfect for reading while walking (or standing in line for the next iPad!). Just watch out for cars. [GF]


Sleekest iPhone Car Mount — We’ve been unimpressed by most solutions for mounting an iPhone in a car; they’re usually ugly or hard to use, and the last one we tried worked fine for the iPhone 3GS but wouldn’t hold the iPhone 4. The $34.99 Tetrax XWAY solves the problem neatly, by providing a screw-tightened clamp that attaches to car vents, and a small X-shaped mount with four magnets in the center. (There’s also the FIXWAY version that you can stick anywhere with adhesive.) You attach another tiny rare-earth magnet to your iPhone or case—or to any other gadget like a standalone GPS
navigator—and mounting your iPhone becomes merely a matter of letting the magnets grab onto each other. Tetrax is Italian, and their Web site doesn’t do a great job of explaining all this in English (check out the pictures in the Applications page instead), but I’ll be buying a couple of these for our cars. The smaller FIX, GEO, and EGO models will technically work with the iPhone, but aren’t as stable as the XWAY. (For those with small children around, make sure the magnets are out of reach; they’re dangerous if swallowed.) [ACE]

Least Comprehensible Use of Space — The New York Times had not one, but two booths, neither of which had anything particularly interesting to offer. A smaller booth was selling print subscriptions, while a larger booth in a central location seemed devoted to demoing the company’s free iPad and iPhone/iPod touch apps. The New York Times will soon switch to charging for full access online and via mobile apps; perhaps the booth was booked in anticipation of that happening before the show. [GF]

Best Way to Stabilize iPhone Movies — The iPhone 4 is a surprisingly good video recorder, but like all small video cameras, it’s prone to vibration as you shoot handheld. iMovie on the Mac can compensate for camera shake, but there’s no such facility in the iMovie iOS app. Creaceed’s Movie Stiller app ($2.99) applies image stabilization to any video you’ve shot and stored in your photo library. After a clip has been analyzed, Movie Stiller offers controls for how much stabilization to apply, and can then export the finished video as a
new movie to the Photo Library. Movie Stiller also works on the iPhone 3GS and fourth-generation iPod touch. [JLC]

Best Impression of a Desk Phone — AltiGen’s $149 iFusion was at first inexplicable. Why would you want to plug your iPhone into a deskset with a corded receiver? In a home, it makes little sense, but in an office, the iPhone gains a charging dock that doubles as a speakerphone, while providing a comfortable handset. The iFusion can also play music through its built-in speakers or output it through an audio jack. The handset is paired via Bluetooth, so the phone doesn’t need to be docked to use the handset. The firm is accepting pre-orders in black and white! [GF]

Hottest Product (While In Use) — Although the booth had nary a functioning grill or oven on the premises to give a real demo—a cold grill was on site—Macworld Expo attendees still mobbed the iGrill booth to find out what it was all about. The $99.99 iGrill includes a temperature probe that you stick into meat, and a wire that connects the probe to a display unit with a wireless transmitter for nearby monitoring with a remote device on which you set temperature and time alarms. Many standard digital thermometers also have such features, including wireless connections. What’s different about the iGrill is that its remote device
is your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, on which you run the free iGrill app. Using a Bluetooth connection, the app’s attractive interface allows you to monitor your roast’s temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius, set time and temperature alarms, and get an estimate of how much cooking time remains. The app also includes recipes and tips. [TJE]

Tastiest App (When Used Properly) — Remember when computer companies marketed personal computers for storing and recalling cooking recipes? (These ads were usually targeted at women who, presumably, had no technological needs outside the kitchen. Sigh.) Although laptops have come closer to being true “kitchen computers,” the iPad may be the ideal fit: no keyboard to get in the way or accumulate food particles, and it can be mounted on vertical surfaces (like the refrigerator, using a ModulR case and bracket), or placed in a stand. As I was browsing the mobile applications area of the show floor, the soon-to-be-released
Appetites app caught my eye. Rather than present a database of recipes, Appetites uses videos of food bloggers explaining how to cook a dish from the viewer’s perspective. So, not only can you know how much of a pomegranate to use, but also see how to chop it up. (The recipes are also available without the video follow-along.) Unfortunately, the company behind Appetites, Clear Media, doesn’t yet show anything about the app on their Web site (total marketing failure, go back two squares), so you can’t get a sense of how beautifully designed the app is until Apple approves it for the App Store, hopefully soon. [JLC]

Most Control over iPad Gaming — Apple doesn’t offer haptic feedback on its devices yet, where there’s a physical response to a digital action, like pressing a virtual key on a keyboard and feeling a click. Haptics may be the future, but a set of simple plastic widgets with suction cups provide the sensation of feedback without complicated electronics. Ten One Design’s Fling is a joystick-like controller for the iPad ($19.95 for one or $29.95 for a pair). A rubber button is mounted on a spiral of plastic that has two suction cups attached. Many games use touch-based joystick controls—the company says there are about 100
of those, which it lists on its Web site. Center the Fling over the on-screen joystick controller, and you’re good to go. It seemed silly until I played an Asteroids-like game and the entire convention center disappeared. The Fling more fully immersed me, and faster than I would have thought possible. Plastics! If Fling (and the inevitable copycats) catch on, game designers could test against the controllers to improve the experience. [GF]


Cheesiest Costumes, in an Unnecessary Way — The biggest surprise at this year’s show was the display of hired pulchritude and branded derrieres. That’s right: after a number of years in which companies were somehow able to attract show-goers to their booths without appealing to baser instincts, a number of exhibitors brought in attractive women and dressed them in skin-tight tube dresses that required constant adjusting. One exhibitor even put their product name across the chest and their booth number in a strategic position on the back, and had the women walk around as human billboards. It was impossible not to notice whenever they went by, but our main thought was,
“They look cold.” (We were right—one of them even acquired a pair of pink iPhone-compatible gloves after the first day.) Come on, exhibitors! This is a professional show, and we heard both from annoyed female professionals and from guys who were creeped out by the thought of their daughters in such a role. [ACE]

Cheesiest Costumes, in the Nicest Possible Way — Codeweavers avoided booth babes in favor of booth impersonators, promoting its CrossOver Mac software (standard $39.95, professional $69.95) that enables emulation of Windows applications without a full virtualized copy of Windows running. Ladies and gentlemen: Elvis has left the booth. [GF]

Fastest Time to Mindshare — The fellows behind the Glif, Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost, had a small booth where they demonstrated and sold their iPhone tripod mount adapter. The $20 adapter snaps on to an iPhone 4, and contains a standard threaded bushing, allowing the phone to be used with any tripod. The adapter also works freestanding as a sort of kickstand. The Glif went from idea to reality in the space of a few months, raising over $135,000 through crowdfunding, and changing the lives of these young designers. I wrote about them a couple times at the Economist’s Babbage blog during their creative journey, and their story was written up around the world. Seeing them on the Macworld show floor was a treat. [GF]

Best Way to Clean Your iPad Screen Without Newspaper — The folks at LensPen, who make a variety of screen- and lens-cleaning products, gave non-stop demos of the SideKick, a new touchscreen-cleaning device. The SideKick looks and feels like a small, smooth chocolate bar. You split it in half, and a carbon-laden cleaning pad on a short handle pops out. Run the pad over an iPad screen and the carbon soaks up the fingerprint oils. When you finish, you put the pad back into the case, which also somehow reconditions it. You reportedly get about 150 uses per pad. I tried the SideKick on my iPad, and it worked well. The LensPen booth rep claimed the SideKick is based on the
same chemistry employed when you clean a window with a wadded-up newspaper, but I found newspaper significantly more awkward and slow to use. I can’t find anything about the new SideKick on the LensPen Web site, though the company does mention it on their Facebook page. If you want a SideKick but missed the opportunity to buy it at Macworld Expo, you’ll have to look for it through distributors a little later this year. The price should be around $20 for the device plus one extra pad. [TJE]

Greatest Live Performance of Songs about Apple — During the lunch hour on Saturday, I happened on the Rock Cookie Bottom, a band led by Jonathan Mann, performing in the lobby area of the second floor of Moscone West. I thought, huh, novelty act, as they sang about Steve Wozniak (link is to music video version). But after a moment, I realized I was in the presence of great humor and talent. The band rocked, and their lyrics were hilarious. Mann has been writing a song a day for nearly three years, and he apparently hasn’t lost his knack for catchy, fun lyrics.

Smallest Projectors — Two companies were showing iPad-, iPhone-, and iPod touch-compatible pico projectors, which are a relatively new category of display. A pico projector uses one of several alternatives to standard projection bulbs, and runs cool. Pico projectors are designed to be much smaller than the units you see in conference rooms, but they can produce a passable large image in a dark room, and often a good small image in a lighted room. The brightly lit show floor is a tricky place to view such projections, and both devices were impressive in those conditions. Microvision revealed its $399.99 Showwx+, which
connects via a dock cable. The $479 Neo-i from Optoma is larger, working as a docking station with speakers that can play music or project from its built-in pico system, as well as provide VGA and HDMI video output. You can watch a demo of the Neo-i from Macworld. Both rely on iOS’s built-in video output options; no apps or tweaking is required. [GF]

Real Product That Sounds Most Like a Parody — You’ve tried slicing, you’ve tried dicing, but you’ve never tried sticking a television on your head! Now you can! The $29.95 TV Hat was the goofiest product we saw on the show floor. It’s a hat-based mount for an iPod touch or iPhone designed to shade the screen from light and place it far enough away to focus your eyes through a special lens. None of us could bring ourselves to try it, possibly because of its “As seen on TV” badge. Or because we were afraid someone would take our picture while we were testing it. It’s that silly looking. [GF]

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