iPod @ CES 2006 Part IV: Follow the iPod & Showstoppers | iLounge Article

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iPod @ CES 2006 Part IV: Follow the iPod & Showstoppers

iLounge CES 2006 Coverage Index:  » Part I - Diamonds and Coal: Commentary and Expectations  » Part II - Early Announcements from Alpine, Belkin, Shure, and more!  » Part III - From the Show Floor  » Part IV - Follow the iPod & Showstoppers  » Part V - Show Floor Report Day 2  » Part VI - Hitch, and the Rest of the Show

After a day walking the show floors at CES - a trade show that, as we’ve explained earlier, is filled with everything electronic - there can be no question now that the iPod phenomenon is both huge and here to stay. Glossy white accessories are everywhere in the show’s halls and at after-show gatherings, and there are at least tens of small and previously unknown companies (perhaps even a hundred) with sections or entire booths devoted to iPods.

Let’s put this into some perspective. As of the last day of 2005, iLounge had covered (not necessarily reviewed) around 1,000 iPod accessories by just over 200 different companies. CES has arguably added another 50% to that pool of vendors, and if we had to roughly estimate, 25% or more to the total pool of accessories specifically designed for the iPod.

As we suggested in Part I of the CES report, there is a little wheat in the field, but there’s a lot more chaff. A lot. Perhaps a better way to explain this would be to say that there are a hundred new accessories that look almost identical to a hundred prior ones, except not as good. And then there’s some rot to contend with. We’ve even seen knock-offs of Apple’s iPod nano Armbands, being sold here by at least one of the new “players.” We expected to see this in Asia (and did, as noted last week), but not at CES.

Far more common, however, are forgettable (nothing special) electronic accessories and cases. Thanks to what appear to be non-exclusive agreements between some prolific Asian manufacturers and new iPod accessory distributors, it’s quite likely that you’ll see the same add-ons being shown by two or three different companies, but with different names and packaging. Everyone seems to want to be a member of the iPod Economy, no matter what that really means.

There’s good and bad in this. The simple fact that there are so many companies now supporting the iPod with products will offer tremendous consumer choice and, hopefully, a wide variety of pricing options. But it also places readers - and iLounge - in a difficult position. Which of these products are safe to buy or recommend, and which are trashy, disposable items made just to collect a quick buck? We’re as happy as (or happier than) our readers to see great new accessories come out, but the generic factor has increased, and we’re not sure that most of what we’re seeing is even worthy of writing about. Your opinions on this subject would be most appreciated in the comments section below.

Enter ShowStoppers

Held annually as a way to separate worthwhile new products from the rest of the pack, ShowStoppers is an invite-only chance for members of the media to check out CES’s key innovations - plus some that exhibitors have passed on renting booths to show. iPod accessory makers such as Xitel, H2O Audio, XtremeMac, Nyko, and Griffin Technology attended last night’s ShowStoppers event, and while it didn’t entirely live up to its name, the mini-show did have a few interesting new items worth telling you about. We’ll also mention a few items we caught on the CES show floor immediately prior to ShowStoppers.

ABT: ABT was out in force with the range of accessories previously previewed on iLounge, noting that it has - at least for now - reserved the iJet 2-Way iPod (display) Remote to sell by itself. Companies such as Targus and Scosche are showing off their own versions of the company’s other offerings.

Advanced Technology Office: Former Apple personnel used ShowStoppers to unveil iSee ($250), a black brick-shaped accessory for certain Dock Connecting iPods that turns them into video players and recorders. iSee includes a solid, 3.6” screen, a battery pack that provides four hours of battery life for video playback, and cables that let you display video content on a TV - or record video content from one. Video recording takes place VCR-style in real time, so you leave iSee connected to your TV during a football game, and then watch the football game later on its screen.

If the idea behind iSee doesn’t make sense given the fact that Apple’s selling video-enabled iPods for $299 and $399, realize that it’s a cheaper option for current iPod owners than either of these alternatives, has a bigger screen, and also includes other features Apple left out. It appears to have been designed primarily for the 20GB fourth-generation iPods, but also supports iPod mini, nano, and 5G (30GB model) with optional adapter plates, which will be sold separately. They all fit into the unit’s back, exposing their screens while docked inside.

You can also pop the included battery out of iSee and toss a replacement one in - both serve to power the device and charge the attached iPod, as well. The company plans to sell the extra batteries for $50 or less.

After spending some quality hands-on time with iSee and quizzing the company on its features and practicality, we came away mostly, but not entirely satisfied. On a positive note, iSee’s video screen and playback quality looked really good, providing a display option that was easier to watch overall than the fifth-generation iPod’s, and from what we could see in the samples, equally smooth. A Zoran processor is used for video encoding and decoding, and does a nice job with both. Though iSee’s screen has the same 320x240 resolution as the iPod’s, the images don’t suffer in appearent detail by being blown up to 3.6” rather than the iPod’s 2.5”, and the video is being recorded at a reasonable bit rate - one Megabyte per roughly 8 seconds.

iSee also displays photographs in a way that will generally impress iPod owners. Photos can be zoomed into and panned around, something missing from the iPod at the present moment. However, iSee doesn’t appear to have the same thumbnail and slideshow interfaces of the fourth- and fifth-generation iPods, which means that you won’t be able to quickly navigate or sit back and enjoy a large picture library quite as easily. Thankfully, the unit’s controls are very simple - a four-way rocker button with menu (up/down) and track (forward/backward) navigation surrounds a menu button and a play/pause button - so it’s not tough to move through iSee’s cleanly designed, simple menus.

Here are the kickers: iSee includes and requires its own software package for video, photos, and - surprise - audio. The good news is that this package creates nice thumbnails for your content, going out to the Amazon.com database to retrieve artwork for you. The bad news is that items synchronized through its software are not available to the iPod (even if the iPod attached is a 30GB iPod with video), and items synchronized through iTunes are not available to iSee, at least, yet. The company apparently plans a pass-through mode that will let you access your iPod’s existing library in a somewhat awkward way, but this feature wasn’t implemented in the demo model we played with.

The other bummer is transcoding. As with the iPod with video, you’ll need to convert all of your video content into the one format (MPEG-4) the device can play back. While iSee’s software handles the work for you, this means that you won’t be able to play back the majority of files you already have on your computer without transcoding them. Open standards, say nothing of support for WMA audio, could really have made iSee a bigger deal than it currently is.

Audio-Technica: As we mentioned in prior report, Japan’s Audio-Technica is bringing 15 new pairs of import headphones into the United States - a range that includes everything from camouflage ear cups to slick metal earbuds over-the-ear mini-speakers. The most notable entries for iPod owners are the company’s silver aluminum and titanium housed earbuds, model numbers for which we mentioned in our prior reports. Though on the expensive side, they look really clean and impressive.

Green House Co. Ltd.: Japanese accesory maker Green House showed two interesting iPod speaker systems, one a wearable pendant portable speaker for the iPod shuffle, and the other a small, Bose Sounddock-like system for dockable iPods.

Most interesting, though, was the company’s modular Mac mini hard drive, amplifier and speaker system, which includes three potential parts: an external drive, a speaker and amplifier system, and a subwoofer. Buy all three parts and stack them, or just buy the parts you need. A really nice design - whether it will be sold in the United States is a question mark.

Griffin Technology: Having skipped the CES show floor, Griffin showed up with several new products at ShowStoppers. First and most interesting was TuneView ($100), a cleanly designed “smart” iPod dock which connects to your TV and AV system. It offers the ability to display on-screen menus for and add Internet Radio to any dockable iPod, and can be controlled from a distance with an included remote control (not shown). The sample images we’ve seen of the unit’s on-screen TV interface are impressively clean, and make it easy to fully explore and access the contents of an attached iPod.

Griffin also introduced SmartShare ($15), a headphone port splitter with independent volume controls for the two connected pairs of headphones. Though the price is high, the design is very nice.

TuneFlex (approx. $50) is Grffin’s combination of a gooseneck mount and charger with an iPod nano cradle and a pass-through port for FM transmission. You can connect iTrip underneath the nano cradle if you need FM output.

A new prototype hard case for the iPod nano was on display, folding open like a book and re-locating the nano’s headphone port to its top left corner - useful for people who haven’t liked to connect to its bottom.

The company also had final units of its recently-revised RoadTrip on display, featuring tighter curves than its predecessor but the same general mounting and internal components that didn’t impress us some time ago. Its iFill software package for downloading Internet Radio content to your iPod was also shown - three versions will be available, namely a free trial, a packed-in version that will come with select Griffin products and allow two stations of content to be downloaded at once, and a full retail version ($20) with the ability to download as many stations simultaneously as your computer can handle.

H2O Audio: The waterproof case maker showed up at CES and ShowStoppers in force with brand new waterproof cases for iPod shuffle, nano, and 5G. Shots of these cases are here; the shuffle case is rubber with a hard plastic insert, and unlike the others requires that you turn on the iPod before insertion. Apparently the shuffle design we saw isn’t entirely final; newer versions are underway.

Most interesting is the company’s newly aggressive pricing, which sees the newly slimmed-down nano case selling for $80 - down from $150 for earlier H2O cases, and now including a neoprene armband for working out or use in the water. There’s also a brand new headphone port and headphone plug design, which renders the headphones’ plug capable of being used with any audio device, and puts the sealing responsibility entirely on the case itself.

In great news for underwater iPod listeners, H2O has announced that it will sell its waterproof headphones separately for $40, with a superior model coming for around $60 in the near future. The company explains that the current headphones sound great underwater but more shrill above water, while the new ones will be stronger no matter whether you’re on top of your surfboard or (temporarily) under it. Given the paucity of waterproof headphones out there, having one good option, say nothing of two, is big news.

Homer Technology: Based in Irvine, CA (home of iLounge), Homer was showing off two innovative new concept products. iViewer and iDock both use wireless technology to broadcast iPod content from a dock to another device - iDock sends audio from the iPod to a stereo system using either Bluetooth or RF transmission, while iViewer sends both audio and video from the iPod to a television set from a distance of up to 30 feet. The company plans to sell or license both of these products for sale at $60-70 retail prices.

Link World Electric: This Asian exhibitor was showing off numerous iPod speaker systems and electronic accessories, most notably including iJazz, an iPod nano-specific dockable speaker unit, as well as the Link360 iPod cable adapters previously released in the U.S. by Macally.

XtremeMac: Though all of the company’s products at ShowStoppers were ones we’d heard of before, we finally got to see some of them in final packaging. The clear MicroShield case for the 5G iPod (available in different sizes for different thicknesses of the iPod) was on display, as was the MicroFlex Car Adapter for iPod nano in a bundle with a Cassette Adapter, AirPlay2 bundled with a Car Charger, and SportWrap for iPod 5G.

We also saw items that are now appearing in stores, such as the iPod nano MicroBlast speakers and the buyer-customizable iBling case.

Keep checking back for more from the 2006 International CES.

iLounge CES 2006 Coverage Index:  » Part I - Diamonds and Coal: Commentary and Expectations  » Part II - Early Announcements from Alpine, Belkin, Shure, and more!  » Part III - From the Show Floor  » Part IV - Follow the iPod & Showstoppers  » Part V - Show Floor Report Day 2  » Part VI - Hitch, and the Rest of the Show

« iPod @ CES 2006 Part V: Show Floor Report Day 2

iPod @ CES 2006 Part III: From the show floor »

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Comments

1

I believe that although some items are “not worth” reviewing… you should at least show some small explanatory rating… so readers wouldn’t buy a product that is “trashy”

Posted by aaron.mark in Los Angeles, CA on January 6, 2006 at 11:16 PM (PDT)

2

Contour Design and ATO are going to bump heads with the “iSee” name.

Posted by Jim from Davao on January 7, 2006 at 9:51 PM (PDT)

3

The TuneView is the dock/remote conbo I have been waiting for. Navigation of the iPod menus on the TV, I can’t wait!!

My 5G will finally be able to truly function as a portable media center! Equally adept in the living room as on the go…...oh yeah baby!!

Posted by iPodCaesar on January 8, 2006 at 1:38 AM (PDT)

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