Macworld Expo 2005 iPod News and Accessories Roundup
Last week’s Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco saw the launch of an incredible assortment of new iPod accessories - and even a new iPod, the iPod shuffle. Just in case you missed any of our news stories or reports from the show floor, we’ve recapped (and enhanced) them here for easy reference. We also provide links to our extensive photo galleries from the Expo, which include larger versions of all of the pictures below - and far, far more.
Taking a macro view of the Expo, the single biggest news story was the growth of the iPod economy. Leading iPod accessory vendors including Belkin, Dr. Bott, Griffin, iSkin, Marware and XtremeMac had noticeably expanded their show staff and floor space to accommodate new product lines, while last year’s smaller iPod vendors - such as TEN Technology, Eroch Studios of LiliPod fame, and MacMice - had two, three or four times their previous number of offerings on display.
Below, we look at all of the biggest announcements from the show - the best of which we’ve summarized up here as follows:
Best New iPod Case - Solio Urban Recycled Rubber Case
This rugged case from Solio is made from recycled tire inner tubes and exterior rubber. Each case is handmade and has its own individual style and texture.
Best New iPod mini Case - Miyavix Cloth and Leather Kimono Case
This affordable case is fashioned out of beautiful Japanese fabric with great Kimono patterns. It sports leather accents and may redefine iPod case fashion.
Best New iPod Expander - BTI 3-in-1 FM Radio Receiver/Transmitter/Remote
BTI’s first-to-market iPod FM radio receiver, transmitter, and remote control cable looks to be an impressive accessory. It connects through the iPod’s headphone jack and will offer real-time tuning of radio stations for both receiving and broadcasting.
Best New iPod In-Car Accessory - Griffin Technology SmartDeck
This innovative cassette adapter lets you control your iPod using the built-in controls of any cassette player. By pressing fast-forward or rewind on your cassette player, your iPod will advance to the next or previous songs. The pause and stop buttons will also do the same on your iPod.
Best New iPod Wireless Accessory - TEN Technology NaviPlay
We selected this Bluetooth wireless audio system primarily for its enhanced portability and the company’s planned bundling of HP Bluetooth headphones.
Most Likely to Succeed - Apple iPod shuffle
Apple has another huge hit on its hands with the $99/$149 iPod shuffle, a cigarette lighter-sized iPod with 512MB or 1GB of storage capacity.
These Best of Show awards were based upon initial appeal, practicality, and specifications rather than final build quality, which will need to be formally compared against competitors in iLounge reviews.
For more details on these and all the products below, be sure to check out our iPod shuffle reviews (Power User, New User), iPod shuffle photo gallery, and huge collections of Expo photos: (Keynote, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4).
Confirming months of speculation and publicized leaks from suppliers, Apple unveiled the newest member of the iPod family, iPod shuffle. The compact digital audio player—built with flash memory instead of a hard-disk drive like other iPods—is the lowest-priced model yet, but also offers the least amount of song capacity. It is available in 512MB and 1GB capacities for or $99 and $149, respectively.
Physically smaller than an iPod mini but made entirely from glossy white plastic like the front casings of most full-sized iPods, iPod shuffle is so named for its dramatic departure from iPod norms: it lacks its predecessors’ now iconic screen and Click Wheel controls, and is intended for casual, randomized music listening rather than storage of a full music library.
“iPod shuffle is smaller and lighter than a pack of gum and costs less than $100,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With most flash-memory music players users must use tiny displays and complicated controls to find their music; with iPod shuffle you just relax and it serves up new combinations of your music every time you listen.”
Apple said iPod shuffle takes advantage of iTunes’ new AutoFill feature, which “automatically selects the perfect number of songs to fill iPod shuffle from a user’s complete music library on their computer.” The company said that at any time, with a flip of a switch on the back of iPod shuffle, users can choose to listen to their music in order rather than shuffled.
Featuring a simplified four-direction control system to let users skip forward and backward, play/pause, and adjust volume upwards and downwards, iPod shuffle includes a headphone port at its top and standard Dock Connector port on its bottom to permit listening and file transferring, respectively.
The device, which can be plugged directly into a computer via USB, also doubles as a portable flash drive to back up and transfer personal files.
In addition to an included lanyard and earphones, Apple is selling an optional armband, clear sport case with neck strap, dock, USB power adapter, and battery pack that boosts battery life to up to 20 additional hours. All of the accessories sell for $29.
During his keynote presentation which brought the introduction of the iPod shuffle, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed that more than 4.5 million iPods were sold in the December quarter—500 percent growth year over year. Jobs said the total number of iPods sold to date now stands at over 10 million units, with 8.2 million of those being sold in 2004. He said the 10 millionth iPod was sold on December 16, 2004.
Jobs also said that more than 230 million songs have been purchased from the iTunes Music Store worldwide since it was launched in April 2003. He said that Apple is now selling approximately 1.25 million songs a day and that the company is on pace to sell nearly half a billion songs a year. Jobs also noted that over 1 million pre-paid iTunes cards have now been sold.
Apple also announced it has teamed up with Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Nissan, Scion, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari to deliver iPod integration with their car stereo systems this year. The iPod Integration Kit for Mercedes-Benz will debut this April in the 2006 Mercedes-Benz M-Class, and will be available for most other 2005 and 2006 models later this year. Volvo will offer two iPod connectivity options—The Volvo iPod Adapter and an FM transmitter—for their entire 2005 US model line. Nissan, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari will announce details of their iPod integration solutions later this year. These companies join BMW and MINI Cooper who began providing integrated iPod solutions in 2004.
Meanwhile, Apple introduced the “Made for iPod” certification, a badge that iPod accessory developers can display to differentiate their Apple-authorized accessory products from unauthorized ones. The Made for iPod badge addresses a subject of increasing concern to iLounge in recent weeks—the proliferation of certain low-quality and potentially dangerous iPod accessories that may harm your hardware, even when used as advertised and intended. Currently, it appears that vendors receiving the badge are only those whose products interface electronically with the iPod, rather than case makers. But this program may well expand in the months to come.
On a final related note, Apple introduced the Mac mini, a $499 version of its Macintosh personal computers that resembles the iPod family in exterior aesthetics and is intended to attract “switchers” from the PC platform. The Mac mini is widely believed to be one of the most significant Apple product launches in years because of its affordability and crossover appeal to an ever-increasing number of iPod fans.
Altec Lansing had hot new items on the high and low ends: its new iM202 inMotion over-the-ear earphones are white, highly unique in aesthetic design, and intended to further proliferate the brand name made famous by its portable speaker systems. The company also showed a black version of its iM3 inMotion speaker system made to complement the U2 iPod, and a new iM4 speaker system ($99.00) designed to parallel the iM3’s audio quality while ensuring compatibility with all portable audio devices, including the iPod shuffle.
Battery Technology Inc.
Battery Technology Inc. (BTI) announced March 2005 availability of a fan-requested product: a three in one iPod FM radio receiver, transmitter, and remote control cable. The new accessory will retail for $79 and permit real-time tuning of five preset radio stations, connecting through the iPod’s headphone port.
BTI also showed The iPod Battery 3 ($59), which adds 8-10 hours of playback time to an iPod with 4 replaceable AA batteries. March availability is planned. Finally, the company told iLounge that it is also working on an under-$100 wireless iPod broadcasting system based on 900 MHz technology.
Belkin unveiled its Bluetooth-based TuneStage iPod broadcasting system to the public. The product includes a white and silver mini-router with a white antenna, blue lights on its receiver and silver iPod transmitter, and no audio distortion that we could hear on the show floor. It’s planned for a March release at $169.99, and lets you listen to your iPod in your home with your iPod in your pocket.
Belkin also showed an interesting new collection of iPod fashion cases to be branded under its “Belkin NE” line, each of which resembled existing iPod cases but with new fashion twists (different colors, stripes, and details). They’ll also have new Leather Cases and Silicone Sleeves.
Better Energy Systems
Better Energy Systems showed Solio, its previously announced solar energy battery pack for the iPod, which adds 8 hours of playtime to any Dock Connector iPod. It also debuted a series of recycled rubber cases for the iPod, iPod mini, and Solio charger, made from old tires and intertubes reclaimed in South America.
BrightonNet showed B-Audio, a “2.2 channel iPod Multi Speaker System” with an iPod dock and integrated control system. It also showed a wide variety of power adapters, cables, and cases in the B-Power, B-Cable, and B-Case families.
Clarion debuted its VRX755VD DVD Center Unit with Direct iPod Interface, an aftermarket in-car iPod solution with a touch screen interface. The company said that its solution was liked so much by Apple at the previous week’s CES that the iPod maker specifically invited the company to debut the VRX755VD on the show floor.
Australian bag maker Crumpler introduced a new line of distinctively shaped fabric iPod and iPod mini cases that complement its existing and numerous bag lines.
Dension’s new MOST>Link and Screen>Link add in-car iPod playback to industry standard MOST audio systems and vehicles equipped with visual navigation systems, respectively. Screen>Link passes through ID3 tag information from your iPod to its screen, and MOST>Link generally passes ID3 tag information through to compatible car stereos. ICE>Link Plus upgrades the company’s earlier, and popular in-car system, which features more functionality and vehicle compatibility than the Apple-developed BMW in-car adapter, including an on-iPod track display and unlimited playlists. It integrates with a car’s existing audio controls to permit forward, rewind, and other controls without touching the iPod itself.
LiliPod developers Eroch Studios unveiled Lili mini ($34.99), the only truly waterproof case for an iPod mini. Identical in shape and design to its predecessor, the Lili mini doesn’t permit screen visibility or control access, but unlike cases with those features, it does keep your iPod dry underwater.
Etymotic is developing wireless headphones, refreshes of its existing headphones, and a brand new lower-end headphone to match the iPod, none of which were on the show floor. The company is drawing the line on audio quality at the $100 minimum price point, and won’t sell its newest product unless it produces sufficiently clean sound with a great dynamic range.
Japan’s Fujitsu Ten showed its Eclipse 307PA speaker system ($500), available in black, white, and silver versions to match U2, standard, and mini iPods.
Griffin Technology had by far the most extensive list of new products being unveiled at the show:
The company’s AirClick Remote allow susers to control their iPod (play/pause, next/previous, volume up/down) from up to 60 ft. away. It uses RF technology (as opposed to IR), so users will not have to be in the line of sight for it to work. In addition, the AirClick system will be compatible with the iPod photo, enabling users to advance pictures wirelessly. The AirClick will come in two flavors—one for fourth-generation iPods and one for iPod minis—and will ship with a remote, receiver, a remote cradle and straps for attaching it to an automobile steering wheel.
Primarily designed for controlling iTunes, Griffin’s AirClick USB dongle plugs into a Mac to allow users to control certain tasks remotely. The product will ship with presets for Apple DVD player, iTunes, Keynote, PowerPoint, QuickTime and VLC
Griffin’s most innovative product was its SmartDeck audio cassette adapter for third- and fourth-generation iPods as well as iPod minis. The new accessory allows users to use their own stereo’s transport buttons—such as fast-forward, rewind, next song, previous song, etc.—to control an iPod. The SmartDeck should be compatible with virtually any cassette deck. The final version of the product may also ship with other features such as the ability set the iPod’s volume for optimum output.
The Xpress Stand for Apple’s Airport Express increases effective range and signal efficiency for AirTunes by raising the base station higher up in the room. It also makes it easier to check the network status light at a glance. The design includes built-in cable management, and a weighted, chrome metal base. Pricing for Griffin Xpress Stand has been set at $24.99.
Griffin’s BlueTrip is a wireless transmitter/receiver for broadcasting audio from an iPod to a home stereo. Using Bluetooth technology, BlueTrip consists of a Bluetooth transmitter that connects to an iPod along with a stylish Bluetooth receiver that hooks to your home stereo via RCA, mini jack, or optical audio cables. BlueTrip is expected to ship in the first quarter of 2005 at a price of $149.
Griffin also announced TuneJuice, a new battery backup device for the iPod and iPod mini. Using a single 9-volt battery, TuneJuice provides up to 8 hours of additional power for any iPod with a Dock Connector port. Griffin said the accessory is the perfect carry-on for airplanes, road trips and ski trips. The Griffin TuneJuice will sell for $19.99.
The Dock800 is a FireWire 800 cable to attach your iPod to a Mac or PC. The cable will not increase music transfer speeds—it is meant for better management of available ports on your computer. The Dock800 will begin shipping in the first quarter of this year for $14.99.
Finally, Griffin announced the Lapel Mic, a multipurpose lapel microphone that offers stereo audio input for recording audio such as interviews and lectures. Griffin said that an iPod equipped with its iTalk voice recorder instantly becomes a mobile recording unit. The Lapel Mic features a standard 3.5mm stereo mini-jack and a swivel clip for comfort and flexibility. It is available immediately for $14.99.
iLounge spotted new iSkin mixed color silicone eVo2 cases called Wild Skins with additional new twists: a plastic pop-in Click Wheel control protector, and co-branding with famous recording artists such as the Chemical Brothers and numerous professional sports teams, including the entire NBA. These special edition eVo2 cases will be offered in team colors and feature team graphics on their Click Wheel protectors.
iSkin also previewed a new version of its eVo case (iSkin Duo), featuring an exclusive anodized aluminum clip system that integrates beautifully with the rubber case body. Better yet, the company has reengineered its upcoming case bottoms to permit easier Dock Connector access, addressing a key iLounge concern in past reviews, and plans to roll out legitimately improved plastic belt Revoclips for upcoming eVo cases as well.
JBL showed a new black version of its popular Creature speakers ($99), as well as new high-end Encounter speakers ($299) in white. The Encounters promise greater power and clarity than any of JBL’s other multimedia speakers.
Computer peripheral maker Kensington showed an iPod auto charger/FM transmitter, and several other accessories that strongly resembled products already released by other manufacturers.
Home and theater audio pioneer Klipsch showed iFi ($399), a high-end silver dockable speaker system for the iPod family that features an advanced remote control system, two premium satellite speakers, and a large, resonant woofer.
Macally unveiled its revised ultraportable PodWave speaker system, which is being enhanced to respond to consumer demands for even more horsepower. The company also showed an impressive white and clear plastic modular three-piece speaker and dock system for the iPod called IceWave ($69.99): stack the speakers and dock on top of each other, separate two of the three, or separate all three. IceWave will be iPod and iPod mini compatible.
Macally also showed BlueWave ($169.99), a new Bluetooth wireless audio transmitter for the iPod, and a collection of PodSuit silicone rubber cases.
MacMice’s Podbuddy ($99.99) FM transmitter/gooseneck mount for vehicles is still in the works, and looked good on the show floor. White and black versions will be available, and thankfully, 4G iPods will be supported - an omission from recent competing mini-only goosenecks because of the larger iPods’ weight. More interestingly, MacMice’s prototype JamPod ($49.99) will let you connect an electric guitar to the iPod and mix their collected audio signals through a headphone/stereo jack so that you can play along with your favorite songs. Rock on, MacMice.
In a surprise move, Marware was showing a prototype neoprene iPod shuffle case almost immediately after the introduction of Apple’s product: the company had guessed, and pretty well, at the final size of the diminutive new iPod. No price and ship date were announced, and the final version of the case will be resized (and possibly reconfigured) to deal with the shuffle’s unique design. For reference, this was the first iPod shuffle case on the show floor save Apple’s.
iPod armor makers Matias showed iPod armor 4G and mischievously hinted at an upcoming iPod shuffle accessory that’s “not what you’d expect.” Matias also introduced Key Maestro ($19.95), a software package for Macintosh users that eases use of iTunes in the background while you work in other applications.
Pacific Rim Technologies
Pacific Rim Technologies announced three new iPod products—a new add-on iPod mini battery and two new magnesium cases. The company said its iPod mini battery pack ($15.99) will extend the life of an iPod mini an additional 8 hours using 6 rechargeable AAA batteries. Pacific Rim’s magnesium alloy case for 4G iPods ($34.99) has a clear plastic front and will be available in three sizes for 20/40/60GB iPods. It is available in black or silver. The company’s new magnesium alloy case for iPod mini ($29.99) also has a clear plastic front, but is available in five matching iPod mini colors. Finally, the company showed a prototype Bluetooth adaptor for iPods with a matching headset; the final version will vary in appearance.
Power Support has a likely must-have product in the 3D Wheel Film and a stunningly beautiful Japanese fashion case in the iPod & iPod mini Cloth and Leather Case (aka the Kimono case), which it will distribute for Kyoto-based Miyavix. The Japanese companies, which have long produced some of the iPod’s very best accessories, are continuing to expand their offerings in ways that we love. 3D Wheel Film for the first time adds center button coverage to the company’s great transparent Click Wheel protectors for iPods and iPod minis, closing the loop on complete iPod protection for many iPod cases. There were also white and black versions of the company’s iPod mini Square Type case.
Shure was showing off its recently announced E4c sound isolating earphones ($299). Like the others products in the company’s consumer line, the E4c earphones utilize Shure’s sound isolation design to “prevent ambient noise from compromising the listening experience and to deliver the ultimate in audio quality.” They boast enhanced bass over the earlier E3c model.
Shure said the new isolating earphones incorporate the same components used by professional musicians to monitor their performances on stage, and feature high-definition drivers with Tuned-Port technology for an ultra-wide frequency soundstage with brilliant highs and extended bass. The E4cs are also the lightest in Shure’s family of E Series earphones and are a good match for iPod users.
Sonance’s iPort is tackling the iPod’s highest-end market—people who want to physically integrate the iPod into their homes. With a base price point of $599 for a unique white or black iPod dock that’s actually mounted inside a home’s wall, Sonance says the iPort “turns your home into an iPod accessory” in the same way as BMW’s car adapter transforms your car. A low-end installation of iPort with simple in-wall speakers, a control system, and the Dock will set you back roughly $1000 in total, with ultra high-end options adding up to prices that all but the wealthy will find staggering. Most impressive was a LCD remote control panel that mapped the iPod’s controls onto an iPod-esque touch screen.
Sonnet Technologies introduced the PodFreq photo, a new version of its FM transmitter designed for the larger 40 and 60GB iPod photo models. The $99.95 accessory encases the iPod photo in a durable, translucent shell to provide added protection. It has access to controls and the headphone jack, and features FireWire and mini-USB ports that enable syncing and charging without having to remove the iPod. PodFreq photo requires no batteries and ships with a car charger.
Speck Products announced the first third-party plastic case for Apple’s new iPod Shuffle. Designed with shock-absorbing, tear-resistant plastic, the SkinTight for iPod Shuffle case “adds protection without adding bulk,” according to the company. The rubberized skin features a two-piece design that allows for easy synching and charging of the iPod shuffle. The SkinTight for iPod shuffle is scheduled to begin shipping in mid-February. Singles in multiple colors will be priced at $19.95 and 3-packs will be priced at $29.95. Speck also showed a ToughSkin ruggedized plastic case for full-sized iPods, and a prototype wood-like plastic version of its iPod mini FlipStand.
Standard TM (STM)
Australia’s Standard TM (STM) delivered to iLounge final shipping product of its new and improved Cocoon Mini travel case for the iPod mini at Macworld. Available in two colors—dark grey and blue—the Cocoon Mini features the same outstanding exterior design of its predecessor, with a dual-zippered fold-open body, integrated hard plastic belt clip and metal eyelet, but uses a new interior that’s even better than before. Like the Cocoon, Cocoon Mini includes an nice iPod-fitting case—now made from silicone rubber—and a detachable lanyard necklace. It also has a small mesh pocket for headphones, but entirely eliminates the use of Velcro inside by using a strip of clear vinyl to hold the iPod mini in place.
Having split off from messenger bag maker Timbuk2, new case designer Sumo has developed a wide range of iPod and iPod mini cases ($19.99 and up) made from ballistic nylon and other fabrics, some of which are highly fashionable and unique. We liked the style of almost everything we saw from this new player in the iPod accessories scene.
Ten Technology unveiled a goose-neck iPod mini mount called FlexDock mini (with a 4G version on the way), a highly impressive Bluetooth stereo kit called NaviPlay and a new super-charged remote control system called NaviPro EX. NaviPlay will be sold separately and/or bundled with HP Bluetooth headphones for excellent-sounding wireless audio, and FlexDock provides a clean iPod mini in-car cradling and audio outputting solution.
The new NaviPro eX wireless remote models support all iPod models with Dock Connector, and offer additional functions including navigation of playlists, albums and chapters, shuffle and repeat modes. The NaviPro receiver comes in three models—naviPro eX, naviPro eX black and naviPro eX mini. In addition, remote control of iPod photo slideshow is anticipated shortly with the same NaviPro eX remote controller. The naviPro eX will begin shipping by end of January, and the naviPro eX mini and naviPro eX black in February. The suggested retail price for all models is $49.95.
Italian bag and fashion company Tucano unveiled its first and very large suite of iPod cases, which feature clean Eurocentric designs, interesting materials, and modern colors. One, a neoprene armband case, looked a bit more stylish than typical neoprene workout bands, while the cases varied in styles and shapes.
Japan’s Tunewear showed off its entire line of recently-announced iPod and iPod mini cases, with an intriguing mix of precision-cut rubber, hard plastic, and metal products, as well as whimsical fashion pieces. Poptune ($8.95 each) are eight stickers that wrap on iPod mini hardware with wild patterns, including camouflage, leopard prints, and others. Icewear photo ($19.95) is a large version of the company’s popular Icewear silicone rubber case that now fits iPod photo hardware. Additionally, having created two sizes of iPod-holding wallets (Prie PodWallet and PodOrganizer), the company is now exploring the option of distributing a line of iPod-friendly clothes - but isn’t sure about market demand. Its new WaterWear cases are cleanly and impressively designed, but only water-resistant—not water-proof.
In an iLounge exclusive pre-Macworld Expo tease, iPod accessory XtremeMac revealed a new FM transmitter designed to compete directly against Griffin Technology’s popular iTrip: AirPlay ($39.95), a considerably smaller-than-iTrip transmitter that boasts a built-in LCD tuning screen and the slogan “Smaller. Simpler. Better.” AirPlay’s black on bluelit screen is easy to read, and lights up only when you’re tuning. XtremeMac stresses that the built-in screen overcomes the single biggest issue - realtime tuning - that people have reported with the iTrip.
Despite its small size, AirPlay features a surprisingly robust broadcasting range and, under the right circumstances, impressively clear audio. One channel where it was tested - 88.3 - sounded superb, even at a considerable distance. Using a coiled antenna to compensate for its tiny packaging, AirPlay fits neatly on the tops of full-sized iPods and iPod minis, leaving either unit’s Hold switch exposed. Expect a full iLounge review soon.
XtremeMac also announced the debut of Shieldz, translucent clip-on covers for the iPod mini. Shieldz are designed to add color while providing protection, according to the company. Shieldz come in five colors; Sky, Rose, Tangerine, Lilac, Kiwi and Ice (clear). They work with the iPod mini belt-clip and armband and are also compatible with XtremeMac’s Accessory kit for iPod mini. Shieldz sell individually at a suggested retail price of $12.95. Finally, XtremeMac showed additional colors of its neoprene exercise arm bands for the iPod and iPod mini.
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