From September 20-24, 2005, the city of Paris, France hosted this year’s Apple Expo, a collection of leading Macintosh and iPod developers showing their late 2005 and early 2006 products. iLounge Editors Jeremy Horwitz and Dennis Lloyd were in attendance at the show, snapping photographs and taking notes on all of the newest offerings. This report summarizes our three previous reports of discoveries, so if you’ve already read them, you already know what to expect. Otherwise, read on.
What Was Going On With Apple?
Depending on who you ask, Apple unexpectedly cancelled – or merely confirmed that it would not be making – a keynote speech that was anticipated to start off Apple Expo on September 20. The company’s keynote-like announcement of iPod nano and Motorola’s ROKR E1 phone at an earlier special event in San Francisco were thought to be reasons for the lack of a Paris keynote, but whatever the reason, Apple did not have a new major announcement to make for iPod owners. In a question and answer session with European media, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and iPod chief Jon Rubinstein dampened interest in Bluetooth, FM radio tuning, and video features on iPods, took shots at “greedy” record labels, and talked about the impact of high European taxes on sales of iPods.
What Was the Buzz?
Without a significant Apple hardware announcement at the show, all of the buzz remained focused on the earlier release of iPod nano – and the disruptive effect it’s had on both iPod competitors and the iPod economy. While all of the vendors we spoke with are thrilled by the slim new iPod, we heard that many iPod mini projects planned for holiday release had been delayed, scrapped, or retooled, and few was on the show floor for public viewing. However, there are some exceptions – including some good ones.
The single most impressive exhibitor at the show turned out to be Altec Lansing, which used Apple Expo to introduce three significant new products, and a few smaller ones as well. First, Altec introduced inMotion iM5, the $150 price point replacement for the original inMotion and its follow-up bundle inMotion Plus. The docking iM5 system has a new compact design, four drivers, a light-up power button on its top, and rubber-covered volume buttons on its top right side. It preserves the Dock Connector port found on its predecessors; it is now hidden on the back of the pop-out dock, such that your cable snakes underneath the speakers. An Altec representative said that iM5’s sound will be virtually the same as the iM1 it replaces.
The company also had its iM5 carrying case, which is black and bears the new inMotion logo. This logo will appear on all future inMotion products, but won’t appear on packaging for already released items.
In partnership with Etymotic Research, Altec has also unveiled iM616 ($149) and iM716 ($199) headphones, with plans to debut a sub-$100 version in the near future. Both come with carrying cases; the more deluxe version features an in-line volume control.
iM616 is based on Etymotic’s ER-6i Isolators, but with a different physical design, while iM716 is a tweaked version of the ER-4S series with around 90% of the original’s clarity, and a revised sound balance that defaults at enhanced bass levels – then offers a second bass boost via a switch on the in-line control box. They sound good, and especially for the price are going to be very popular. Both come with ear foams and triple flanges.
The company showed two carrying cases for the inMotion iM7 speakers, one of which is open for carrying while listening, and the other of which is entirely sealed for protection. More shots are available in our galleries.
Finally, Altec showed SA1, the company’s iPod shuffle adapter for inMotion speakers, a plastic insert which actually resizes an iPod shuffle to fit into the same footprint as a full-sized iPod.
Belkin has shown its long-awaited revised TuneDok for the iPod, which turns out to be a windshield-mounted iPod holder with a gooseneck.
The iPod mini version of TuneDok was also shown, and was highly similar to the full-sized iPod version. Alongside it, you can see TuneFM, the new full-sized iPod FM transmitter that debuted in The Free iPod Book.
The company also had a number of new iPod nano cases on display, and will be making them available to consumers in the next few weeks.
Be-Ez was showing updated versions of the Dopi cases we have previously reviewed; while using the same shapes, these were made from soft plastic instead of felt, and featured printed graphics.
Digital Lifestyle Outfitters came prepared with a big surprise, the HomeDock for iPod ($99.99), a complete photo display and music solution with a sophisticated remote control and video output capabilities. A multicolored light on the front indicates the unit’s status. The company says HomeDock will be in stores (notably Best Buy) in October.
The company also showed its Distressed Leather Cases for iPod, as well as Mini Flings for iPod mini, both of which were announced prior to the show.
Griffin’s lineup appeared familiar – the SmartDeck cassette adapter, for instance, made another show appearance, only now in its final design. The big surprise was that a second version of SmartDeck is under production, featuring a Dock Connector rather than a headphone jack connector, and thereby will be compatible with the iPod nano. SmartDeck version 1 is now shipping.
We’ve finally had the chance to see Chameleon cases in person, and they’re nice: slick medium-strength rubber with cool patterns and more resilience than we’d expected.
The company also showed us version 2 of iFM – with a Dock Connector rather than headphone connector – working perfectly with an iPod nano.
Griffin also had two posters up for products we’d not seen before. CarTrip is an iPod shuffle car mount, charger, and FM transmitter. It can switch between four stations via a switch on its left-hand side.
RoadTrip Charcoal is a second color of the company’s existing RoadTrip car mount, charger, and FM transmitter for full-sized and mini iPods. The company confirmed that it is working on an iPod nano holder for the existing RoadTrip, rather than creating a new product solely for the iPod nano.
While not showing any completely new speaker designs, Harman had an impressive display of its new colors for existing ones. Metallic red and silver aluminum versions of Creature II looked excellent, and a new black and silver version of On Tour was quite good, as well. On Stage 2, which looks identical to its predecessor but for an included RF remote control, was also being shown.
The company also showed off new AKG headphones – models K27i (approx. $80) and K701 ($400), each in iPod-matching white and silver colors. The K27i are smaller, while the K701 are full ear cups. We liked the K701s’ sound.
Finally, The Bridge is an iPod dock specially designed to integrated with the company’s AVR140/240/340 line of receivers. Listed as incompatible with the iPod shuffle (at least, without an adapter), The Bridge will sell for around $70 and work with all other iPods. There’s no video output, but the receiver’s remote control can also control the iPod, and the receiver is capable of on-screen video displays of menu choices.
This new collection of stylish iPod shuffle cases is exclusively for French/EU customers.
Logitech brought the previously announced mm28 portable speaker system, which follows in the inexpensive traditions of its mm22 speakers (iLounge rating: B) with a flat panel, NXT-developed speaker design.
Macally surprised us with a few new designs, especially ones for the iPod shuffle. Most predictably, IceWave Pro (aka PodWave Pro, first shown in an advertisement in The Free iPod Book) was on display, combining a microphone with pocketable stereo speakers.
But a new IceWave for iPod shuffle was also shown, this time with speakers on the bottom.
So was a set of IcePro headphones for iPod shuffle. No battery is required; just drop your shuffle into the side of the headphones and go.
iPod Armor maker Matias was most prominently showing its combination USB 2.0 keyboard and iPod shuffle dock. Versions in different languages were available; we saw English and French variations.
British speaker maker Monitor Audio had i-Deck (329 Euros) on display – its combination of remote-controlled amplifier, dock, and detachable speaker system. Approximately six feet of distance can be achieved between speaker and central dock, and audio quality is quite good, from what we could hear.
Numark brought a fully working version of its iDJ mixing console (359 Euros), which lets you (or a pro DJ) combine the music from two iPods into one audio stream. While nichey, the industrial design – particularly the glowing lights – is highly eye-catching.
In addition to the previously announced and previewed iBall (below), Oregon Scientific brought a large collection of non-iPod and -Mac items, such as clocks, weather instruments, and music playback devices of its own. More shots are available in the gallery.
Pacific Rim Technologies
Pac Rim was showing a new clear plastic hard case for the iPod nano – an early sample, but coming soon – as well as a new version of its iPod dock, this time featuring video output capabilities, and a new version of its previously announced Bluetooth headphone accessory.
The company plans to retool the dock to support Apple’s Universal Dock Adapter, eliminating the awkward mounting of an iPod nano. It also plans to revise the Bluetooth accessory’s transmitter based on the discontinuation of the iPod mini.
Late in the show, Pac Rim also debuted three new iPod nano cases, each using the same body design but differing in fabric. The first was a black ballistic nylon design; the other two were based on Chinese silk patterns, though a bit more resilient. Pac Rim will be fine-tuning this before release (soon), and plans two price offerings: one for $15, and one for $20 with lanyard headphones.
PodGear unveiled via press release – but not with a usable unit – PocketParty for iPod nano, a speaker system that plugs into the bottom of iPod nano.
The company was actually showing HouseParty, a small two-driver dockable speaker system for iPods.
Continuing to break new ground in iPod case design, Japan’s Power Support unveiled a huge variety of new fashion iPod cases in various unique shapes, patterns, and sizes. The company has delivered the first front protective film for iPod nano (shown on the nano here), is working on nano cases (not shown), and already has this Mobile Stand ready for nano.
More interestingly, the company also has these designs ready for the iPod family – fabric pouches, slings, bags and much more, designed by a Japanese fashion designer who has come up with new digital music player-friendly designs.
The company has separately shown Tsuzumi, a non-iPod-specific sound table that stands several feet tall, puts on an internal light show with colored LEDs, and makes pleasant, natural sounds.
Power Support has also developed thin but still high-quality leather cases that have faux suede interiors. These cases will be available in flat back and belt clip versions.
As part of the company’s upcoming line of fashion products, we saw a Kimono cord-retooled version of the iPod earbuds, and a high-fashion shirt with iPod pocket. We were really impressed by the designs, which are apparently intended as low-quantity production designer items, and have no prices as of yet.
Radtech showed two products: first was Portectorz for Dock Connector iPods, a $6 silicone rubber port cover that protects the iPod’s bottom pins from damage.
The other was ClearClip, a revamped and improved version of another company’s ShuffleClip, an iPod shuffle holder we previously hadn’t liked.
Utilizing a production process that apparently is now becoming available to companies around the world, SkinIt offers customers the ability to create high-quality vinyl iPod tattoos of their own design at a cost of under $10 per sticker. In addition to utilizing superior printing technology to what is available in consumer printers, SkinIt’s skins are laminated to resist damage.
Japan’s Tunewear has shown a number of new iPod nano cases, previously announced.
They’re called PodWallet, Ambassador, TuneTag and Icewear for iPod nano, each of which appears in shots within our gallery.
The company also showed off Waterwear for iPod shuffle, new cord clips, and a zinc shuffle fashion case that we’d be surprised to ever see in production.
XtremeMac showed FS1 ($149.95), its affordable, collaborative earphone product co-developed with Future Sonics. Besides boasting slicker looks than older Future Sonics, FS1 includes three types of ear pieces – foams, quadruple flanges and rubber caps – and produces very warm, pleasant bass.
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