The annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) isn’t the big iPod expo of the year, but that didn’t stop a number of companies from using this past week’s Las Vegas event to make exciting new iPod announcements. Automotive accessories were most numerous, including several expensive in-car adapters from leading aftermarket stereo manufacturers, plus a collection of innovative and inexpensive accessories from established iPod market players such as Griffin Technology. New speaker systems were introduced by companies ranging from Altec Lansing to Klipsch, and more batteries and remote controls found their way into the convention hall, as well.
More interestingly, tantalizing new potential iPod technologies were disclosed by Hitachi, Motorola, Nyko, and XM Satellite Radio, including Hitachi’s new 8- and 10-Gigabyte drives that may well appear in future iPod minis, an iTunes-enabled/iPod-like Motorola cellular phone, Nyko’s detachable portable video screen for the iPod, and XM Satellite’s possible new hybrid iPod/satellite receiver. Then Hewlett-Packard announced an HP version of Apple’s iPod photo. Read on for our collected news stories from the last week, containing all the details on these and other major announcements. Plenty more will follow from the Macworld Expo in the week ahead.
Altec Lansing introduced a new inMotion model called the iM4 that works with the iPod and also any other brand of MP3 or CD player, unlike the company’s earlier iPod-specific models. Similar to the inMotion iM2, the inMotion iM4 is a one-piece portable system with two speakers on either side of a 4.5” x 5” no-skid rubberized platform that holds a player of any size in place. The iM4 features a 4-watt Class D digital amplifier that powers four 1” neodymium micro drivers for “clear reproduction over the entire frequency range,” while Altec’s MaxxBass technology creates quality bass without a subwoofer. The iM4 can run on 4AA batteries or AC power. It will ship in February for $129.95.
Alpine announced its 2005 lineup of second-generation “Ready for iPod” in-dash head units and Mobile Multimedia Stations. The nine new units offer enhanced user interface features such as a dedicated iPod icon for direct source selection and identification on the unit’s display screen.
“With the new head units, the experience allows for integration of the iPod’s controls right from the display. The 2005 Ready for iPod head units offer simplified, user-friendly iPod control, allowing iPod users to search and select listening options. Consumers can quickly search and listen to their iPod tracks directly from their head unit, or remote control, eliminating the need to handle the iPod while it’s in the car. With the KCA-420i Interface Adapter for iPod, song title, artist, album and/or playlist information are displayed right on the head unit. With GlideTouch-equipped head units and the new slider function on the second-generation PulseTouch screens, users can now search playlists, artist, album and song lists easier and faster in the car.”
“GlideTouch is a small horizontal strip located on the lower front of the in-dash head unit replacing traditional preset buttons. Fashioned similarly to a silicon rubber touch pad on a laptop computer, it recognizes the pressure and speed of the user’s fingertip to provide an easy interface with sources. GlideTouch is found on three of the Ready for iPod head units. PulseTouch uses vibrations, pressure and sound to simulate the sensation of using real buttons on a touch screen. For 2005, Alpine has improved its award-winning HMI (human to machine interface) by adding intuitive on-screen finger stroke slider functionality and sound control programming settings, which is found on the IVA-D310 Mobile Multimedia Station.”
The KCA-420i is available now from authorized Alpine dealers for $100. It is compatible with any iPod with a dock connector, iPod photo or iPod mini. Alpine’s 2005 Ai-NET head units will be available through authorized dealers at prices starting at $250. Additional photographs are available in earlier iLounge news stories on the KCA-420i.
Audiovox also announced an adapter to enable you to hear an iPod through your car stereo system. The Audiovox iPod Mobile Interface Kit allows for a direct connection of the iPod to most factory car stereos, letting you operate the iPod with the stereo controls. The $200 accessory will also charge the internal battery of the iPod and offers steering wheel control support (if the car is already equipped). Since the Audiovox iPod Mobile Interface Kit is fairly easy to install (with a plug-in connection to the CD Changer port), the company is offering it as both a dealer installed and a do-it-yourself program.
Following up on its December 2004 announcement, Clarion unveiled a fully integrated iPod solution for its new VRX755VD in-dash DVD player/monitor. The VRX755VD features a touch-screen, seven-inch monitor that can display playlist, song and artist information, a clock and any engaged sound enhancement features, and is expected to ship in February 2005.
Clarion also showcased a separate CD receiver solution for the iPod at the event. Scheduled for a mid-2005 launch, this iPod interface is compatible with Clarion’s CeNET-equipped source units (includes CD receivers and in-dash DVD players with monitors).
Compact Power Systems
Compact Power Systems expanded its Cellboost line of disposable battery/chargers for cell phones with a new device for the iPod. (The company also launched new models for smart phones, camcorders, and Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP and DS systems.) The compact Cellboost is capable of bringing powerless or near-powerless iPods back to life without any external electricity, battery changes or significant charging time. The Cellboost units will also allow for users to continue usage while simultaneously charging their device. It can also be used in one charging session or several, and can be thrown away when its power is exhausted. The company said the iPod unit “delivers several hours of additional playback time” and did not provide pricing.
Griffin Technology announced a handful of new, innovative iPod products that further broaden its existing slate of iPod offerings.
The AirClick Remote will allow users to control an iPod (play/pause, next/previous, volume up/down) from up to 60 ft. away. It will use 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 full-sized iPods and one for iPod minis – and will ship with a remote, receiver, a remote cradle and straps for attachment 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. The company plans to market the solution (remote and dongle) as an excellent addition to Apple’s Airport Express with AirTunes. The AirClick USB product will also be able to control iTunes while it is in the background (behind other applications).
Griffin also debuts the SmartDeck audio cassette adapter for third- and fourth-generation iPods as well as iPod minis. The new accessory will allow 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.
Expected availability and pricing for the new Griffin accessories is not yet available.
Speaking at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, Hewlett-Packard’s CEO Carly Fiorina disclosed that the company plans to introduce its own version of Apple’s iPod photo later this year. HP had no further comment when contacted for additional details.
Hewlett-Packard already sells the “Apple iPod from HP” (iPod+hp), which is identical to Apple’s fourth-generation iPod save for different engraving, packaging and instructions, but often sells at more heavily discounted prices. The company is also well-known for its printers and Printable Tattoo stickers for the iPod, and has been working on iPod-compatible printing solutions for some time.
According to reports published during CES, Hitachi’s 1-inch Microdrive hard-disk drive, which is currently used in Apple’s iPod mini, will at least double in capacity before the end of 2005. “At present Hitachi’s most capacious Microdrive can hold 4GB of data, but the new drives, due in the second half of this year, will be able to hold between 8GB and 10GB, said Bill Healy, senior vice president of product strategy and marketing at HGST. In addition to offering more storage space, the drives will also occupy about 20 percent less volume than current models, said Healy. One of the biggest space savings will come from replacing the Compact Flash interface with a ZIF (zero insertion force) connector of the type favored by consumer electronics makers.”
As forecast on iLounge Backstage in November, Klipsch introduced a new high-performance speaker system designed specifically for the iPod. The Klipsch iFi is a 2.1 configuration that comes with two Klipsch Reference Series RSX-3 satellite speakers, a dedicated subwoofer, iPod docking station and RF remote in a sleek silver finish. Each RSX-3 satellite is a two-way, magnetically shielded speaker that employs a 3.5-inch aluminum woofer and a 0.75-inch titanium dome compression driver coupled to a round MicroTractrix Horn. The woofer is a long-throw unit driven by ceramic magnetic motor structures. The Cerametallic cone is lightweight has excellent rigidity, according to the company. The subwoofer has a built-in Class D amplifier that offers 200 watts of peak system power and also features a slot port and line level input. The Klipsch iFi system is scheduled to ship in March for $399.
MacMice announced the PodBuddy, a new car connection system for Apple’s iPod. The solution consists of a high-grip cigarette lighter plug, connected to an adjustable cradle with built-in FM transmitter by a 6-inch length of flexible steel tubing. The mounting/charging cradle uses an adjusting mechanism to fit any model of iPod or iPod mini with dock connector. The FM transmitter automatically selects and displays the best available FM radio frequency. PodBuddy also includes a line output jack at the lighter plug end of the product, for direct connection to an appropriate car stereo system. The PodBuddy is offered in both white and Special Edition black versions, and will begin shipping in February for $99.99.
Monster released further information about iCruze, its iPod auto solution that allows users to play their music collection through their car audio systems. Originally announced in November for $199.95, the accessory is now priced at $249.95. The availability of iCruze has also been pushed back. It was supposed to ship before the end of the year, but is now scheduled to ship in early Q1 2005. One piece of good news is that Monster now says iCruze will work with Alpine M-Bus aftermarket car stereos without additional cables—most cars will require the Monster Factory Linx Interface Cable and may also require a Monster Factory Linx Interface Module (both sold separately).
During a CES keynote presentation Thursday, a Motorola executive previewed a new iTunes-compatible mobile phone with an iPod-like interface. “It syncs with a computer and the iTunes Music Store like an iPod does, and incorporates the iPod interface for navigating and playing digital music, said Ron Garriques, a Motorola executive vice president. The phone is the first of many Motorola devices that will support iTunes this year, said Garriques. He didn’t provide product details for the phone or say when it would be available.” Motorola in July announced a licensing deal with Apple to bring iTunes to its mobile phones. Last month, an Apple executive said the phone was due in the first half of 2005.
The first picture of the new Motorola iTunes-compatible mobile phone subsequently made its way onto the Web.
Video game peripheral maker Nyko Technologies announced a lineup of all-new iPod accessories, without pricing: MoviePlayer, an add-on that “transforms the iPod into a complete multimedia center,” allowing users to transfer and play movies, videos and photos on a 3.5-inch 65,000 color TFT screen with built-in control pad; iTop Button Relocator, an adaptor that plugs into the iPod’s remote port to relocate all basic control functions from the front of the player to the top of the iPod; Speaker Dock, a charging cradle that lets users listen to music on their iPod in stereo sound while charging; and Universal Car Mount, an auto holder for mounting the iPod or iPod mini in the car, featuring a quick release for easy installation.
Nyko also debuted iBoost, a compact rechargeable battery pack for iPods with dock connectors that adds up to 16 hours of extra playtime; iBoost mini, a slim rechargeable battery pack for iPod mini that adds up to 10 hours of extra playtime; Charger Case for iPod, a shock-resistant aluminum charger case with built-in power supply that will fully power an iPod three times before it needs recharging itself; Stereo Link, a dock connector to RCA plug cable that allows the iPod to connect to any device such as a home stereo and other devices; and FireWire Adaptor, a high performance adaptor that allows the iPod to connect to a FireWire port for transfer speeds of 400Mbps.
OpenPeak, a leading provider of software enabling control of digital content, consumer electronics and systems in the Digital Home, announced the company’s flagship Thinking Homes software will feature remote control support for iTunes. “Now, consumers using controllers powered by OpenPeak software can view and select play lists and songs without being tied to the PC that hosts the Apple iTunes library,” said Andrew Lona, OpenPeak’s Chief Marketing Officer. “This remote control software solution enables playback on an Apple AirPort Express with AirTunes or on a PC.” The full solution will be commercially available later this year.
Pioneer Electronics introduced an adapter to allow users to play songs from their iPods through the company’s car stereos. The CD-IB100 adapter works with the IP-Bus system in more than three million Pioneer head units that were “sold during the past several years.” Pioneer stereos will be able display up to eight characters of text including album, artist and song names, with the ability to scroll additional information. Users will be able to operate their iPods with the stereo’s front panel controls. The CD-IB100 adapter, which will be available in March for $140, also takes full advantage of Pioneer’s audio enhancement capabilities such as Easy Equalizer (EEQ) and Bit Media Expander (BMX).
TEN Technology announced that it will be bundling its long-awaited naviPlay Bluetooth Adapter for iPod with Hewlett-Packard’s Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with integrated wireless remote control. This bundle will be available starting February 1 from hpshopping.com for US$239.99. “The combination of HP’s headphones and TEN’s Bluetooth adapter allows iPod users to listen to their music completely wirelessly without compromising audio quality. The bundle combines the Bluetooth innovations of TEN and HP to let iPod users be totally untethered to their iPod for ultimate freedom.”
Time Trax introduced a new solution that enables users to automatically record satellite radio broadcasts – either XM or Sirius – onto iPods for later listening. With the company’s recording software with scheduling features and its iPod docking station, users can create personalized programming of broadcasts and save songs (with artist and title info). The product, which currently only works with Windows-based computers, will sell for $199. It will include the DockTrax cradle, TimeTrax software, and a receiver.
Upbeat Audio introduced the Boostaroo Revolution, a pocket-sized audio amplifier and two-way splitter that provides high-end headphones (greater than 60 ohm impedance) with high-definition 3-channel surround sound quality. “The Revolution has been scaled down to about the size of a disposable lighter to match the size of the new, smaller MP3 players and features the same durable, high-gloss white plastic housing as today’s popular iPods.” The Revolution, which will be priced “under $80,” uses two AAA batteries (included) that will provide about 20 hours of constant use.
XM Satellite Radio
XM Satellite Radio said it had discussions about a combo portable audio player and XM receiver with several companies, including Apple, but there are no current partnerships and no plans for an imminent announcement. However, XM has registered the trademark “SkyPod”, which strongly suggests that the company plans to release an iPod-compatible device.