You’ve already seen our 2009 Best of Show Awards, and you already know that we were thoroughly disappointed with most of what we saw at Macworld Expo this year. There were, however, a number of interesting products that are actually worth bringing to your attention, so here they are.
1. Incipio’s Butterfly: The iPod touch is becoming an increasingly popular gaming platform, and rendering the device easier to hold during twists and turns has been a goal of certain developers. Butterfly, which will sell in the $20 range, is intriguingly feminine from the front but designed with smarter, more affordable rear grips than Marware’s Game Grip. It’ll be interesting to see whether female gamers like the design, but it’s definitely eye-catching, and transforms the touch into something like a funky picture frame when you’re not playing with it.
2, 3, 4. Just Mobile’s Xtand Pro, Aluminum Cooling Bar + Metal Mouse Pad: We really loved last year’s iPhone and iPod touch Xtands, metal rotating desk mounts for these devices. A new MacBook version, Xtand Pro ($90), is one of the nicest laptop stands we’ve seen, designed to adjust to two heights while completely matching the aluminum of both MacBook and MacBook Pro models. Two other accessories, as yet unnamed, offer a solid, diamond-cut aluminum cooling bar for MacBook use, and a solid, Mac-matching aluminum mouse pad. We were all really impressed by how these items looked.
5. Power Support’s Anti-Glare Film for the Unibody MacBook: Amazingly, Apple is planning to charge a $50 premium just to remove the glass faces of its 17” MacBook Pro laptops so that the screens aren’t glossy and potentially problematic outside. Japan’s Power Support has a nice alternative solution: a $35 sheet of precision-cut clear film that cuts glare and fits perfectly on MacBook computers. We’re going to be excitedly testing this over the next few days.
6, 7, 8. XtremeMac’s Luna Voyager, MicroMemo for nano 4G and 4-Port HDMI Switcher with New Remote: While XtremeMac had an extremely rough 2008, it’s back with support from new owner Memorex and a collection of interesting new accessories. Luna Voyager, the $80 travel clock dock briefly shown last year, re-emerged with an entirely new, glossy and soft-touch rubber body design, plus side-firing, metal-grilled speakers. Highly attractive, the Voyager is no longer being pitched as a travel clock due to the more fragile materials it uses, but it’s cool for the price. The iPod nano 4G version of MicroMemo ($50) improves on speaker quality from its predecessor, and the mostly similar 4-Port HDMI Switcher ($100) from its XtremeHD series will soon include a new remote control that works both to switch AV inputs and control the Apple TV.
9. Blue’s Mikey: Announced last year and delayed into this year, Mikey ($80) is the first iPod-specific product from Blue Microphones, a company with distinctively nice industrial designs and a great deal of concern over microphone audio quality. The good news is that its bottom-connecting stereo microphone Mikey has, according to the company, been engineered to record more natural sound than any competing iPod stereo mic accessory; it also flexes on a hinge into your choice of positions. The bad news to us is that it forces you to choose between three manual gain levels rather than possessing auto gain control—the company views this as a positive because of its impact on audio quality—and that it costs a lot, arguably too much, given that there are new $20 iPod microphone solutions out there. We’ll see whether Mikey’s sound quality is worth such a premium when we test it.
10, 11. Two Philips Speakers: While unfortunately named, two new speaker systems from Philips—SBD7000 ($120) and SBD8100 ($150) caught our attention due to their interesting approaches to iPod touch and iPhone orientation. The cheaper, blue and white changing backlight-enhanced SBD7000 is shaped like a carved ball with a rolling iPod dock in the center, letting you manually change the dock’s orientation for easier viewing. It produces stereo sound, despite the unusual shape. SBD8100 is shaped like a handled speaker plate and instead has a motororized dock, switching iPod or iPhone orientations automatically with the touch of a remote control button. We weren’t able to give them sufficient audio testing, but the ideas are definitely interesting.
12, 13, 14. Harman Kardon’s AKG-Branded Headphones, Earbuds, and Canalphones: Announced last year, Harman Kardon’s initiative to bring Austrian-designed AKG headphones to the United States is finally underway. Armed with separate earbud, canalphone, and cup-style headphone lines that each range in price from cheap to semi-premium, sometimes premium—rather than just “cheap earbuds, mid-range canalphones, and expensive headphones,” the AKG lineup has been cosmetically designed to turn heads; the noisy show floor was regrettably not a good place to determine whether individual models will inspire the same impressive feelings in listeners. The K 340 canalphones, K 272 HD headphones, and K 319 earbuds are said to be the company’s current cream of crop offerings, and if they follow in AKG’s sonic traditions, they may well turn out to be very worthwhile.
15, 16. Griffin’s TuneBuds Fit and Navigate: On the lower end of the canalphone spectrum, Griffin’s latest version of its TuneBuds earphones—TuneBuds Fit ($50)—has a really nice industrial design that looks like pinched metal, helping you guide the canalphones into your ear canals, as well as transparent plastic cabling that shows off helix-style conductors inside. How do they sound? Wait for our review, but we’ve been more impressed by recent Griffin earphones than ones released in the past. We’re also pretty interested in Navigate, first shown in our 2009 iPod + iPhone Buyers’ Guide, which seems set to finally offer a nice-looking display remote solution for iPods and iPhones, as well as FM radio runing. It works with all current and 2007 iPods and iPhones, but ties into the upcoming iFM free Griffin radio application for iPod touch and iPhones to add additional functionality—the reason iFM won one of our Best of Show Awards this year.
17, 18, 19. Speck’s Fabric MacBook Cases: Called AftPack, CorePack and PortPack, Speck’s new line of fabric MacBook carrying cases range from backpacks to messenger and upright shoulder bags, sell for $80-$100, and have the same really crisp pinstripe and brown plaid styles originally found in the company’s Fitted series of cases for the iPhone 3G. We’re in the process of playing with one at the moment to report on its quality, but we really dig their classically cool looks.
20. BlackMagic Design’s H.264 Video Recorder: Capable of taking composite or even component AV input—yup, component—this little video stick does realtime encoding of your videos into an iTunes, iPod, or iPhone-friendly H.264 format. We’re especially interested in it because of BlackMagic’s reputation as a legit developer of high-end Macintosh video encoding solutions; this lower-end version is packed with software that makes video capture very easy, and the simple USB-connected hardware dongle doesn’t require a Mac Pro like the company’s other products. It remains to be seen whether it’s worth the $150 asking price, but we’ll be anxious to find out for ourselves.
These were the other highlights of a show that has radically declined in excitement and, apparently, attendance from last year’s event. If you missed them before, you can read our 2009 Best of Show Awards for our very top picks from this year’s trade shows, and our explanation of why the list’s only 20 items long, here.