Accessory Sunday: Apple iPad case

image From the positive reactions, you might think that nothing could drive a wedge between iPad owners and their new Apple devices. But one of the first Apple accessories for its slate puts a wedge under or behind it. Typically understated but atypically absurdly functional at the expense of form, Apple’s rubbery iPad case does triple duty. When its cover is folded back on itself into a tab, it allows the iPad to be be oriented vertically for presentations. Or if its laid flat, it dramatically improves tying on the device since the user has a much better view of the screen. And it does this all without adding much bulk to the iPad’s sleek profile.

What’s not to love? First, the iPad is a little tricky to get in and out of the case, although that seems to be getting a bit easier as it may be wearing in a bit. Second, the perforation on the cover leaves the top a little floppy as its bent back. So, while the case is practically a must-buy today, I suspect that third parties will soon be introducing superior options, perhaps even that integrated keyboard model I’ve suggested.

Apple iPad: First impressions

imageThe iPhone was really something of a talking dog. It was so amazing that Apple had brought such functionality to something that was so omnipresent that it was relatively easy to forgive the cramped interface and incessant swiping that sometimes seemed required to get things done. In a form of geek noblesse oblige, advanced users accepted these limitations understanding that it was part of the platform’s overall gestalt that brought new users into the smartphone ecosystem.

But you’ll find less of that feeling of compromise with the iPad. Yes, technically the iPad is very similar to a large iPod touch. But it is also an unbound iPod touch – unbound by the constraints of screen size, limited battery life, cramped keyboard, and a user interface that lacks some of the efficiencly boosters Apple has now implemented.

As I noted in a recent Laptop Magazine article, I put the iPad closer to a notebook on the smartphone-notebook continuum in terms of functionality and usage scenarios. And yet, the iPad is not a netbook, nor do I think it aspires to be one even though at least some of the tasks — most notably, e-mail and Web access — can be managed pretty well on it. But a BlackBerry handles e-mail pretty well, too. Furthermore, I think it would be the wrong path for Apple to try to make the iPad more netbook-like; this would work to the detriment of the device experience and would of course risk cannibalizing Apple’s Mac business. So far, the lack of multitasking is even less of an issue on the iPad than on the iPhone as you’re far more likely to be engaged with the device as you use it, and there is less need to have geolocation apps running in the background. Lack of Flash is being addressed by video providers — perhaps even Hulu — working on their own iPad apps.

Continue reading

The iPad will need more mileage with MPG

Two of the most acute editorial minds in the business used this final week before the introduction of the iPad to weigh in on its impact. Lance Ulanoff says that the iPad, while successful, won’t be a game changer whereas Mike Elgan characterizes the iPad as a paradigm shift and the dawn of the era of “MPG” (Multitouch, Physics, Gestures) computing.

in fact, the perspectives are not irreconcilable. Lance discusses the iPad as a product standing on its own merits whereas Mike discusses it more as a symbol of what the future of computing could hold. There is a certain approachability and natural quality about “MPG” that I believe helped the iPhone broaden the smartphone market even before apps came on the scene. However, that doesn’t mean that the difference is necessarily enough to force a new device class into consumers’ hands, particularly when there is significant and well-understood quasi-competition such as netbooks..

Indeed, Mike characterizes Microsoft’s Surface table as an “MPG” device, but price size and other factors have prevented Surface from cracking the mass market or even the consumer market. That said, I believe Microsoft is working on ways to make at least part of Surface available on smaller LCDs

I found it an interesting coincidence that, in a recent Laptop Magazine piece, fellow analysts Tim Bajarin, Roger Kay, and Michael Gartenberg – all long-time Apple watchers – agreed with me that first year estimates for the iPad are in the five million unit range. As I noted in that article, it’s an auspicious start, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPad will displace anything or becoming so much of a need-to-have that it becomes firmly established as the elusive “fourth screen.”

Accessory Sunday: Good Grips’ Cord Catch

imageA new feature being tried out here at Out of the Box is Accessory Sunday, which will take a look at some handy little products that purport to make our digital lives just a tiny bit easier. The inaugural product is about as simple an accessory as one can find. It has no moving parts and requires no power. However, the elegantly sculpted Good Grips Cord Catch shows the focus on design that permeates Oxo’s kitchen gadgets.

The Cord Catch will work with most peripheral cables such as USB connectors, and  AC adapter cables . Its chrome dome form has a nice heft resting on its rubber base so it will stay put on your desk (unless an unsavory colleague take it, but of course i can be easily hidden in a drawer). At $7, it is a small inexpensive way to add a touch of convenience and ,cachet to your cables, and it looks as though Oxo is already on to its next computing accessory with the Good Grips Plug-In Charging Shelf.

Introducing Volume Up, my new blog at CNet

For those who didn’t see the announcement on Twitter, I’m excited to share that I’ve started a new column for CNet called Volume Up that will discuss trends in NPD information and how they relate to consumer technology. It will be anchored in longer monthly posts but may include shorter pieces for updates and color as well.

My first post on the future of portable navigation devices (such as those from Garmin and TomTom) in light of rising smartphone penetration and the free availability of turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps.

I extend many thanks to my colleagues at NPD and those at CNet who worked to make this happen.

“Dude, there’s your car”

imageA product debuting at CES that I got to catch up with at Showstoppers at CTIA was Finder Technologies’ Auto-Finder, a sub-$100 device that is ridiculously easy to install by oneself– a relative rarity in the mobile (in-vehicle) electronics market. After affixing the transmitter to some surface in one’s vehicle with adhesive, consumers can use the key fob to find their way to said transportation.

One thing that makes the Auto-Finder noteworthy is its great range. The company claims that the system will feature from half a mile away even in dense areas. Auto-Finder can also indicate vertical directions, for those times when you’re in a multi-level parking garage. The transmitter uses AA batteries and the receiver AAAs, and the company estimates six months of battery life given what I would consider extraordinary usage.As you see, it comes in what seems to be a protective carrying case, which seems odd for a product that will be installed and perhaps never relocated.

I was surprised to learn that the heart of the system is two amplified Bluetooth radios as that is not a technology typically associated with long range, but company representatives said they had to actually dial down the power of the device to ensure that they did not run afoul of FCC regulations, To some extent the product competes with various smartphone apps that allow you to mark your location or the  Bushnell Backtrack, but you don’t have to mark your location before leaving the car with Audo-Finder). Besides, GPS-based devices can be ineffective in, say, underground lots

About the only thing I didn’t like about the product was the annoying and conspicuous beeping that it makes in guiding you toward your vehicle. I suppose that provides an effective and low-cost solution, but I think the product would draw much less attention to itself with a backlit LCD or even an LED array. Still, this looks like a nice gift idea for the easily bewildered who already have a PND.

Simple charging that’s green and keen

EcoCHARGE Energy-Efficient Wall ChargerDilemma: I have no love of bards that include all caps, but I I admire when companies bring thoughtful touches to workaday products. The latter outweighs the former for the EcoCHARGE from the nearly palindronic Ventev. I met with the company at the MobileFocus event at CTIA.

This environmentally conscious charger includes a TI chip to prevent so-called “vampire power” consumption, but is loaded with many nice touches, such as a form factor that won’t cover other outlets in a typical power strip, a large but not overbearingly bright white charging indicator light, a hinge for adjusting the angle of the cord, and an extra, covered USB port. Even the arc of the grip on the plug side of device was explicitly designed to help remove the device from the wall. The only extra Id like to see would be a retractable cable so that the whole charger is more compact, because I plan to take it everywhere I travel, and perhaps support of USB 3.0 for faster charging.

At least two other companies with more ambitious charging systems had a presence at CTIA. The Gadgeteer has a good review of the iDAPT system, and Powermat, the magnetic induction charging system making a big push at Best Buy and Target that I’ll be writing more about.

Zigging when expecting a Zagg

image At Showstoppers this week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Zagg, makers of the Invisible Shield and a number of other neat accessories that the company as showing at the event.. One question I had was how a company that focused on inexpensive mobile accessories such as screen protectors got interested in making a high-end home AV multimedia tour de force such as the mighty Zaggbox.

Zagg’s nonobvious answer is that, in selling so many iPhone accessories, the company amassed a database of digital media enthusiasts who cried out for a solution like the Zaggbox, which is expected to sell for somewhere between $800 to $1,000. In any case, before going out on such a limb, the company plans to float the product and get feedback on it at the EHX trade show, where  it may come face-to-face with its first customers, custom installers.

3D user interfaces in plane sight

imageOne aspect of 3DTV that holds particular for me is the impact that it may have on user interface. For example, 3D could lead to a complete rethinking of the electronic programming guide.. I’ve seen one early demos of 3D information overlay  from cable supplier NDS that show how 3D could affect on-screen information presentation, and have heard many tales of woe about the difficult debates that have occurred in the industry over the proper depth location for closed captioning when watching 3DTV.

Last week, though, I got to see at least one demonstration of a 2D user interface at the Panasonic public demonstration near Penn Station in New York. nVidia was showing off its 3D gaming system using an otherwise unmodified version of Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed racing game. The 3D effect wasn’t too different from playing a racing game without the glasses although the whole picture seemed to be inset within the TV, and the difference really became clear in “cockpit view” where your perspective is through the car’s windshield. The user interface elements floated above the action in a pretty basic but effective way. As games and other content become more optimized for 3D, I suspect we will see more experimentation with translucence and other 3D effects.

For 3D, Panny in store, Sammy online

image At the sale of the first 3D television at Best Buy in New York’s Union Square, Best Buy representatives agreed with their partners at Panasonic that 3D was an experience best merchandised in the store. In fact, Best Buy would not roll out its Panasonic TVs onto the main selling floor until later in 2010, highlighting the newest technology in the Magnolia home theater specialty section.

Apparently, though, there’s no compunction about selling Samsung 3DTVs online as Best Buy, along with other retailers such as Amazon,  is offering a 55” LED television and offering free shipping when purchased in a bundle that includes the glasses, a Blu-ray player, and Geek Squad setup. The difference comes down to how manufacturers want to manage their channel distribution. While Best Buy can take advantage of selling the Samsung online though, it retains an advantage in avoiding competition with online retailers for the Panasonic.