MacWorld 2013 concludes today at Moscone West convention center in San Francisco. It’s been years since I’ve attended MacWorld and my impression of the show has not changed much over the years. It’s light on any real announcements and has a kind of flea market feel to it due to exhibitors directly selling their products on the show floor. While there were a few big companies like Seagate, Western Digital, HP, and Seenheiser there to simply show their product lines, there were also lots of smaller companies hawking their goods and taking payments.
There were some notable and interesting products at this year’s show but this article is not about that. That will come later. This article is about products at MacWorld that made me go ‘Hmmmmmm’. Now I’ll freely admit that it’s a matter of personal taste and in some cases, my impression could be due to my complete lack of understanding of their market but I’ll present the list to you and my reasoning and you can decide for yourself if I’m completely off base or the products are just plain losers.
First up is anything having to do with screen protection. Many modern smart phones and tablets are made of Corning Gorilla glass or some other equivalent to provide more than adequate protection against scratches under normal use. Sticking a piece of plastic on top of the screen is like adding a so-called radiation shield or signal booster to a mobile phone. At best, it does nothing and at worst, it’ll degrade the performance or visual experience.
Any app or software to overcome Apple’s artificial barriers
There’s a whole mini industry built around tools to address Apple’s artificial restrictions on iOS. Whenever I see some app or software that addresses the lack of a usable file manager or iOS’s refusal to play any video format other than MP4, I just cringe and think you’ll never have that problem with Android or a jailbroken iPhone or iPad. Of course, this has nothing to do with the vendors selling these solutions to address these artificial problems. At anytime, their entire product line can be wiped out overnight if and when Apple decides to remove these artificial barriers.
Skins for the back of 27” iMacs
I understand the market for skinning mobile devices like tablets, phones, and even laptops. They are often in the public view and skinning allows the user to make their device personal. But on the show floor, I saw a company selling skins for an Apple iMac 27” computer. Personally, I don’t find the brush aluminum look of the iMac so hideous that I have an overwhelming need to cover it up. I don’t have the statistics but I suspect the back of many iMac 27” monitors are probably facing a wall so skinning it is about as smart as skinning the back of a refrigerator or the back of a flat screen TV.
While Kanex makes a wide range of products, many of them innovative and useful, the DoubleUp at $49 is a complete waste of money. In short, this is a wall charger with two 2.1 amp USB charger ports. U.K. network operator O2 found in a recent study that 70% of their customers already own a compatible wall charger. In a bid to cut down on electronic waste, they no longer ship wall chargers with the HTC One X phone and plan to phase out wall chargers altogether by 2015. Customers can still purchase a charger at cost. In January 2013, O2 announced 82% of their customers who bought the chargerless HTC did not order another charger. It seems Kanex has decided to go the other way and created a solution looking for a problem. Even if you are among the few in the minority who needs more USB charger ports, you can easily solve that problem by buying another wall charger for about $10 or for a more elegant solution, consider the Leviton T5630-W 2.1-Amp USB Charger/Tamper-Resistant Receptacle at only $20. I imagine there might be a very small number of users who just have to have two 2.1 amp charger ports from a single wall unit but it’s got to be rare.
Double Robotics iPad mobile stand
I have mixed feeling about this one. It was one of the most notable devices at MacWorld. It’s fun to watch a self balancing stand supporting an iPad roam around on its own but at $2000, it’s practical application may be limited. I don’t see it lasting very long if used by an employer to monitor workers on a factory floor. I foresee many “accidents” in that kind of scenario. Check out the video for a demo.
Any mapping/gps apps
There were a few companies showing their mapping/gps apps. I have to give them credit for thinking they can compete against the juggernaut that is Google and Apple but here they are trying to convince people they can do it better.
A search engine that is not Google or Bing
Yahoo gave up the search business and handed it over to Bing but the folks at IZIK seem to think they can do better than Google or Bing introducing a curated search app for tablets driven by Blekko. They claim to be the first search app tailored specifically for tablets. While it does look better on a tablet using tiles, what raised my eyebrow was their decision to use a search engine other than Bing or Google. Search results is the most important criteria. Visual presentation is secondary. When questioned about their decision to use another search engine, the rep asked if I had ever heard of Blekko. Of course I haven’t and there’s your problem. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I decided to search for the trending topic ‘Bank of America crash’. As expected, Google and Bing both gave me relevant news links to the 16 hour old Bank of America system crash that affected millions. IZIK, on the other hand, decided it was more relevant to give me three links to the book Crash Of The Titans and a link to a 2002 story about a Cessna crashing into a Bank of America building. If this is what curated search is about, I want no part of it.
Hydrogen fuel cells to charge mobile devices (warning: math ahead)
Lastly, I present you with myFC PowerTrekk. They make a portable battery pack, hydrogen fuel cell combo unit that will sell for $229 plus $4 for each power puck. The battery component holds 1,500 mAh, typical of what you would see in the iPhone 5 (1,400 mAh) or 70% the Samsung Galaxy SIII (2,100 mAh). Either by design or accident, they decided to express the capacity of the power puck in watt hours instead of mAh making comparisons difficult. On their site, they list the power puck capacity at 4 watt hours. The conversion from watt hours to milliamp hours is mAh = (watt hours/voltage) * 1000 so for the Samsung Note II which uses 3.8 volts, the solution is (4/3.8)*1000 or 1,052 mAh. So for $229, you get 1 iPhone 5 charge if you pre-charge the battery and for every power puck you insert, you get about 75% charge at $4 each. For comparison, you can buy a HyperJuice Mini 7200mAh external battery for $100 which will give you 5 times the charge for an iPhone 5. If you happen to be an extreme mountain climber who just have to have power for your iPhone while scaling El Capitan and would rather use water to create power when added to a proprietary power puck, the PowerTrekk might be for you. For us mere mortals, a power pack might be the more practical, if not less exotic solution.