Some people might think that the Christmas season lasts those musical 12 days. But for me, it's the 15 days of Christmas. Because that's when my true love gives me the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show.
Held every year in Las Vegas, CES is as much a madhouse zoo as you've likely read. But it's Disneyland for Adults, with all manner of technowhiz or wondrous gadget or head-scratching convolution that exhibits will be arriving in the world of technology during the coming year.
CES starts today. Before CES officially begins, there is nonetheless a great deal of activity. Press conferences galore -- most of which I find crashing bores -- as well as evening events like Pepcom's Digital Experience and Showstoppers, which comes along this evening. Far more limited in scope than the real show, these two are much more manageable gatherings of vendors and press. And if you don't yet see the themes that will be coming in technology, between them and the press conferences, you do get a sense of the kinds of advances that lie ahead.
A few interesting products stood out.
Three products helped deal with an issue with Windows 8 for many people. The operating system works fine whether or not you have a touch screen, but it clearly and emphatically is made for touch screens. But most notebooks and monitors don't have that capability. The Targus Touch Pen for Windows 8 and E-FUN's A-Pen Touch 8 resolve that. (In fact, both are near-identical, licensed from Yifang Digital which I wrote about last year at the IFA Berlin tech show.) It's a device that plugs into your USB port and clips onto your monitor. And then, with the use of a "touch pen" your monitor is automatically converted to having touch capability. They retail for around $100.
Logitech does something similar, but in a completely different and elegant way. Their wireless T650 Windows 8 Touch is a small, metal pad about an inch thick and 4x4 inches. When connected by a USB receiver, it creates the exact same experience as if you were using a touch screen. The top is even glass, so you have the same feel of a monitor. It seemed a particularly clever and more usable way of giving you a "touch monitor" experience. The retail price is $80.
I also liked the xPrinter from Lantronix. They introduced the product last year, but it was in the early stages and mainly for "enterprise" systems. Now, it's been fine-tuned, and there's a home edition. What this does is help simplify an issue for users of the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, for which it's very difficult (impossible for some people) to print from their devices. The xPrinter plugs into any router or Ethernet, and this then creates a WiFi connection to your Apple device. At that point, you can now print to any printer connected to the router, simply by using the "Action" arrow on your iDevice.
Freedom Pop offers an absolutely fascinating family of devices for giving you free 4G capability on iPod touches. I think. You'll have to forgive me here -- I spoke with the president of the company, and he was wonderfully enthusiastic about his product and described everything in loving detail, but his skills at creating a great product and running a company with exuberance do not translate to doing PR. As I told him, repeatedly. He laughed, acknowledged his limitation in that area, and kept trying again. So, I can't swear I got everything clear here. Basically, the products connect to your iPod and create a hot spot. From that point on, you can have a 4G connection. You get 500 MB of data streaming/downloads for free a month. Anything more than that, you pay. Most of the devices are "free," sort of. You make a deposit (between $49 and $99 depending on the device) -- and if you ever want to return it, you get your deposit back. The Freedom Sleeve Rocket, however, costs a flat $99. That's in the form of an iPod touch case.
Honestly, I probably have some details wrong here, or left out. For instance, it may also work with other Apple devices, allowing you to stream without using your own 4G. Sorry about this, but I know I'm at least close. Check out their website to get the more totally accurate details.
Speaking of phones, Libon offers a nice app for the iPhone. It's free and lets you create personal answering messages for different people, linking the messages to specific incoming phone numbers. It also converts the incoming message to text, so you can see what the message is about before listening. And if you hit "reply" to call back -- and if the other person is on the Libon network, the call will connect over VOiP, and the call will be free. There are additional features on the premium version, which sells for $2.99 a month.
Quite a lot of Windows 8 notebooks, but the ones that most intrigue me are the convertibles, which work as a touch-screen notebook, but can fold up into a tablet. I've tested a few of these, and like them quite a lot. Clearly they're heavier than a pure tablet, but they're so versatile, offering double the capability. Toshiba has an excellent 0925t, though it's a bit heavy. There were other Windows 8 systems from Samsung with its ATIV line, ASUS and Acer, among others.
Other products that stood out
Carbon Audio has an interesting Bluetooth speaker for tablets. It works for any tablet, but for all iPads and many other tablets of the proper depth, it will slide onto the side and hold itself in place.
Kobo, which makes a popular ebook reader, has a mini-reader. It's only "4x5," small enough easily to stick on your pocket -- almost your shirt pocket, yet the screen isn't all that much smaller than the one on the regular Kobo. It sells for $80.
Kingston has a USB Flash drive with an absolutely stunning capacity. These days, 64 GB is huge. This one is -- are you ready -- 1 terabyte! They also have one that's $500 GB. Both use Flash memory, so they're crushing fast. They're also bulkier than most Flash drives... and they're also both absolutely stunningly expensive. The 500 GB one is -- are you ready -- $1,750. It's very new, so the price should come down a lot soon. But even if it drops to half price, it's clearly not intended for the general consumer market, but those with specific needs. (The terabyte model hasn't been released yet.) Yes, I know the cost is bizarre, but seeing a terabyte Flash drive is just too remarkable and worth mention.
I wrote about Parallels Desktop for Windows 8 in my article on IFA Berlin, but they were at the Pepcom event and deserve another mention. I don't use a Mac, but I'm seriously impressed by this product. Basically it allows you to run any version of Windows on a Mac, and configure it to your liking. And you can run as many different versions of Windows (or other operating systems, as well, I believe), all in separate windows. And all without having to reboot every time you switch operating systems. It's all smooth and elegant and fascinating.
I also made it to the press conference for Hisense, a manufacturer of TVs, among other things, although the press conference didn't make it. However, they did have they have their glassless 3D TV's on display. They license the Ultra-D technology from Stream Networks TV, a small and remarkable company I've been reporting on for about years. They're introducing their new 4K (incredibly high resolution) technology -- and the results were spectacular. I didn't see a full demo, so it's too early to say that this is "game changing" stuff, but it's dancing on the edge. And contrary to what you may have read about glassless 3D TV being years off, this is being manufactured for public sale... now. And hinted-at prices are very reasonable. I should be seeing the Stream TV Networks people later today and look forward to the updates.
And... there was more. Lots more. And this was before the CES zoo even starts.
More to come.
Personal survival optional.