The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) starts tomorrow. It’s a huge annual trade show, not open to the public, that’s been going on since 1967. Though it’s been held in cities like New York and Chicago, it now takes place in Las Vegas every January. It’s been the coming out party of many technological winners like Blu-ray discs and plasma televisions, as well as some party poopers like one of Microsoft’s 2004 offerings, the “smart watch.” Some companies eschew the trade show to make their own buzz, like Google announcing the release of the Nexus One phone at the Googleplex yesterday. There weren’t many surprises there. And it looks like Apple will be having their own press conference to possibly announce an Apple tablet, which may or may not be called the iSlate, later this month. But over the next few days, other not-so-big tech companies will take advantage of CES to get their names, and their new wireless devices, in front of the public, if only via the press for the time being. This year has several innovative products debuting, some that we’ve heard of, some that we may never hear of again. These are just six that caught our attention.
Washable Cell Phone
Just two years after releasing the world’s first dishwasher safe, medical grade keyboard and mouse, Seal Shield is set to launch their newest addition to the line—a washable cell phone. Who hasn’t heard stories of people dropping their cell phones in the toilet, and then having to make the tough (or, depending on what kind of phone it is, not-so-tough) decision to retrieve it or let it swim with the fishes? Seal Shield takes things a step further by pointing out that cell phones (and keyboards and mice) are breeding grounds for bacteria as a result of regular daily use.
Not everyone washes their hands as often as they should, and even those who do come into contact with those who don’t. We all touch hundreds, possibly thousands of surfaces every day that can be infected with everything from staph to…well, I’ll let your imagination fill in that nasty blank. It’s easy to wash your hands, your clothes, or most hard surfaces, thereby killing those germs and bacteria. But what about electronic devices? Water is their arch enemy. Seal Shield appeals to the germaphobe in all of us by allowing those things to be washed, either by hand with plain soap and water, or, for the diehards, the dishwasher.
Wireless Cell Phone Leash
Have you ever gone to a coffee house or a movie theater and left your cell phone behind? People lose cell phones every day. Sometimes we get lucky and people turn them in, or we just find them sitting where we left them. But most times, we’ve given someone a free gift and then have to through the rigamarole of notifying the carrier, having that phone shut off, buying a new one, getting a new number, and notifying everyone of that new number. Not to mention, if you have a smartphone, it’s much more than a phone. It’s basically a little hand held computer, so when you lose it, you may also lose gigabytes of data, be it contact information, music, photos, or any number of things people keep on their phones nowadays.
ZOMM thinks it has the answer. The brainchild of a mom who kept hearing her kids and their friends complain about lost cell phones, the ZOMM wireless leash is four devices in one. It attaches to any key chain, and the first thing it does is sound an alarm when the user walks away from their cell phone. Granted, if your keys and your cell phone are in the same location—a purse, for example—you’re out of luck. But if you’re one of those people who carries your keys in a pocket, and you leave your phone anywhere, when you reach a certain distance from it, the ZOMM will let you know.
The ZOMM wireless leash also notifies users of incoming calls with both visual and audible notification, and allows them to be answered via the device’s speakerphone. Finally, a switch on the front acts as a panic button, emitting a high pitched alarm and dialing emergency services, which is where that speakerphone comes in handy again.
The drawback is that the device costs $80, so it may only appeal to those who pay a couple hundred bucks for their cell phone. It may become more popular and reasonable, though, if wireless carriers actually do stop subsidizing phones and they become more expensive for consumers.
E-readers are nothing new. They’ve been out for a couple of years now, with the current most popular wireless reading device being Amazon’s Kindle. There’s also the Sony Reader, and Barnes & Noble recently came out with their own device, the Nook. But the technology is still fairly new, and all the existing devices are still coming out with upgraded hardware and updates for software, as bugs or limiting features are exposed by users. A few startups are taking aim at the e-reader market, and think they can do it better.
First, there’s Plastic Logic. For months now, their device has been referred to as the Plastic Logic Reader because it didn’t yet have an official name. Well, it does now. It’s called the Plastic Logic Que. Let that sink in for a moment. I’m sure they mean for it to be pronounced like cue, but any Spanish speakers out there, or even those with just a basic memory of high school Spanish class will tell you that the name is also the Spanish word for what. I found this particularly fitting when I was unable to use one of the company’s released images in this post because it’s merely a profile of the black device, on a black background, in low light, and when resized, the device virtually disappears. What indeed. Is Plastic Logic’s marketing staff just obtuse, or do they think they’re adding mystique? I will be very interested to see whether the company tries to market the Que in any Spanish-speaking countries. It could be the Chevy Nova all over again.*
Two other e-readers with much better names are also set to debut at CES—the enTourage eDGe, and from Hearst Corporation, the Skiff. What’s unique about the enTourage eDGe is that it has a dual screen, and opens the same way a book does. This may turn out to be a little cumbersome, but it boasts a full color screen, and the company’s site says it’s meant to combine “the functions of an e-reader, netbook, notepad, and audio/video recorder and player in one.” It had better do a lot of functions to justify its $490 price tag, $231 more than either the Kindle or the Nook. And the Skiff looks very similar to the Kindle DX, with an 11.5-inch touchscreen display. The device uses metal foil technology, which allows it to be quite probably the thinnest e-reader available. It will also use Sprint to provide 3G connectivity, while the Que has teamed up with AT&T.
No word yet on prices for either the Que or the Skiff.
Smartbooks are being touted as a combination between a netbook and a smartphone. Sized between the two, they’re just small enough to carry around comfortably, yet large enough to allow for some activities that quickly become cumbersome on a smartphone, like reading or surfing the Internet.
The devices will offer 3G connectivity, although no particular carrier has been announced yet. They’re lightweight and claim to offer superior battery life over what you get from either a laptop or smartphone—eight to ten hours. The high-resolution screen allows for movie watching, while the built-in GPS can help you find restaurants or get directions on the go. Another nice feature is the “instant on.” There’s no bootup time, and no waiting for e-mail to download. Everything is ready to go as soon as you turn the smartbook on. No word yet on prices.
A word of caution: Don’t watch the video on the smartbook site. No, really. Don’t. Not if you don’t want to lose any IQ points. Here’s hoping the smartbook marketing gets smarter.
*The story about the Chevy Nova not selling in Spanish-speaking countries is just urban legend, but it fit so nicely here, I couldn’t resist.
Photos courtesy Seal Shield, Zomm, enTourage, and meetsmartbook.com, respectively.