By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
As Apple continues to add capabilities to the iPod, imaginative accessory makers continue to create unique add-ons to what is possibly the most-accessorized product in consumer electronics history. According to various research firms, there are more than 1,000 accessories from more than 200 suppliers, generating annual sales of around a billion dollars.
Dozens of the latest iPod accessories were on view at the recently concluded MacWorld show at the Moscone Center, here. Most of these add-ons fell within five major categories: A/V connecting docks, speaker systems, FM transmitters for use in cars, bags and cases, and a substantial miscellaneous category.
Beyond the standard, Macally has combined the iPod and headphones into a single unit with its mTune line. A slot in the right ear cup in the mTune can accommodate an iPod Shuffle, and in the mTune-N, a nano. Both of the over-the-head models retail for $49.99 and will be available this month in either black or white.
Straying a little farther from the established accessory categories is the ATO iSee, shipping in March at $249, which can turn any fourth-generation and later iPod into an MPEG-4 video recorder. An iPod slides into the iSee, which adds video connectivity to dub video from a PC, DVD player, DVR or VCR and a 3.6-inch color LCD screen.
If the 2.5-inch video-capable iPod screen is too small, there is the MicroOptical myvu personal media video viewer, for a suggested $269.99. Resembling the visor worn by blind engineer Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the 2.4-ounce myvu viewer has twin screens that converge into a single image that looks as if you're sitting in the back row of a movie theater.
Belkin previewed its TuneTalk Stereo (April, $49-$59), an accessory stereo microphone with 44KHz lossless technology and a manual high/low gain switch, ostensibly designed for better lecture recording but will undoubtedly be a boon to sneaky concertgoers.
With video becoming a key iPod feature, a growing number of accessory makers are helping consumers watch downloaded TV shows on their TVs, including two similar products from DLO and Griffin.
DLO's HomeDock Delux (March, $149.99), an update of its earlier audio-only HomeDock, is equipped with composite and S-Video connectors, and includes an onscreen navigation menu system that enables users to browse all the content on their iPod.
Griffin's sleek Tune Center multimedia dock (March $99.99) duplicates the HomeDock Delux feature set and connections, but offers far smoother on-screen menus and adds Wi-Fi for streaming tunes from a PC in case an iPod isn't available. Both the HomeDock Delux and the Tune Center stream video in the iPod's 640 by 480 format, about VHS quality. Once a consumer has connected their iPod to an A/V docking station, the remote control becomes key.
ABTech unveiled the first two-way iPod remote, the iJet Two-Way (March, $99). Available in black or white versions, the iJet Two-Way has a one-line LCD screen that displays the current track and lets users choose the next track.
A few imaginative industrial designers have attacked the auxiliary speaker category with a vengeance. An example is the Rain Design iWoofer (February, $129), which resembles the shuttle pods from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” With a blue halo glow surrounding the down-firing subwoofer, the iWoofer provides 2.1-channel sound along with an FM radio and runs on four AA batteries.
JBL also has gone round with its circular OnTime ($299.95), which doubles as a two-alarm clock radio. Shaped like a natural stone arch, users can wake to 360-degree iPod music or AM/FM radio. OnTime includes a subwoofer output jack and docking cradle adapters to fit all iPod models.
XtremeMac's Tango (March, $199.95) is a 20-watt 2.1-channel speaker system with a 4-inch down-firing subwoofer. An RCA mini jack provides both audio and composite video connections to view Video iPod content on a TV, but the Tango lacks the DLO and Griffin navigation menus.
Many after-market or factory-installed iPod connectivity options were on display in 2006 model cars, including a Volkswagen GTi, Porsche Cayenne, a Jeep, a Mercedes SL65 AMG and also a vintage Buick Riviera. For those consumers without built-in iPod connectivity, several manufacturers showed new FM transmitter devices for beaming iPod music through a car's existing stereo system.
DLO's nanoTune sled (March, $69.99) is four devices in one: an FM radio, an FM transmitter for use in cars that can fix on any frequency rather than only a few, a headphone booster that increases the iPod audio signal from 25 percent to 40 percent, and a protective case that with its top-hinged clear plastic cover flipped around is a nano stand. For use in a car, consumers will need to purchase DLO's standard 30-pin iPod car charger.
Nearly identical nano sleds from ABTech and Scosche operate only as an FM transmitter. The ABTech iJet for nano (February, $59) also sports a hinged top and a slot in the rear for a credit card remote. The Scosche version offers the same sled design but with a sliding clear plastic top.
The Sonnet podfreq ($99.99) for the video-capable iPod offers transmission from any clear FM channel and features an old-fashioned telescoping antenna reminiscent of Ray Walston's on “My Favorite Martian.”
One of the most popular iPod accessory categories is bags and cases. One interesting trend is bags that incorporate speakers, such as the SoundKase line from Scosche and the new LifePod line of stereo beach bags ($50) with built-in speakers.
GoodHope's 5245 Techno laptop backpacks ($194) include Eleksen's five-button control-panel strip on the left back strap, allowing the owner to control volume, pause, select or stop music from an iPod attached to a connector inside the bag. The bags are available in Jet Black, Red Hot and Ice Blue.
But the winner for goofiest iPod accessory is easily the Atech iLounge speaker system (available in March with pricing to be announced), which incorporates an iPod docking cradle and small speakers mounted on the sides of toilet-paper roll holders that fold up in case users already have a toilet-paper dispenser in their bathrooms.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.