There's a fine -- if not blurred -- line between innovative and wacky, a point well illustrated at this year's CES 2011 show in Las Vegas, which concluded Sunday. Alongside the next-generation smartphones, tablets, and TVs rolled out and heavily touted by industry leaders were a wealth of products that received little to no attention but warrant a second look -- or a double take.
Following is a look at the wackier -- and in some cases, quite innovative -- products that cropped up at CES 2011.
[ Also at CES: A glimpse of mobile's future and how Microsoft's quiet keynote shows its decline in action. | See more tech oddities in InfoWorld's "10 even wackier USB devices" and "7 crazy iPad accessories" slideshows. ]
Scent Sciences ScentScape While plenty of vendors have been dabbling in bringing 3D products to the consumer market, a company called Scent Sciences is pushing to add a fourth dimension to the mix: scent. The company has plug-and-play product called ScentScape; compatible with PCs and gaming consoles, ScentScape is designed to emit aromas -- birthday cake, flowers, fresh mowed grass, ocean, and roasting turkey -- to complement the action on the screen.
Using the ScentEditor application, a movie such as "Beaches" could be updated (or "scent-enabled") to include the aroma of salty surf. A Vietnam-themed online shooter could include the musk of the jungle or smoke -- or hey, perhaps napalm, for gamers who happen to love that smell in the morning.
The $70 ScentScape is 3.5 inches tall, 4.25 inches wide, and 5.5 inches long, and it provides 20 basic scents per cartridge; each cartridge lasts up to 200 hours.
Marchon3D EX3D glasses Perhaps you're not ready to embrace the fourth dimension that Scent Sciences can provide. But you could be enthusiastic about 3D -- and you want to look your best while taking it all in. Enter Marchon3D. The company, a division of eyewear maker Marchon, announced the mass-market availability of its customizable EX3D glasses at CES.
The glasses themselves are intended for viewing all types of 3D content, including games and movies. The lenses are designed to provide high-definition 3D optics, increased picture clarity, and ultrahigh 3D contrast, while minimizing light contamination, distortion, and haze, according to Marchon. Additionally, Marchon says the 3D glasses can be used outdoors like regular sunglasses, complete with UV protection.
Marchon will offer 25 styles of its 3D glasses, representing "an array of frame and color choices to suit individual tastes." Do consumers really care about what their 3D glasses look like? Darn tootin' they do, according to Hannah Sarbin, VP of new business development at Marchon. "As consumers invest in 3D electronics, they're looking to personalize their 3D eyewear to fit both their aesthetic and technological need. Theater frames simply don't make the cut when viewing 3D content at home in the daylight," she said.
It's a good thing the glasses are designed to block out peripheral distractions. Otherwise, everyone in the room would be too busy admiring one another's slick 3D eyewear to pay attention to the action on the screen.
Marchon3D EX3D glasses will come out later this year and cost $30 to $35.
Citi ThankYou Prestige 2G credit card Credit card terms and rewards have become more and more complicated over the years, and the cards have followed suit. First, magnetic strips were added for electronic transactions. Then small chips showed up in some cards so that consumers could wave their plastic in the general direction of a reader to make a transaction, rather than having to swipe it.
A company called Dynamics has joined forces with Citi to create a new breed of credit card. The Citi ThankYou Prestige 2G Card is built on Dynamics' Card 2.0 platform, and it features two buttons on the front. By pressing the Regular Credit button, users can pay for a purchase with credit as they normally would. Alternatively, they can press the Request Rewards button, allowing them to redeem points or cash rewards when the card is swiped. (Pressing a button activates a corresponding light to confirm the selected option.)
This innovation will no doubt simplify reward-point and cash-reward redemptions -- so as long as the cardholder is keeping a running tab of his or her redemption points and cash rewards, as well as where they can be used and on what sort of purchases. Then again, the cardholder may press the Request Rewards button each time and hope for the best.
Dynamics Card 2.0 technology was named the Best of Innovations Winner for Personal Electronics award at CES, and it's pretty cool. Among the features available to banks and credit card companies for use in ther own cards are buttons for selecting which account -- say, checking or credit -- you want to access when swiping your card. Another feature requires a user to enter a PIN code to display the credit card number, making it less useful to thieves.
Reese's MinisHershey decided that CES 2011 was the perfect venue to unveil its Reese's Minis, "the smallest Reese's peanut butter cups ever." Electronics have gotten smaller. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups have gotten smaller. So they go together! Get it? Note: Feasting on too many handfuls of these nano-candies has an enlarging effect on the user's physique.
ZoomSafer for Android betaYou might be a smartphone addict if you're fully aware of the dangers of "distracted driving" -- that is, driving while texting or chatting on your phone -- but can't bring yourself to turn off your device when you get behind the wheel. A company called ZoomSafer unveiled at CES a software client for the Android OS that can help.
When you start driving, the software kicks in, triggered by in-vehicle telematics, Bluetooth systems, and phone-based GPS services. Once enabled, the software disables emailing and texting. Also, users can set policies to, for example, send an autoreply alerting people that you can't respond because you're driving. You can also set the software to enable hands-free phone calls -- which is just as dangerous as taking a non-hands-free call, just more legal.
The Android client is in beta and available for download from the ZoomSafer site. There's also a BlackBerry version on the market.
SnapKeys 2i keyless keyboardA new riddle emerged at CES this year: Is a keyboard without keys still a keyboard? Don't overthink it; you might get a headache. Rather, consider what a company called SnapKeys has rolled out: an invisible (or, in the company's words, "imaginary") interface for typing on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.
The idea is that you tap at an invisible keypad on your touchscreen with your thumbs as though you were using a traditional QWERTY keyboard. The application itself, according to SnapKeys, has four "imaginary" lettery keys and an advanced word-prediction engine to transform your thumb taps into whatever it is you're trying to type, including letters, numbers, and punctuation. The interface can be dynamically positioned anywhere on the screen, allowing access to menus, data, or whatever else the user wants to view while entering data.
SnapKeys asserts that the interface and word-prediction engine enables a high degree of accuracy: more than 92% for beginners and close to 99% for advanced users. "In rare cases where the system does not predict the desired word, a very quick and easy interaction (about 0.1 second for the advanced user) anywhere on the screen provides the desired word," according to the company's website.
To see the app in action, check out the videos on SnapKey's website.
Trojan Vibrating TwisterTrojan (yes, the condom company) decided that CES 2011 was a perfect venue to unveil its new, er, personal health device called Vibrating Twister. The name says it all. Trojan's new toy is a slightly better fit for CES than Reese's Minis. In addition to being portable -- like a smartphone -- it runs on battery power and, well, vibrates like a smartphone. There's no USB connector or any sort of Bluetooth support, however. Maybe next year?
Ty personal loss-prevention deviceIf placing calls, listening to music, checking email, and surfing the Internet don't constitute enough uses for your smartphone, Cellwitch has come up with a way make your mobile phone a guardian of your valuables.
Cellwitch has developed what it calls a loss-prevention device. The item comes in the form of a cloud- and Bluetooth-enabled disc, the size of a poker chip, that you can attach to up to seven personal possessions, such as your wallet, keys, laptop -- even your pet Schnauzer. You can then use your cell phone to track the movements of the chipped items, up to 50 feet away.
For example, if you were about to leave the house or the office without your wallet, if you were to drop your keys, or if one of your chipped items was taken from you, your phone could send out an alert, both with audio and visual warnings. Users can choose from three sensitivities based on how close by they want a given object: an arm's length, a car's length, or a school bus length.
Another innovative feature: Users of the Ty application could help one another find their lost possessions. A lost item can blindly relay an SOS signal -- along with its location -- to its owner via another user's Ty-enabled smartphone. It then tells the relaying Ty app user that they've helped find someone's lost belonging.
The drawback is that you still run the risk of losing your own phone. Ty will warn a user via LED and buzzing if a cell phone is left behind -- though that's not helpful if the phone is powered off. But perhaps a user could get a second phone to track the first? Or else find a buddy who will track yours for you, and vice versa.
Cellwitch's personal protection device will be available in March for $70. Accessories will range from $5 to $30 in price.
This article, "7 wacky products you missed at CES 2011," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in technology news and get the key insights on the day's news at InfoWorld.com.
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This story, "7 wacky products you missed at CES 2011" was originally published by InfoWorld.