I did not go to CES this year, due to issues with airplanes, weather, and not really thinking ahead about what winter is like. So I watched the Consumer Electronics Show from afar, and waited for the thousands of me-too products to work on tens of thousands of hangovers, and for truly noteworthy items to stand out from the scrum.
I kind of got my wish, even though it is still very, very cold here. What follows are the most intriguing mobile-minded things I saw come across the wire from CES 2014:
Mophie Space Pack: The iPhone can pack in so much camera capability, battery power, and industry-leading industrial design precisely because it is not a device you can open up. The same goes for the HTC One, generally regarded as the most well-made Android phone. The drawback is that you can't swap batteries, and you certainly can't plug in more storage space.
Mophie's Space Pack case for the iPhone 5/5S/5C provides the next best thing on both those fronts. It houses a 1700 mAh battery that extends your battery life significantly, which is nothing particularly new for a battery case. The hook is that it also adds 16 GB or 32 GB of storage space to your iPhone (for $150 or $180, respectively). It's not exactly transparent space you can use for anything; Mophie's app lets you back up and view photos and videos, or check out documents you move over to it. But if the app does just that, and does it well, it's a very intriguing semi-upgrade path for a largely buy-and-live-with-it device.v
Smart headphones from Intel: The chip-maker itself won't be making these headphones, which can monitor your heartrate through your (freakin') ears and boost or chill your music as a result. Intel will instead partner with a manufacturer to push these forward, and by doing so, inspire more wearable technology that uses one particular brand of sensors and processors.
iDapt Modulo M1 stack-able batteries: Sometimes you just need a little assurance that your phone will make it through, say, a football game and tailgate party, or a seriously long day selling items at a market. And then sometimes you're in need of serious power for your devices, like at, say, CES. What the Modulo does is let you buy however many $35-$40 battery packs you might need, then stack them together when you need more capacity, more amperage (charging speed), or multiple device charging. And they do not look ugly, which is not common in the battery backup world.
Oculus Rift: I have read at least 40 write-ups and "Best Of" posts about CES, and not a single one has failed to mention the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset as being the most futuristic, attention-getting, and memorable experience at CES. It's a 1080p display that tracks where your head moves, and is so engaging that the major problem the company faces is motion sickness complaints.
So many vendors and booths scream (in text or words) about "experience," but Oculus Rift's Kickstarter-borne product was the only one truly giving people a sense of where the future of at least one breed of gadgets might be headed. The only thing that really made me feel a pang of jealousy for those in Las Vegas (non-weather-related thing, that is).
Pebble Steel: I make no secret of how much I like my Pebble watch. I backed it on Kickstarter, I wrote two reviews of it here (one after 3 days with a Pebble, another after a week, and I'm fascinated by its development and app possibilities.
The one thing I get a bit sheepish about is its look. It looks like a digital watch, with a rubberized band and a plastic-ish case. At best, it has a kind of Casio throwback feel. But it's not a watch someone who thinks of a watch as a fashion accessory would wear.
Enter the Pebble Steel. It's a $100 upgrade to what is basically the same exact waterproof, Bluetooth-connected, notifying watch, and most of the money goes into the looks. Steel comes with one leather and two metal bands, and a steel, more square and traditional chassis for the watch itself. It's a smart and market-expanding upgrade for a product that, like many of the most impressive at CES, actually came from crowdfunded or garage-born ideas.
That last sentiment, at least, is warming my somewhat cold heart (and fingers, and elbows, and feet).