MacWorld SF: Cool Stuff

A brief run through MacWorld gave two major impressions:

  1. It was packed. Even more crowded than CES (though much smaller of course)
  2. The signal-to-noise ratio of interesting products was way better than CES


Let’s take a look at some of the things that caught my interest from a design point of view, starting with Apple.

Apple

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The MacBook Air really is quite breathtaking. It feels great in the hand, and the break from pure rectangular geometry makes it more interesting to tumble in your hands. It’s sort of a giant iPod, taking on the pillowed look. The corner radii are much larger than previous MacBooks, giving it a softer aesthetic. I had been wondering when Apple’s designers would get tired of the strict geometric style and start to branch out - this appears to be it.

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For someone (not unlike myself) who spends quite a bit of time in transit and on planes, the light weight and small size (won’t get squished by the airplane seat in front of you crashing back) are perfect. While many have expressed their opinions about where Apple should have left in/cut features, my one quibble is with the exclusion of an ethernet port. Yes, there’s a dongle adapter (extra $), but it’s one more thing to remember and carry for those still common hotels that don’t have wireless. And since it only has one USB connector, it will tie that up, so you’ll have a choice of ethernet or, say, usb key. Also, it requires a video out adaptor, but I carry one of those anyway for VGA projectors.

The MBA is another example of Apple pushing the envelope on connectivity and data transfer methods. The original Mac adopted the nascent 3.5” floppy disk, Apple was one of the first to adopt 802.11, it switched to USB and dropped legacy proprietary connectors, and it created the Firewire standard (which made it slow to adopt USB 2…). Every time people have complained that the sky is falling, but each time Apple has judged the timing just right and has hit the adoption curve at the right point, and it all works out.

Belkin

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Here’s something blasphemous: My favorite booth at MacWorld was not Apple’s, but Belkin’s. It knocked my socks off.

Think back a few years: Belkin was a ho-hum manufacturer of unsexy cables and nondescript PC accessories. Then came the iPod and they recognized a good thing when they saw it. They jumped on the iPod shooting star and produced a nice line of interesting, well thought out accessories. But essentially they outsourced their aesthetic to the iPod, piggybacking visually as well as functionally on that core device.

Now Belkin is turning into a design and innovation powerhouse in its own right.

In their attractive booth they were showing an amazingly wide array of products, from a hip messenger bag, an HD TV “beamer”, a Skype phone, and Podcast Studio. All were interesting, stylish, well-made with nice materials and fit and finish, and an emerging aesthetic that, while not totally unique, is starting to create a strong Belkin personality.

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One that caught my eye because of its genuine innovation in a totally boring product was their Conserve Surge Protector. It is a thin 8 outlet surge protector (stifled yawn)…with a remote control. Huh? Actually it’s brilliant: You use the remote to turn off the powerstrip when you don’t want it sucking vampire energy. The remote can be used to control one or multiple strips (they have selectable RF channels), so conceivably you could turn off a whole bunch of them in one go in an office or house.

There are two non-switched outlets so you can turn off your energy sucking plasma and leave your TV on to record The Colbert Report. Ironically the power strip itself becomes a source of vampire energy, but it is far less than what is connected to it.

Lastly, the remote looks like a giant on-off switch, about the size of a playing card. It can be attached to a wall-mount, so you don’t have to worry about losing it:IMG_0094.JPG

Let’s hope Belkin can keep up this pace. My hat is off to them.

OmniGroup

OmniGroup is one of my favorite Mac application developers. They make slightly niche, slightly quirky, but always very well crafted and innovative applications that take full advantage of the technologies built into the OS. Omni were showing off their new OmniFocus application, for those who are fans of the GTD approach to task management.

They were also showing (in beta) version 5 of their oddly-named but wonderful application OmniGraffle. This is usually described as diagramming application similar to Visio, but this does its wide range of applications an injustice. I use OmniGraffle all the time for all manner of activities, from resource tracking to brainstorming to creating quick and dirty websites. At frog design it is used by many folks for more traditional information design and taskflow analysis.

Version 5 fixes some of the small niggles from the previous rev, like how the automatic hierarchical tree building works (think org charts). But it also introduces new features like true beziers, improved master pages, a dramatically improved stencil management palette, and an overall streamlined interface that should make working in it significantly faster, especially if on a laptop (goodbye floating palettes).

Crumpler

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I stumbled onto this booth and was immediately enchanted by the Escher meets Bruegel imagery and cardboard castle look. What could it be? There was no name on the outside, so you had to go in to find out. Hmm, sneaky…

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Ah, of course, it’s those whacky people from Crumpler, who make camera bags with names like Six Million Dollar Home. So the outside continues their irreverent and (apparently) random approach to branding themselves. But if you do random consistently and rigorously, it somehow comes together.

By the way, if you look closely at the outside you’ll see the Crumpler logo, as well as James Bond’s white Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me.

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