Macworld Expo 2006 ended last Friday in San Francisco and it was quite apparent that 2006 will be the year of iPod accessories. With only 42 million sold last year, there's still a big ol' world out there for Mr. Jobs and his dynamic brand to influence peddle and there are plenty of manufactures who want to protect your iPod, or integrate it into your home, boat, car, and even alarm clock. Apart from the wonderfully received podcast symposium that Culture Catch hosted and Apple's MacBook Pro powered by a dual-core Intel engine (that's a future column-worthy article), there were so many vendors with iPod accessories (headphones, home and automobile docking stations, integrated speaker systems, etc.) that I know I probably missed some very crucial items (accessories, software, hardware, games, etc.). If youâ€™re reading this and that is the case please let me know. What I did see was tremendous high fidelity advancement in the earbud headphone technology. No doubt that the Apple iPod does have one glaring weakness, and that is their standard earbud headphones. One may argue that a MP3/ACC music file is a compromised audio file to begin with when compared to an AIFF file of a CD, cassette tape, or even LP, but the fact remains that the Apple earbud doesn't offer the dynamic range, ear fit, or sturdiness of most headphone manufacturers.
Companies like Shure (E500 Sound Isolating Earphones) are now manufacturing triple driver headphones that offer uncompromised surround sound quality and unprecedented dynamic range in earbud technology. But for me the custom made UE 10 Pro earbuds by Ultimate Ears were tops and at 900 bucks they should be. The company sends you to one of their licensed audiologists who makes a wax impression of your ear and then sends it back to them for your very own custom-fitted earbuds. No question they really can and do knock out any outside noise. I wouldn't recommend using them out on city streets, as you won't hear a thing around you and that could make any New Yorker quite vulnerable to wrong-way bicyclists or would-be muggers. But they can save your ears in the subways and train stations by blocking out grinding and screeching brakes and other harsh, high-decibel assaults you should live without. In fact, a fit this good with A+ components should really inspire low-level volume so that you don't have to crank up the volume to hear your favorite podcast or music playlist. Listening to any of these headphones at above-average sound levels over a course of time can potentially adversely affect one's hearing. And all the manufacturers recommend caution and common sense when using high-end or even entry level headphones.
Another cool company I happened upon was a solar powered mp3/PDA/cellphone recharging device by the environment-centric company Better Energy Systems. Their Solio Solar charger won a Best of MacWorld Expo show award last year. This year they won again for the beautifully realized iPod and laptop cases made of recycled rubber tire tubes from Colombia. They look like expensive leather cases, but are water-resistant, eco-friendly additions to help protect your valuable iPods/MP3 players and laptops/Power Books/iBooks. And speaking of Powerbooks, the new Apple MacBook Pro features a magnetically connected breakaway power cable that detaches from the power input jack on your laptop if someone trips over it or your cat/dog gets tangled up in the wire. No more worries that your laptop will go crashing to the floor and smashing into a million pieces.
One other hip company, which I actually bumped into at the bar at the W Hotel, was the integrated clothing manufacturer Koyono . They've created iPod/cellphone/PDA-friendly clothing with plenty of hidden pockets and a new BlackCoat Work with hidden integrated iPod controls built right into the garment. Their sleek and stylish outerwear and shirts offer form and function and unburden the user from having to carrying a backpack full of electronic equipment. And besides that, they're selling their clothes on-line instead of the traditional retail outlets that utilize traditional advertising paradigms. Nice one, guys.
This is the year that Culture Catch and many of the vendors we do business with will undoubtedly "influence the influencers." You may want to stick around for it.