Electronic Design

The iPod Creates A Whole New Industry

Let's cut to the chase, bypassing for the moment the deluxe headphones, car chargers, cozy little iPod car seats, colorful knit socks, docking stations for simultaneous charging and synchronizing, and the myriad other paraphernalia designed especially for Apple's portable music player.

Consider the iPort, from Sonance (San Clemente, Calif.), a firm that specializes in architectural audio. The iPort is an in-wall docking station that lets the iPod's music play over any whole-home audio system. In effect, the iPort could turn a home, whether the user's own, or a friend's, into a giant headphone. The iPort lists for $598-installation, whole-home audio system, and iPod are sold separately.

Another of the many iPod-centric options for in-home or in-office sound is the Bose SoundDock, a $299 digital music system rendered in iPod white and designed to play iPod or iPod-mini music while simultaneously charging the player. The SoundDock comes with a remote.

For those on a tighter budget, FXSound, a subsidiary of Power Technology (Brisbane, Calif.), offers a 25-foot MP3 connector consisting of a cable with an MP3 plug on one end and RCA connectors on the other (cost is $19.95). You simply plug one end into the iPod, and the other into the audio input jacks of a home stereo.

Logic suggests that most people who pay hundreds of dollars for a portable media player will want to protect it from damage because dropping the device is all but inevitable. And who wants to slip a well-designed product into a poorly designed case? For that matter, who really wants to be limited to hearing his or her music over headphones when speakers are an option, and why shouldn't the music go wherever a user goes, including a car or an office.

Belkin Corp. (Compton, Calif.) was one of the first firms to introduce iPod accessories that leverage the product's design. "When Apple introduced the third-generation iPod, it put a docking connector on the bottom of the device and enhanced the iPod's remote control potential in the connector at the top," says Brian Van Harlingen, senior technology manager.

The company had a long-standing relationship with Apple based on the products it developed to support Apple's computers. In April 2003, Belkin introduced a $39.99 kit that connects the iPod to a car's power source and speaker system through a 3.5-mm audio-out jack, while simultaneously charging the iPod via the cigarette lighter. It also introduced a mobile cassette adapter, and a backup battery pack.

Belkin, which was first to market with voice recorder and photo storage products for the iPod, currently offers more than two-dozen iPod-specific accessories. "We've got a list of 37 items we're trying to get to, none of which have popped up from any other manufacturer," adds Van Harlingen.

Big sellers from his perspective include cases; speakers, which Belkin doesn't make; and products that integrate the iPod with car stereo systems. Belkin's TuneBase FM ($79.95) is for mounting, and simultaneously powering, charging, and playing an iPod mini inside a car. It plugs into a cigarette lighter outlet and connects wirelessly to a car stereo via an FM transmitter that operates on multiple FM channels. Four programmable memory slots are available, eliminating the need to search for an open station.

For $35, Nashville, Tenn.-based Griffin Technology's iTrip enables users to play their iPod music through any FM transmitter, whether at home, in a car, or at a friend's house. For users with a yen for multitasking, Griffin offers an iBeam Flashlight and Laser Pointer that's useful, it says, for finding keys in the dark or creating emphasis during presentations. They're actually two separate snap-on devices, but available together for $19.95 (www.griffintechnology.com). Griffin's PodPod, priced at $9.99, is a soft foam insert for an auto cup holder that provides a "safe, secure ride" for an iPod or iPod mini.

Cases and covers, including knit socks, plus numerous other products, are available directly from Apple (http://www.apple.com/ipod/u2/accessories.html), as well as from a growing number of independent sites. These include the iPod Lounge (www.ipodlounge.com), Think Different Store (www.thinkdifferentstore.com), Xtreme Mac (www.xtrememac.com), and We Love Macs (www.welovemacs.com).

Cases and other accessories can also be purchased from their manufacturers. Marware Inc. (www.marware.com) offers, among other products, a 4G Sportsuit Convertible case. Priced at $39.95, the 2-mm neoprene case allows an iPod to be synchronized without first being removed. It features a Multidapt clip system that supports interchangeable clip options (except for a low profile belt clip and armband, these options are sold separately). A bike holder accessory costs $7.95.

TAGS: Mobile
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