• A Slightly Out There But What The Hey Tech Prediction For 2013: Accessories to be the new Apps

    So, are we ready for tech predictions for 2013? My biggest one is: the Leap and its gestural controls will do for desktops and laptops what the touch screen did for mobile devices. I pre-ordered one a while back so plan to report first-hand when it ships - reportedly fairly soon (the promised date is early 2013).

    Because I can't write too much on the Leap now, I'll list a second prediction also: iOS Accessories (and Appcessories) will become the new Apps - or at least start to become as vital to the platform as Apps did in 2008 when the AppStore first debuted. If you apply the 'dock test' next time you visit JB HIFI you'll see what I mean - how many of the docks and speakers cater for Android devices? (Hint: even Googles own Nexus7 dock isn't available yet many months after its release).

    The sheer number of device-enhancing products coming onto the market kind of makes this the 'StarWars figurine moment' for the mobile device market - you know, when George Lucas realised that he could make more money from merchandising than ticket sales? So, if you've got any cash left after Cyber Monday, Boxing Day and New Years sales, then here are three examples from the fast-growing number of add-on products that I believe illustrate just why the large accessories market helps set iOS apart from other platforms:

    Example 1. iCam iPhone retro camera case

    The iCam is a iPhone 4/4S or 5 case that completely changes the look of your device by encasing it in a moulded-plastic compartment that on the outside looks much like a retro film camera, while still having cutouts for all buttons and the dock connector and a camera strap. It can be found very cheaply on eBay (I got mine for $4), and also comes in white, yellow and pink.

    The iCam has a simple mechanism where the ‘camera-grip’ slides off to allow the iPhone to be pushed into the case. Apart from that, it works exactly as any case, except for being flat enough on the bottom to stand up on most surfaces.

    For such a low cost, I wasn’t expecting much more than a curiosity piece, but with its camera-strap, good hand grip, and ability to stand flat on most surfaces, it does actually provide some extra capability to the iPhone for photo-taking as well. Add to this the fact that its (somewhat chunky) sturdy plastic gives much better protection to your iPhone than a standard case for the kind of risks associated with being out and about taking photos, and you have a winner.

    The only downside would be that its thickness does slightly inhibit using your iPhone buttons in a way that you wouldn’t put up with for long for day to day use. I found that the ‘camera’ functionality described above does trade-off ok against this for photo-taking however - although I’d suggest using an app like Powercam that allows you to take photos by tapping anywhere on the screen rather than pushing the + volume button as many of us have gotten used to since iOS5.

    Did I mention its also fun to fool people by saying ‘hey, wanna see my new camera?’, and then watching them think for a minute…

    - from $4 via EBay

    Example 2. Tinkerbrick

    - Can you find the case and iPod touch in there?

    The Tinkerbrick case is in many ways a standard plastic iPod touch case - except for the raised round bumbs that cover its front and back and add compatibility with Lego and Megabloks. iPhone and iPad versions are said to be on the way.

    The case itself has front and back sections that clip neatly together. Once encased, the iPod touch can be ‘built in’ to any Lego design you can imagine.

    Tinkerbrick aims to ‘make the case for creativity’ - a clever byline considering that for many of us, playing with Lego is THE way we developed our creativity as well as problem solving skills. To this end, the Tinkerbrick works very well - providing a whole new world of possibilities to integrate some of the 700,000 iOS apps into a lego creation. My favourite so far is the MakeGo app (which I previously wrote about here) - it actually turns your screen into an animated look-down view of a car, boat or ice cream van. I’d previously just made a lego car with my 4 year old but the iPod did slide around a bit inside it - not any longer.

    I should note of course that the case also provides good access to all buttons and ports and decent drop protection as well. I’d encourage you to contact Tinkerbrick.com (who also kindly supplied the sample case for review) if you’d like to find out if and when a case for your iOS device will be available - looks like an iPhone 4/4s version is up next.

    What I’d really love to see kids do is add a WeDo lego robotics kit to the iPod touch as the ‘head’ of a robot design!

    US$29.95 (on sale ATM)

    Example 3. Gamechanger

    The Gamechanger consists of three joined board elements that fold around the central one (which also contains the iPad dock) when not in use. To play you simply unfold the side boards, dock the iPad (the app should auto-launch), place the cards on the sides and choose your playing piece.

    Each side section contains pressure-sensitive sensors which sit under the corresponding squares of the gamecards and allows the GameChanger to know where you have placed a piece. This is also what provides the interactivity - because your iPad is docked with the board itself, it receives the information from the pressure spots to keep track of each players progress.

    The GameChanger is a very good first attempt at melding the digital world of the iPad and of the physical world of board games. Though i have no idea how prestigious it is, it did win game of the year from 'Creative Child Magazine'. One really good feature to note is that the board itself has a docking plug that is adjustable in height so that it works with just about any iPad case. The two main games, 'Magic School Bus' and 'Animal Mania' have large amounts of questions and options. When tested with our family that included our then four year old, we found that she wanted to play the games over and over, a good sign.

    The mini games however are generally very simple and all revolve around the same action of simply tapping on the pressure spots to control something that's happening on the iPad screen. This seems quite unnatural in an age where you've got the touchscreen - why not just tap on it directly?

    I did experience one small issue where the board would stop being recognised by the iPad this was usually fixed quite quickly simply by restarting the iPad and this re-establish the connection.

    US$80 (or $25 on amazon.com ATM)
    http://www.iworldonline.com.au (or David Jones stores)

    - You can read more of Jonathan's ‘jnxyz’ articles here at Mactalk, or at his ‘Appcessories’ review site here. Follow his #EdTech, #Slide2learn and #iPadEd tweets at @jnxyz.

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