Most of the media attention at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas goes to big releases like the Windows 7 beta or the new Palm Pre, but the event also provides a showcase for all sorts of other handy gadgets. After schlepping around Vegas all last week, these are the five technology innovations that I'm hoping might make my travel plans easier in 2009 and beyond. Several are only prototypes, and none have full-blown global distribution, but they're all worth keeping in mind.
There were quite a few solutions to the perennial problem of earbud cable management on display, but the one that grabbed me was the Earbud Yo-Yo, so named because designer Julie Johnson Barkley came up with the basic design by dismantling her son's yo-yo. There's nothing automatic about the Yo-Yo — like its toy namesake, you wind the cord on and off manually — but that provides better control than an automated retraction system, and means any brand of earbud can be fitted.
Conventional notebook cooling mats use an external power supply (often USB), which means they're not very handy for laptop use on the go, nor are they particularly portable. The HeatShift takes a quite different approach, using phase change crystals which redistribute heat without requiring any external power. Either as a desk mat or a travel option, this is potentially hugely handy. There was an unseemly scramble to grab free samples at the end of the Thermapak press conference — the collective wisdom of a roomful of hardened tech hacks with memories of over-warm thighs should not be ignored.
Cables (USB, network, you name it) are an essential element for any work journey, but they're also expert at getting tangled up in your travel bag (or on your desk back in the office). So while the main target market for the Flexicord, whose ability to remember how its owner has shaped it I wrote about last week, is cabling in the home, it could also be a useful resource for the traveller. Not available to buy yet, and the early company emphasis would seem to be on HDMI rather than USB, but I'll be keeping an eye out.
Me and touch interfaces just don't get along, so if I have to use one then I'm going to want a stylus. The Pogo Sketch is designed specifically for iPhones and iPods, and comes with an attachable clip to store the stylus. It's a pretty simple and obvious idea, but it makes typing on the iPhone a possibility (though I'd need more incentive than that to abandon my beloved Bold, I gotta say).
ZPower Silver-Zinc Batteries
There's plenty of innovation in the battery market when it comes to extending useful life, but less when it comes to reducing the use of harmful chemicals or coming up with designs that are able to get around US restrictions on flying with spare batteries. So ZPower's silver-zinc battery technology sounds impressive, although it's not yet possible to buy one for any of the machines I own. ZPower promise that a "major manufacturer" deal is coming shortly; I'm watching with interest.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is constantly trying to balance his desire to test new gadgets with the need for a carry-on bag that doesn't weigh more than his checked luggage. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.