Interesting Announcements From CES 2014

With CES officially kicking off this week, I'm collecting links to Apple and mobile-related announcements I find interesting and worth keeping an eye on. For full coverage of the event, check out The Verge, Engadget, and 9to5mac.

Eli Hodapp reviews the new SteelSeries Stratus game controller for iOS 7. It's the “best” one out there for now (previous options didn't raise the bar much), but Hodapp rightly notes how price points for these accessories are just too high when compared to first-party controllers on home consoles. The Stratus is now available for pre-order and “coming soon”.

The value proposition is only made worse when you consider that both the PS4 and Xbox One controllers feel built like a tank, while even the SteelSeries Stratus, which is unquestionably the best iOS 7 controller that has come across my desk so far, feels so cheap in comparison.

Belkin has announced additions to its line of WeMo devices for home automation, showing LED bulbs (somewhat remiscent of Philips Hue), a maker kit to turn any device controlled with a DC switch into a WeMo device, and even a smart Crock-Pot in collaboration with Jarden Consumer Solutions. One of the great things about WeMo devices is that they can be connected and automated remotely through IFTTT – it especially makes sense for Belkin to add this integration as IFTTT added a location trigger to the service, which could be used to activate your lights as soon as you arrive at your house. CNET has an overview of the WeMo news with links to product pages and initial reviews; the new devices will be available in Spring 2014.

The final product Belkin unveiled was the WeMo Maker Kit, a home automation option that seems more explicitly geared toward the hands-on, DIY-minded consumer. According to Belkin, the WeMo Maker “brings the Internet of Things to your fingertips,” and gives users the ability to build their own smart home solutions by adding Internet connectivity to any device with a DC switch. This includes sprinkler systems, blinds motors, antennas, and more – all of which you'll be able to automate and control directly, both through the WeMo app and through IFTTT.

Nvidia has announced a new mobile CPU called the K1. Impressively, the Tegra K1 will support Unreal Engine 4 but don't let the “192-core” nomenclature trick you (Nvidia is referring to graphic cores).

Engadget explains why and how Nvidia is making two versions of the Tegra K1:

Interestingly, Tegra K1 will actually come in two different versions: a 32-bit option with a 2.3GHz “4-plus-1” A15 CPU and a 64-bit unit with a 2.5GHz dual-core Denver CPU. Naturally we're a bit more curious about the latter at the moment, and we'll update you as we get more information about either chip – such as availability.

The K1 will likely be used in Android tablets, and it's impressive to see the progress that's being made in mobile GPUs with graphics that can match games from just a few years ago on consoles and PCs. Actual performance of the Tegra K1 will have to be evaluated when first consumer products will be released; in a hands-on video with a prototype, The Verge reported impressive graphics with Trine 2 and other demoes, bit also issues with lag and low frame rate. For the best technical preview, check out AnandTech.

LaCie has announced one of the first Thunderbolt 2 drives, aptly called Little Big Disk Thunderbolt 2. As per Intel's new Thundebolt spec, the drive offers higher read and write speeds. The product will be released in the first quarter of 2014, and AnandTech has an initial review.

In order to take advantage of the increased channel bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2, LaCie turned to Samsung's XP941 PCIe x2 SSD. There are two 512GB of these SSDs inside the new LBD. Note that LaCie may switch drive vendors at some point in the future, but my pre-production sample had XP941s inside.

Griffin has announced a new version of its wireless, programmable PowerMate controller for Mac.

PowerMate Bluetooth is the wireless programmable controller that replaces extra keystrokes with a simple twist or a click. It scrolls. It scrubs. It clicks like a mouse. And it's user-configurable, so it can control practically any Mac application out there.

The new PowerMate uses Bluetooth 4.0 and it's compatible with newer Macs running Mountain Lion or Mavericks. It will come with a new configuration app to customize app shortcuts and gesture controls, and it will be available from Griffin's website this Summer.

Withings has shown Aura, a “smart sleep system” that both monitors your sleep experience and uses light and sound to improve it. A bedside device “records your sleep environment (noise pollution, room temperature and light level)” and a sensor slips under your mattress to record patterns and gather other motion activity and data. When combined in the iPhone app, Withings promises to help you analyze and improve your sleep cycle by offering “scientifically-validated light and sound programs” to help the secretion of Melatonin, relax while falling asleep, and stimulate you when waking up. That's a big promise by Withings, and Aura will be released this Spring at $299.

Update 5:00 PM ET, January 6

Steel is a new version of the Pebble smartwatch that made headlines in 2012 when it raised more than $10 million in Kickstarter funding and that sold over 300,000 units through 2013. A premium version sold at $249, Pebble Steel is, as the name suggests, made of stainless steel and provides a thinner, lighter, more elegant design in package that comes with metal and leather bands. Pebble Steel will retain all the functionalities of the original plastic Pebble (which won't be replaced by this version), adding a tri-color LED for notifications from apps; Pebble Steel is compatible with all existing Pebble apps and watchfaces and the company is also launching the Pebble appstore, a unified marketplace for watch apps. Tim Stevens has a feature at CNET about the story of Pebble Steel (codename Bianca):

CEO Eric Migicovsky describes Steel as a more formal version of Pebble: “I'm going out for dinner, I'm wearing a suit, I've got a position that doesn't allow me to wear a plastic watch on my wrist. How do I benefit from a smartwatch? How do I get notifications and run all the apps that Pebble offers without having to put something that I don't prefer on my wrist. We took that as an industrial design problem. It wasn't really a software problem…We just had to build an aesthetically different Pebble.”

In a blog post, Pebble says that the appstore will have “categories for Daily, Remotes, Games, Notifications, Tools & Utilities, Fitness, and—of course—Watchfaces”. Pebble has also announced new partners:

Third, we’re extremely proud to announce that Pandora, ESPN, and Mercedes-Benz are joining Yelp, Foursquare, GoPro, and iControl in our growing family of partners. We can’t wait to share the apps they’ve built to bring tiny moments of awesome to your Pebble everyday.

Pandora, iControl, and Mercedes-Benz will be demoing their Pebble apps with Pebble Steel here in Las Vegas. Please come take a look if you’re attending CES! For those who can’t make it in person, please watch Eric’s announcement video showcasing Pebble Steel and our partner apps.

There are some interesting details about the challenges posed by the Pebble's new steel casing worth reading in Stevens' story at CNET. Pebble Steel is in limited supply, but pre-orders have started today and they will start going out on January 28th with free expedited worldwide shipping for early adopters.

Corning, makers of glass surfaces that are used in modern touch devices including the iPhone, have announced two new types of Gorilla Glass at CES: a 3D-shaped Gorilla Glass and an antimicrobial one. The 3D-shaped Gorilla Glass is primarily targeted at smartphone makers that will need to implement 3D-curved displays as well as the new generation of wearable computers and smartwatches.

Corning’s 3D-forming technology can achieve precise tolerances and high throughput on a platform that is more economical than alternative two-mold forming methods. This technology uses Gorilla Glass of uniform thickness, assisting designers to introduce thinner and lighter devices and leverage the emergence of conformable displays for mobile and wearable applications.

The antimicrobial Gorilla Glass, on the other hand, claims to be the world's first cover glass that will reduce the number of microbes on a screen's surface during the lifetime of a device. By building a ionic silver antimicrobial agent into the glass, Corning wants to eschew the need for third-party sprays, foams, or wipes aimed at removing bacteria and microbes from glass surfaces.

Corning’s Antimicrobial Gorilla Glass inhibits the growth of algae, mold, mildew, fungi, and bacteria because of its built-in antimicrobial property, which is intrinsic to the glass and effective for the lifetime of a device,” said James R. Steiner, senior vice president and general manager, Corning Specialty Materials. “This innovation combines best-in-class antimicrobial function without compromising Gorilla Glass properties. Our specialty glass provides an excellent substrate for engineering antimicrobial and other functional attributes to help expand the capabilities of our Corning Gorilla Glass and address the needs of new markets.

The Antimicrobial Gorilla Glass is, according to Corning, being tested with “numerous manufacturers for various applications”.

MacRumors writes about the Ion Audio Bluetooth Casette Adapter, a device that will do exactly what the name implies, turning old car stereos into Bluetooth-enabled audio receivers for modern devices.

Now, you can use your car's speakers to hear phone calls and music without having to buy a new stereo head-unit. Both of your hands stay safe on the wheel while your audio source stays in your pocket. Cassette Adapter Bluetooth is the last cassette you’ll ever need and the first —and only—step to bring your favorite music, podcasts, and audiobooks into your car.

Battery life is said to be around 6 hours, which isn't much for long trips, but the device will support charging through USB, which, in theory, could be done directly in the car with another external solution. Price and release date haven't been announced yet.

Update 3:00 PM ET, January 7

If you've been looking for an accessory that brings extra battery life and extra storage to your iPhone, Mophie just unveiled the Space Pack – a backup battery with storage. Our Cody Fink writes:

Like the Juice Pack Air, the Space Pack has a 1700mAh non-removable battery that Mophie claims will recharge the iPhone to a 100% charge. Through a companion app, the Space Pack can store and retrieve videos, photos, documents, and more from its own internal storage. The 16 GB Space Pack will cost $149.95, while the 32 GB model will cost $179.95, going on sale March 14th.

Another iOS 7 Bluetooth game controller, another $99 price point, but this one is reminiscent of the Xbox controller form factor. Called the RP One and made by Signal, the controller comes with a pretty standard set of buttons and triggers in a design that should be comfortable enough for long play sessions. TouchArcade writes:

Unfortunately, Signal is going with the same crazy $99.99 price point for the RP One that all iOS controllers are stuck with (Further proving my theory that it's not controllers manufacturers setting these prices!) and if all goes as planned it'll be available during the first half of 2014. The RP One seems like the first controller we've seen that doesn't make any compromises with size or form factor, so it could be the one to wait for.