LAS VEGAS: At the International Consumer Electronics Show last week, 3-D television, electronic readers and little laptops captured much of the attention.
There were plenty of other interesting ideas on display, too, from 3-D printing to a wireless cell phone tether. Here are some of the gadgets most worth keeping an eye out for this year, and some that best deserve an arched eyebrow of amusement:
TV on the iPhone — Qualcomm Inc.'s FLO TV service has been limited by the fact that only a few AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless cell phones can receive the signals, which carry about 15 news, sports and entertainment channels. Now, Qualcomm has teamed up with phone accessories maker Mophie to create an external battery pack for the iPhone that doubles as a FLO TV receiver. It's expected in the first half of the year. No price for the pack was announced; FLO TV service costs $15 per month. Separately, TV stations are also rolling out their own broadcasts for mobile devices. Another device at the show, the Tivit, is designed to take those signals and send them to an iPhone or BlackBerry over Wi-Fi. It should be available this spring for about $120, and the broadcasts are free.
Game-controller glove — Iron Will Innovations demonstrated a futuristic-looking black-and-silver glove that replaces a keyboard and lets users control games by touching their fingers together instead. Called the Peregrine, the glove includes five sensors on each finger that replace different keystrokes when touched to the glove's thumb. The glove and plugs into a computer's USB port. The Peregrine should be in stores for $150 by the summer, though the company is taking pre-orders online for $20 less.
Wireless charging — Last year, Powermat USA showed off a mat that charged gadgets that were placed on top of it — as long as the gadgets were equipped with special covers. This year, Powermat took that a step further by unveiling the Powerpack, a battery that replaces the one that comes with your cell phone and lets you charge your handset by placing it on the mat — no other attachments needed. Powerpacks that are compatible with dozens of handsets are expected to be available for $40 in May.
Polaroid Instant Cameras — Polaroid stopped making instant film two years ago, but a brave group of enthusiasts and former employees bought one of Polaroid's factories in Netherlands and reinvented the film. Their film is expected on the market later this year, and to go along with it, Polaroid announced at the show that it will be bringing back instant film cameras. It didn't announce a price. In the past few years, the Polaroid brand has been used for a new type of battery-powered portable digital printer, which produces photos reminiscent of the old film.
Cell-phone tether — Losing your cell phone is a drag, and a company called Zomm believes it can make it a thing of the past. It has a small device, also called Zomm, that connects wirelessly with your phone through Bluetooth and sets off an alarm if you walk away from it. The Oreo-sized gadget also has a personal alarm and a button that you can use to call emergency services on your phone. It acts as a speakerphone and lets users know of incoming calls, too. Zomm is expected to be available this summer for $80.
3-D camera — The big push from TV makers this year is for sets that show 3-D in the home. Fujifilm, betting that people will want to shoot their own 3-D movies and photos as well, is also selling a digital camera with two lenses, set apart as if they are human eyes. The screen on the back of the Finepix Real 3D W1 presents, if you squint a little bit, a 3-D image using a glasses-free technology similar to the old 3-D postcards. The 3-D camera is available now for $599, and a 3-D photo frame sells separately for $499.
3-D filter — What if you want 3-D viewing, but you don't want to get a new TV and a 3-D Blu-ray player? Realview Innovations Ltd. has it all worked out for you. The Irish company has developed a film that can be placed over a set to make it look like the flat surface of the screen bulges inwards. Sort of like 3-D, but the effect doesn't vary from scene to scene. The film will cost $150 for a 22-inch set and $500 for a 42-inch set when it's released in May.
3-D color printing — Shapeways has been offering 3-D printing for a few years, taking data files and turning them into sculptures with the help of a machine that lays down successive layers of a plaster-like material. At the show, the Dutch company announced that they're now offering sculptures in full color. The dyes are impregnated into the material as it's being built up. The cost: $16.22 per cubic inch.
Mopping robot — It's the battle of the cleaning robots! The vacuuming Roomba robots will get competition this September from the Mint, a square robot that has a pad for a dry or wet Swiffer-type cleaning cloth. Guided by a beacon that projects an infrared light on the ceiling (think Batman signal), the Mint will methodically sweep one room at time. Then you have to move the beacon, and the robot, to the next room. And if you care about cleanliness, you probably want to change that cloth, too. Evolution Robotics Inc. says the price will be around $200 to $250.