Truly Great Mac Products for 2013

I haven’t attended Macworld Expo since Apple pulled out of the show, and wrote it off as a waste of time, much as Apple did. However, I thought I’d take advantage of the free pass offered to see whether the conference had anything left to offer. I came away impressed by the quality of the vendors.

Macworld Vendor MaterialsThis year’s show floor was closer in size to the first Macworld Expo. I met some great people who were knowledgeable, enthusiastic about their products, and genuinely nice. Being an idea hamster, I gave some of them feedback on their products.

Inexpensive Wi-Fi HDs — Finally!

After visiting all the battery, Bluetooth, wireless and thunderbolt vendors, I’m pleased to report that Wi-Fi drives and wireless drive interfaces for iOS (and Macs) are finally becoming more widespread and less expensive. Seagate now offers the Wireless Plus ($200), a 1-TB Wi-Fi drive that its representatives claimed to have a 10-hour battery life.

Hyper, formerly HyperDrive, offers the iUSBport ($100), a 3-MB USB-to-Wi-Fi interface that the company claims can stream three simultaneous discreet HD videos. It has a 2.6-Ah battery to bus power USB drives. This year, Hyper is releasing a follow up 802.11N 6-MB Wi-Fi interface that will be able to send out six simultaneous HD streams with an enhanced ~10 hour battery. That’ll cost $150. Either will avoid needing to spend time transferring your data from another device onto a Wi-Fi drive with limited capacity and flexibility. This is more flexible, although it means you have two devices to carry, but it can be great if you’ve already invested in portable USB drives.

Whether you chose Seagate’s $200 solution or Hyper’s $100 — or future $150 — solution, you’ll blow away your storage limits in iOS devices, even beyond Apple’s recently announced 128-GB iPad.

Hyper’s external batteries for both USB devices and Macs have come down significantly in price. However, the Mac power adapters require you to either buy an Apple 12-volt adapter cable meant for plane and automobile use, or modify a MagSafe cable because of Cupertino’s refusal to license the MagSafe connector.

‘Personal Cloud’ Storage

Other companies, like Connected Data, released what they call “Personal Cloud Products,” which allow users to securely connect to their home devices over the Internet — no static IP needed. They form their own IP Security Tunnels and have built-in dynamic DNS “phone home” capability (I assume the companies run the dynamic DNS servers these devices report to). Connected Data’s Transporter can either be purchased bare for $200 or with a 1- or 2-TB hard drive for $300 or $400 respectively.

Akitio, not to be confused with the beach in New Zealand, also has its own line of personal cloud devices such as the MyCloud One ($140 street price) and the MyCloud Mini ($110 street price) which offer NAS UPnP and DLNA media streaming on top of PCS. Both devices require adding a SATA drive. Akitio reps also showed off their SSD-laden Neutrino Thunderbolt Edition ($300 MSRP/$240 street) as well as a new Thunderbolt product that will be approved within 30 days.

2013: Thunderbolt’s Prime Time

In case you just follow buzzwords, Intel’s Thunderbolt Interface is a 10-gigabits-per-second (gbps), per-channel bus technology that easily beats USB 3’s 5-gbps shared-bus devices hands down. However, unless you can saturate the bandwidth available, Thunderbolt is expensive overkill. Considering that last year the cables alone cost over $50 and were in short supply, USB3 was usually the choice of cost-conscious manufacturers, with the exception of Apple and companies behind a few high-end product lines. This doesn’t mean USB3 is better. It just means that last year, the full benefit of Thunderbolt couldn’t be realized without deep pockets. (I should also note that these speeds are the theoretical maximums and only achievable without OS overhead, in laboratory conditions. I usually subtract 25 to 50 percent of the top speed in order to estimate real-world speeds.)

Until recently, Thunderbolt cables had to use three expensive industrial telecom-grade chips on each end to achieve the blazing 10 gbps. But now that one-chip-per-side cables are available, Thunderbolt cables and device prices will drop significantly. Indeed, I saw several ~$30 cable options.

Intel had initially developed Thunderbolt under the name “LightPeak” as an optical interconnect. At the time, robust, inexpensive optical cables were nonexistent and a copper medium was used instead with the added benefit of powering devices over the bus. Soon Thunderbolt products will probably offer optical connections when Corning’s ClearCurve VSDN optical cables become available. Corning showed off its optical cables for Thunderbolt and USB 3 tied in tight, small knots and continuing to shine brightly. A representative told me they’ll be available very soon, though she didn’t have a date or prices to disclose.

When I visited Hedge’s booth to check out its upcoming horizontal Hedge dock, I was disappointed to hear that there were no plans to create one for the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pros. Retina and 15-inch MacBook Pros? Yes, but the MacBook Pro 13s are left out in the cold. Henge’s vertical docks are great options at respectable prices. I considered buying one when they were released, but since I’m mostly mobile, it was never a high enough purchasing priority. Though the horizontal dock is more pricey than the vertical models, its price is in line with its engineering, given its mechanized docking and physical tolerances.

This is a lot, and I’m not done yet. Come back tomorrow, when I’ll look at products that offer some amazing new wireless, audio and entertainment capabilities.

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