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Just a Thought - PC Stuff That should Be Mac Stuff

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- December 2nd, 2005

Check out Apple! They are sitting high on the highway these days. New iPods, new Macs, new version of OS X, a new niche (small video) to exploit; there seems to be no end to the avalanche of coolness coming out of Cupertino.

Even those of us who are long time Mac fans, who might not get so excited as other over all the new stuff, feel a bit of the energy pulsing from Apple. This is especially true when we hear news like that in a recent report claiming that Mac market share is climbing (finally) and Dell's market share has fallen a bit. We can't break out the champagne just yet; the market share movement has yet been a small one. I won't bother popping a cork until Apple commands a full 6% of the desktop market. But, the Company that Jobs (re)Built is moving in the right direction, and has been for quite some time now, and that give us old time Mac fans reason to smile.

So, more and more people are discovering just how great Macs are, but there is a blemish on all this shiny goodness: PCs still outnumber Macs nearly 100 to 1, and because of that, there are still far more accessories available for the PC than there is for the Mac, and I gotta tell ya, sometimes that really sucks.

Not that I would want every electronic bauble that's PC compatible; there is much crap out there, but I would like some of the more interesting items available only for PC to make a Mac debut.

Here's a short list of cool stuff that, in my ever-so-humble opinion, really should be available on Macs:

io2; The Digital Pen

Digital Pen? Just what, in the name of Gutenberg, is a digital pen?

The concept behind Logitech's ultra-slick io2 Digital Pen is deceptively simple: Create a pen that remembers what you've written. When you dock the pen to a computer, the pen will then download what you've written. The computer can be made to put the information in appropriate places; names, addresses and phone numbers in an address book, lists in a todo application, appointments in the calendar application, and so on. The computer can even transcribe handwritten text into type.

With such a pen, the user would have the ultimate interface between himself and his computer, and may find that there is less need to lug a laptop around.

In reality, however, nothing is ever as simple as it should be (just take a look at our current income tax system), but the io2 Digital Pen System makes a great run at being both simple to use and useful.

The io2 Pen System lets you work while you are away from your computer, yet helps you integrate that work back into your computing environment. The pen keeps track of what you've written using a system of special paper and key words so that the pen recognizes what it should be remembering; Notebooks, memo pads, sticky notes, checks, and labels are all available.

Match the io2 Digital Pen technology with Apple's Inkwell software, and Logitech might have a real winner on its hands.

I have to admit, whenever I think of the possibilities of this pen on the Mac platform I get all goose-pimply, and I get a twinge of envy for those PC using lucky ducks who are using the io2 Pen.

I see io2 Pen as an adjunct to cellphones with PDA functions; the pen could be used as an input device, allowing you more freedom to enter data however you want, and not be restricted to tiny screens and cryptic pen strokes.

Singing the Digital Blues

There are few things that can match the wonder on a child's face as he, or she discovers the world of the microscope. Seeing common objects up close puts the world into new perspectives, opening up the imagination, and new avenues of thought. Besides all of that, a microscope is just plain fun. How else can you get a 5 year old to sit still for an hour with little more than a drop of pond water?

The folks over at Digital Blue understand how fascinating a microscope can be for kids, and they've developed a scope just for them. The QX5 plugs into a computer via the USB port, and, with the included software, allows the user to examine microscopic objects from the computers screen. The kids can take pictures and movies of their magnified discoveries to be shared with others.

I don't believe there is a more perfect Mac accessory for kids, or anyone interested in the microscopic world. Using iPhoto or iMovie with pictures and movies generated from the QX5 would be a breeze.

For those wanting a microscope with an adult theme and more options, the MiScope, from Zarbeco, LLC, might be right up your alley. The MiScope can be bought with a nice list of lighting options so you can view the object of interest in infrared, or ultra-violet, which can cause certain materials to glow. Just as with the QX5, the MiScope is not Mac compatible.

Fortunately, there is miXscope, from EdH Software, that allows you to use the QX5 or MiScope on Macs running OS X. Still, there is no direct Mac support from either company, and that's a shame.

Back to Digital Blue for a moment: These folks really do have it going on. Like Apple has done with technology for the common Joe or Jill, Digital Blue is making technology accessible for the average kid.  Check out their other products: A helmet mounted camera for the action-lovers in your brood, digital camcorders with microphones to inspire budding Tom Brokaws or Oprah Winfreys, sound looping stations for those pint sized DJs, and a sound and picture recorder with software that lets young special FX artists perfect their craft. All are very cool and are available for use only with a PC.

Leggo My Lego!

While we're on the subject of cool educational gadgets, there are few things cooler than Lego's Mindstorm Robotic Systems. These are not just some pieces of plastic with electronics and motors in them, well, OK, they are pieces of plastic with electronics and motors in them, but that's what make them so cool.

Create an endless variety of robots that can move, sense its environment, and react accordingly, and it all can be programmed from a computer. Unfortunately, that computer can't be a Mac.

Well, that's not entirely true; just as with the QX5 Microscope, you can find after-market software that will help you work with your Mindstorm system on your Mac, but much of it has not been updated in a while. This is a real shame since the Mindstorm system is geared towards education, and Apple has staged a comeback in the education market.

Berry Berry Good

Of course, there's the quintessential cell for the adult who does not want everything in a cellphone; of course, I'm referring to RIM's Blackberry 7100 Series cellphones. Even with all of the ruckus surrounding RIM these days, the Blackberry 7100 series phones should still be on your list of must-have devices.  

These little jewels have everything going for them; they are small, good looking, work great, does nearly everything under the sun, and have no direct Mac support.

The nice folks at PocketMac have created software that will allow you to do some syncing between your Blackberry and your Mac, but email syncing is not included, which is an absolute bummer.

Check out my review of the Blackberry 7100g in my Just a Peek column for more information on using this device with a Mac.

There are other bits of technical coolness available, some of it caters to exclusive audiences, like digitized doctor office systems which keep patient records, including x-rays, and other graphical information, in computer databases, or interfaces to scientific lab equipment, so that lab experiments are controlled and data recorded automagically.

As we sit back and watch the popularity of Macs grow one can only hope that vendors of cool accessories take another look at Apple's computing platform and decide that there is a market large enough to bring their devices to.

As for me, I just hope Logitech realizes how great the io2 Pen would be on the Mac.  To me, it's a match made in heaven, even if they are strangers here on Earth.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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