As a reader of TMO and a listener of our podcasts, especially Mac Geek Gab, you see and hear us write and talk a lot about the various press events we attend. Many of these – Pepcom, ShowStoppers, and CES Unveiled – are very similar in nature. They’re like a trade show, with a few key differences. First, every vendor has basically the same-sized table at which to present their offerings. There are no big booths and no overly-flashy signs or anything of the sort. Everyone’s logos are well-presented, but mostly its about the products. The reason for this is the second key differentiator: all of the attendees are members of the media. There are no distributors there, no general consumers looking around, no aimless tire-kickers. Everyone is there to report about what they see. And, as you know, that’s what we do. With one exceptIon: we’ve never reported about what we see in general. We always show you specific things, but have never intentionally given you a glimpse of the event itself. Here, today, we change that with a look around inside CES Unveiled 2017, just about 15 minutes after the doors opened. Oh, and yes, there’s food. Yummy, tasty food. Enjoy!
Linksys, a brand known for some of the earliest wireless routers, today joins the the market of mesh Wi-Fi providers with their own mesh offering called Velop. Shown here at the CES 2017 Unveiled event, Belkin’s Linksys Velop is a welcome entrant to the home mesh wireless market with a unique tri-band solution that allows for completely dynamic assignment of each unit’s three 2×2 radios. Velop can work in point-to-point, mesh, star, line or tree configurations, choosing whichever is best or most-appropriate for the current wireless environment. Each radio in the system is automatically mapped to the best configuration, and Ethernet backhaul is automatically detected and supported, as well. In a market that’s becoming quite crowded, I find the Velop an interesting contender, combining some of the better aspects of both the eero and NETGEAR Orbi platforms, priced exactly the same as the eero. Units are available for pre-order today in three ($499), two ($349) and one-unit ($199) packages and will start shipping on January 15th. We’ll be getting units to test and will report back with our findings, adding them to our existing mesh Wi-Fi coverage.
Apple recently doubled-down on its refusal to add a touchscreen to its MacBook line, but if you’re starting 2017 with a bit of Microsoft Surface envy, you’ll soon be able to turn your MacBook Air’s display into a touchscreen, regardless of what Jony Ive thinks. AirBar is a USB-powered sensor that attaches to the bottom of your screen and enables touch interactions right on the display thanks to the company’s “zForce AIR” light field technology. The company is launching support for the MacBook Air first with support for other models to follow. Interested users can sign up at the company’s website to be notified once pre-orders go live in March. There’s no word on pricing but AirBar already sells a version for Windows laptops for $69.
Iran is in the process of banning Clash of Clans, a move that epitomizes that country’s attempts to control culture clash and behavior. According to TechCrunch, the game has been pulled from a popular third party app store in Iran called Cafe Bazaar and will soon be pulled from its other legitimate source. Here’s what’s interesting to me: Clash of Clans has only officially been available for a month in Iran, and it’s being played by two-thirds of the mobile gaming community. Iran’s religious leaders have deemed it to too addictive and promotes both violence and tribal conflict. At the same time, the game was being played on the black market before its release, where it will still be available. It will be interesting to see if there’s any kind of backlash from the country’s mobile gamers. I’m far from an expert on Iran, but it’s hard to see how the country could possibly stop the world at its borders forever. Don’t get me wrong. Clash of Clans—like Game of War and every other successful MMO—are addictive. But I’ve yet to see a successful attempt to legislate addictive behavior. Below is the SuperBowl 2015 commercial for the game that is pretty darned amusing.
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Quick show of hands: who here is a Sharpie fanatic? OK, that’s what I thought. We’re all Sharpie fanatics! Did you know you can order personalized Sharpies? It’s Kelly Guimont’s fault. She told me about this. And now I’m telling you. And now we’re all going to be spending all our disposable income not already being sent to Apple on personalized Sharpies…anyway. There’s a list of things you can’t do, and personalized colors are limited to black, red, green, blue, magenta, turquoise, purple and lime green. You can preview your personalizations, and each pen will also have the Sharpie logo. There are a variety of fonts you can choose from, and you also have the option of adding clipart, as shown below, in addition to your personalized message. Warning: the personalization engine uses Flash.
“I wonder if I live in a place that’ll survive a nuclear bomb” is something we used to ask in the 1960s and 70s, and it seems to have come back into vogue. Back then, we had to do things like go to the library and do research. But now, we can sit in the comfort of our potentially safe homes and check the Would I Survive a Nuke website. Spoiler: I probably won’t in Boulder, but you might be more lucky. The site is getting hit pretty hard, so you may have to try a few times. Seems a lot of people are really interested in knowing their potential fate.
When AirPods went on sale for preorder on December 13, Apple quickly became backordered. Customers found that delivery estimate for their order were up to 4-6 weeks out. Apple Stores have been receiving shipments of AirPods every day or so. Other stores like BestBuy and Target are also getting regular shipments. If you haven’t ordered AirPods yet, and don’t want to have to check with each store, you can use this handy website to get AirPod Alerts. You enter your email address and the physical address of your local Apple Store. Then, you’ll be notified whenever your store gets a new shipment of AirPods.
Sylvania announced Tuesday it was launching an LED smartbulb in its LEDVANCE product line with support for Apple’s HomeKit (yay!). Better yet, the Smart Multicolor A19 doesn’t require a hub—just plug it in, find it with Apple’s Home app, and you’re good to go. Sylvania said the device will be sold through Amazon and ship in “early 2017.” This will be a great addition to the HomeKit ecosystem. To that end, I’ve been seeing more HomeKit stuff in my inbox during the last few weeks for CES 2017. It’s almost as if Apple’s smarthome platform is finally coming alive. Let’s hope, at any rate. I’ve left messages with Sylvania reps asking about pricing, which wasn’t announced. Sylvania also didn’t release images of the new bulb—the image below is of current products in the company’s smartbulb line. [Update: Sylvania’s PR folks got back to me—pricing is definitely unannounced. I also added a rendered image of the A19. We’ll be visiting with the company next week at CES. – Bryan]
It only took about 13 years, but HandBrake is finally out of beta. Version 1.0 was released on December 24th, and is the go-to tool for video transcoding. In layman’s terms, HandBrake is what you use to convert DVDs into video files you can play on your Mac. Version 1.0 improves audio and video syncing for difficult sources, adds new device presets, adds new MKV and JSON presets, improves performance Skylake-based Macs, and more. HandBrake isn’t, however, completely leaving the beta world behind thanks to its new less technical documentation that’s tagged beta. You can download HandBrake at the HandBrake website for free.
Apple has a new support document encouraging customers to verify encrypted emails, especially security emails from Apple. The document includes Apple’s own public PGP key for those verifications. Apple noted that its current PGP key will be valid until May of 2018. PGP, or “pretty good privacy” is one of the most popular encryption schemes in general use today, through both the PGP Corporation and the open source GnuPGP. Apple posted links to both. You can subscribe to Apple’s Security-announce emails at Apple’s website.