The month has been notable not just for some of the cool new products that will be hitting store shelves soon but for a few interesting prototype products.
Four PC makers offered a glimpse of their upcoming Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). The PCs are part of a push by Intel and the manufacturers to extend portable computing beyond laptops to even smaller devices that are a couple of steps up from a cell phone. MIDs, offering full Internet access, should be appearing soon.
Next up, Toshiba's cute ApriPoco robot is promising a future where you'll no longer be confused by all of the buttons on the remote control. Digital technology has brought us so many advantages in the living room but 100-button remote controls certainly isn't one of them! ApriPoco will just listen to what you want to do and follow your orders.
Once you don't have to stress about controlling your gadgets it's time to take your relaxation to another level with NTT's fragrance communications system. Select a desired fragrance and your in-room fragrance emitter will mix up essences to produce and waft it into the room.
Toshiba ApriPoco robot If you've become hostage to a clutch of remote controls in your living room, then Toshiba's ApriPoco might be the answer. The prototype robot can act as a voice gateway to just about anything in the room that has a remote control. When activated it watches for the infrared signals emitted by remote controls and asks the user what each one means. From the voice reply it learns the meaning of each signal and eventually can imitate the remote control when commanded by voice. So all it takes is to say "switch on the TV" and the set should spring to life. In a demonstration the ApriPoco was able to switch on and off a TV, air conditioner and lamp in response to commands. Toshiba wants to develop the robot into a commercial product but more development work needs to be done, so at present there are no plans to put ApriPoco on sale.
Samsung Anycall Haptic Samsung's Anycall Haptic looks like a thinner version of Apple's iPhone, but adds a new dimension to the touch interface. For example, when the volume of the radio is changed, the phone simulates both the sound and feel of the "clicks" on an old-style volume knob on a real radio. There are 22 kinds of vibration in total built into the phone. There's a 3.2-inch widescreen display, a 2-megapixel digital camera, full Internet browser, Bluetooth 2.0 and terrestrial digital TV reception. It will cost between 700,000 won and 800,000 won (US$700 to $800) in South Korea. There's no word from Samsung on when it might be available elsewhere.
Sony High-def Handycam Sony has developed what it says is the smallest high-definition video camcorder. The HDR-TG1 is 32 millimeters thick by 119 millimeters high by 63 millimeters wide and weighs 300 grams. It's a tall and thin camcorder with a fold-out display -- a design along the same lines as Sanyo's Xacti line of high-def camcorders, but the Sony camcorder is about two-thirds the volume of Sanyo's latest full high-def model. One of the secrets of its thinness is the lack of a DV tape desk, hard-disk or optical drive. Instead the TG1 records to a Memory Stick Pro Duo or Pro-HG Duo memory card. The camera lays down AVCHD format video at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution (so-called "Full HD") and can also take 4-megapixel resolution still images. Like some of Sony's still cameras the TG1 has face detection and can track up to eight people in the shot. Other features include an optical 10X zoom, 2.7-inch widescreen touch panel LCD monitor and HDMI connector. It will be available in Japan from April 20 and will cost around ¥130,000 (US$1,300). In the U.S. it will appear in May and will cost about US$900.
Panasonic, Fujitsu Mobile Internet Devices Fujitsu and Panasonic unveiled a couple of prototype computers at an Intel event that are based on the chip maker's Mobile Internet Device platform. MID is the name that Intel has given to handheld devices based on Centrino Atom that are expected to be produced in a range of form factors, with many using touch screens or slide-out keyboards. Both the Fujitsu and Panasonic devices have keyboards and the Panasonic model is a Toughbook version, built to withstand harsh handling and conditions. Also on show were a couple of other MIDs, one from Clarion that will feature a personal navigation function, and one from Toshiba, that were previously shown at CES in Las Vegas in January. Look for product launches later this year.
Sharp blogging phone Japanese bloggers have a new tool with which to update their sites with the launch of a new Sharp phone that packs a small QWERTY keyboard. The 922SH has a 3.5-inch display that folds out to the side so the phone can be used more like a miniature laptop than a traditional clamshell phone. The widescreen VGA display has a resolution of 854 pixel by 480 pixels. The phone has an RSS reader and a PC-style Web browser in addition to one more adapted to mobile use. There's a three-row QWERTY keyboard above which sit hot keys for functions such as digital mobile TV and the camera. There are also buttons for phone functions, navigation keys and a shortcut key to Yahoo Mobile. The phone is locked to the Softbank network in Japan and there are no plans at present to launch it overseas.
R&D: NTT Fragrance Communications After satisfying the senses of sight and sound through video streams and music downloads, NTT Communications aims to tap into the sense of smell with a new system that allows users to send fragrances from their cell phones. A trial of the service will take place later this month during which users will be able to select and send certain fragrance recipes to an in-home unit that is responsible for concocting and releasing the various fragrances. The system involves selecting a scent from those available through an I-mode site on a cell phone. Once chosen the instructions on how to make the scent are then transmitted to the fragrance device through infrared or email from the phone, and from there the scent is quickly mixed and emitted. NTT Communications believes that fragrance is the next important medium for telecommunications, as more value is placed on high sensory information. NTT hopes the fragrance emitter will cost about ¥20,000 (US$195) when eventually launched commercially. Cartridge refills should cost about ¥1,600 it said.