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End of summer unearths new tech discoveries

You can always tell when a DEMO conference is just a few weeks away because I begin to sort and organize and otherwise occupy my time with activities other than writing program notes and working on opening remarks. I like to think that my ideas are percolating during this flurry of activity, but all I really know for sure is that at least once a year, my garage is clean and you can see the wood grain on my desk.

This is also a journey of discovery -- like the original Rex organizer that I found in the bottom of a box behind some old paint cans (don't ask me how it got there). A few more current items resurfaced from my desk, perfect fodder for an end of summer column.

BansheePad.jpgThe first is the Banshee Pad, Atomic Bolt's "patent-pending mouse surface." That's a "mouse pad" to you and me, but – as the instruction manual (that’s right, it comes with a user's guide) points out, "this isn't your daddy's mouse pad." The Banshee Pad is made from aircraft-grade aluminum to provide a low-friction surface "designed to optimize laser and optical mouse performance."

Designed by 20-year-old game fanatic Thomas Athanas, the Banshee Pad is intended to optimize gameplay by providing a larger, solid and more durable surface for mousing. The Banshee Pad comes with "low friction dots" to stick on the bottom of your mouse to improve the glide of the mouse across the surface. The Pad, in blue, purple, red, and black, costs $39.95. A customized version, with your name etched into the aluminum, costs $49.95.

While the packaging essentially asked me to prepare to be amazed at the new performance and precision facilitated by the Banshee Pad, I'm not sure I noticed much of a difference in mouse sensitivity. But the bright red aluminum mouse pad definitely draws attention to itself. Forty bucks is a low price to pay for cool.
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laptopdesk.jpgSpeaking of cool, the second product, Laptop Desk, is a molded plastic lap tray that lets you work with your laptop on your lap (of all places), without your legs breaking into a sweat. The ridged surface provides a stable base for literal laptop computing while allowing air to flow under the computer, thereby cooling it.

LapWorks sells its cool for $29.95, or two for $49.95. The company has apparently been working to improve the Laptop Desk. The one I tried was labeled "version 2.0." The desk does make for more comfortable laptop computing. But for me, mobile computing is all about light weight and compactness. Laptop Desk weighs more than a pound, and folded still measures 11.13- by 10.69- by 0.63-inches. Were I buying (and I must state that this product was provided to me as part of the Silicon Valley 100 program (http://www.stonebrick.com/influencer100.html), I'd probably opt for the smaller Laptop Desk UltraLite, which weighs 14.6 ounces and costs the same as the heavier one.

Switching gears, I also had the chance to play with Zi Corporation's Qix mobile phone UI and am wondering why all handset makers and carriers don't just make this the de facto standard for mobile phone user interface. The application sits on top of the phone's OS and serves as an uber-search engine for data and applications stored on the phone. Enter 2 4 (for C and H) and up comes the contact info for "Chris", as well as the chat application, for example. There's no need to navigate to contacts to search for "Chris," nor to menu through applications to find the chat program. (Click here for a closer look at the interface)

Zi has made great inroads with handset manufacturers (Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, among others) and has a strong presence in Asian markets with its type-ahead text input applications eZiTap and eZiText. That technology is wrapped into Qix to enable the predictive search results from only a few keystokes.

As mobile phones become platforms for a wide array of applications, we'll need a better interface for navigating the information space of the phone. Folders and layered menus won’t be practical. On my SmartPhone, for example, I have to navigate through four screens of menus in order to reach a recently installed application. This application will certainly impact my use of data minutes, but if I can’t get to it easily, I'll use it -- and data minutes -- less.

Qix is one of those rare applications in the mobile space that delivers tremendous value to the customer and the carrier, making the phone simpler to use and so driving more use.

With three weeks left before I head to DEMOfall, there’s no telling what else I may uncover. For now, my desk is looking pretty good. Then again, that file drawer is beckoning ...

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at chris@demo.com. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter, visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.

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