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Digital Holiday Trends 2007: Portable Media and Accessories

It's holiday shopping season again, and time to explore the trends and new possibilities in portable electronics and associated accessories.

This first installment focuses on portable media and accessories, looking at trends in these areas, and some sample products that illustrate them (click links for full articles):

Portable Media Players -- Video playback, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity

Mobile Media -- Video and Internet everywhere

    Audio Accessories -- Earphones and Headsets, Wireless, Noise Reduction to enjoy music on the go

    Portable Power -- Universal Chargers to fuel all these electronic goodies

    GPS Navigation Goes Mobile

These summary articles link back to my Digital Media Galleries for more information and related products, and to this blog for postings on these topics and specific topics.

Summary of portable holiday trends below

Portable Media Players -- Video, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

What was originally known as the "MP3 player" market has expanded into what are now called "portable media players" -- as basic MP3 music playback has expanded to include photos and then videos. Even small players with flash memory now have color displays and multi-gigabyte capacities to show least short-form videos.

Media players also are starting to add wireless connectivity. Even smaller flash players can use Bluetooth to interconnect with mobile phones and wireless headsets and speakers. And larger players are adding Wi-Fi to bring Internet radio, streaming video, and even Web browsing to larger displays.

Mobile Media -- Video and Internet

Why carry multiple dedicated devices -- phone, media player, PDA / organizer -- when you can combine them into a single integrated smartphone device, and add Internet access as well? It makes sense, but the bulk and cost and interface issues with smartphones have caused them to lag far behind the huge popularity of mobile phones. Companies like Apple, with the iPhone, and Palm, still plugging away, and now Google, are out to change all that.

In addition, Internet access through Wi-Fi networking is great when you're at home or settled in a free public hotspot. But depending on Wi-Fi for constant communications can be a problem, as you search around a new town for a hot spot, and find yourself paying stiff fees for hourly access. Meanwhile, your phone is always on and always connected, and now provides both voice and data service -- so you can get DSL-like mobile broadband rates to your phone, PDA, or even your notebook computer.

Audio Accessories -- Earphones and Headsets, Wireless, Noise Reduction

The most important accessory for a portable media player is, of course, some kind of earphone or headphone so you can listen to the music. But it's clumsy dealing with the wires -- running them over and under your jacket, snagging them on the subway, and packing them away so they won't tangle. Even worse, mobile phones use a different earpiece -- mono and not stereo, typically wireless with a Bluetooth connection, and with a smaller audio connector, so now you have two separate devices and two different earphones to juggle between listening to music and taking calls.

The answer, obviously, is to move to dual-use earphones and headphones -- phone and player, mono and stereo, and, of course, wireless. And as Bluetooth becomes more accepted and built in to more devices, it opens up interesting opportunities for sharing between a broader range of devices.

A second major trend in audio accessories is the trickle down of noise suppression technology from high-end headsets to small earbuds and earpieces. Snug-fitting earbuds and full-ear headphone flaps offer a first level of passive sound isolation to block ambient noise. Then active noise cancellation performs signal processing to cancel out background noise. This can be amazingly effective in reducing (but not totally eliminating) noisy environments, from the background music and hum in a restaurant or bookstore to the rumble of a train or airplane.

Portable Power -- Universal Chargers

All our portable devices require power to recharge and keep running. Instead of carrying more and more individual power adapters for each product, you can now find some more general solutions.

Whether for cell phones, digital cameras, or laptops, you can now find a variety of universal chargers with swappable device-specific adaptors that allow you to charge multiple devices from a single unit. Even better, many devices now use the standard USB interface for both data connectivity (syncing) and power, reducing the need to carry a collection of different cords and connectors.

GPS Navigation Goes Mobile

Car navigation systems using GPS (Global Positioning System) have become quite popular for taking the guesswork out of driving. But the new trend for the holidays is mobile navigation systems -- breaking away from the dashboard with a new generation of portable hand-held units that can get your car to your destination, and then detach to help you find your way on foot.

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