What are Digital Seasons? Hugh John and Merlin John visit a gadget heaven
The good thing about a Digital Summer is that it can't get rained off. It's an annual Tin Drum PR event (there's a Digital Winter too), organised by former UK Macworld editor David Fanning, that brings interesting new digital products within tech journalists' reach of a goody bag.
Our challenge is to pick products and innovations that might be useful for schools. How about devices that ensure your mobile devices never run out of power? Or an iPhone attachment for 360 degree pics? Or a mobile, lightweight hard disk that can service student and teacher devices over wifi whether delivering or saving data?
Particularly interesting at Digital Seasons events are the innovative companies that create healthy livings for themselves beyond the limits of the customer care provided by industry giants like Apple. The devices they provide that Apple can't, many of which find their way into the Apple Store.
Reminiscent of those little birds you see on TV nature programmes enjoying a comfortable lifestyle on the back of a rhinoceros, they identify the things you’d like to do with your mobile phone, tablet, or laptop and find innovative ways to help you. The rhinoceros hardly notices them unless, of course, the 'birds' start driving BMWs – then they might take a proprietary route to cut them them off at the pass...
While these products usually fit across broad categories of accessories, they can usually be broken down into storage, backup and memory, audio systems like iPhone docks, and power sources, many of them green.
TV on your iPad? Plug in Elgato
It's a dynamic and highly innovative market. Want to watch TV on your iPad? Tune in with a tiny EyeTV Mobile plug-in from Elgato (see "Plug in Elgato for instant TV on Apple iPads"). Start chatting with the Elgato people and you'll discover innovations, like a device to capture high-definition video directly from games consoles like the PlayStation 3. While neither of these might find many buyers in schools you know that some will put them to very good use.
The innovation most likely to catch the attention of iPad users in schools was the Wi-Drive from Kingston (see "Mobile media and streaming for 'pad' road warriors"). A storage device no bigger than an iPod Touch, this device has built-in wifi so it can be used to distribute materials to groups using digital devices like iPads on the move, or to wirelessly collect the materials they have created. It can be used to stream video too.
One of the leading companies when it comes to power supplies has to be iGo. The two main themes on the iGo stand were Green, as in eco-friendly, and juice, as in battery power back-up for mobile devices.
The Go-Green rechargeable batteries are reckoned to be able to hold a charge for up to seven years, contain no toxic heavy metals and come pre-charged and ready to use. iGo offer these batteries with either a two or four AA charger (£10 for iGo Battery Charger and four batteries). They’re not as powerful as some rechargeables on the market, clocking in at 2000mAh, so it might be best to use heavy duty-batteries in devices like photography flash units. For everyday usage, however, they’re absolutely fine and, as the company claims, “they’re the greenest batteries available.”
If it’s battery back-up you’re after, look no further. Laptop, iPod, phone, tablet, iGo has it covered. The Automatic Laptop Charger (£40) is compatible with Acer, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, LG, Sony, Toshiba. There are chargers that are compatible with all the commonly used smartphones and the Charge Anytime Micro USB (£15) is a very clever little gizmo that fits on a keyring and provides an emergency charge of somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent – enough to get you back to base hopefully – to most smartphones.
For power that reaches beyond your smartphone battery try mophie
Emergency back-up for mobile phones and devices is well covered by mophie's range of mobile battery re-chargers (see "Mophie lifeline for smartphones with stupid batteries"). It's a company you have to keep checking on as the innovation is persistent and rapid.
A clear benefit of a small, human-scale technology event is the space and time for conversation and networking. At Digital Summer the chat was excellent, as were the insights about proprietary technology, especially connectors. The forgiving attitude of some of us – that perhaps some of them were created to set a quality benchmark – was certainly not shared by vendors.
Their view was that standardisation is undoubtedly in the interests of customers and third-party suppliers, but did you know that payments are made to the IP owners for every proprietary plug on every lead they sell? It all sounded depressingly greedy – so it's probably true!
At every Digital Seasons event there is usually a standout innovation, and this summer it was the BubbleScope (see video below), a very clever attachment for an iPhone that creates 360-degree photos and videos (your 'bubbles'). You just attach the case to your iPhone and then the Bubblescope attachment, and then use your downloaded app to create your 'bubbles' which you can store on bubblepix.com.
Digital Seasons also excite the magpie in journalists – just like teachers at the BETT show – always on the lookout for a freebie fest. The best picking at Digital Summer 2012 had to be the simple, all-metal Datatraveler 8Gb USB memory stick from Kingston – perfect for the rigours of a keyring. But before you murmur "bribery and corruption" you can find a 16Gb version at Amazon for just £7! While it's sad to acknowledge season change, roll on Digital Winter on October 11 with its raffle for the new iPhone 5.