As I wrote in January from CES, one of the biggest categories of products on display was accessories of all kinds. There's a good reason for that. They’re easier for small companies to make, compared with complex electronic platforms, and their profit margins can be huge, up to 80 percent.
Here's a summary of some of the more useful or novel ones.
Olloclip is a tiny, pocket-sized accessory lens module that slides onto the corner of an iPhone 5 that works to provide a variety of imaging options.
Slipped on with the fish-eye lens side facing forward, it produces a circular image with about a 180-degree field of view. Slipped on in the other direction, it creates a wide-angle image with twice the normal field of view.
Remove the outer lens, and you have a macro lens that focuses to a half-inch from the subject. Not surprisingly, the images are not as sharp and high in contrast as the camera lens alone, and there's some spherical distortion in the wide-angle image.
But the Olloclip is still useful and increases the versatility of the iPhone 5 camera's capabilities. ($70, olloclip.com)
Accell Home or Away Power Station – three-outlet travel surge protector.
This is one of those industrial-looking products that you might see sitting on the shelf of a hardware store and pass it by. It's a nondescript plastic enclosure, with three grounded AC outlets and two USB connectors.
I've been traveling with it in my computer bag for a few weeks and have tried it out in hotel rooms and lobbies, and find it’s become indispensible. It’s a fist-size device that plugs into a single outlet and can charge three devices with their AC chargers and two USB devices directly, including an iPad.
It also has a built-in surge protector to protect your devices from voltage spikes. While it will never win an award for its industrial look, it's useful and a bargain at about $20. (accellcables.com)
Rokform Rokshield v3 case
Rokform makes some unusual cases for a variety of products that are focused around a clever built-in universal mount, which lets you attach your device to a variety of places. Its Rokshield v3 is a rugged, somewhat bulky iPhone case made of plastic and silicone rubber.
The built-in mounting system bayonets onto one of its custom mounts or attaches onto a metal surface with the case's built-in magnet. It’s more industrial-looking than sleek, but it’s a good solution for mounting your phone onto your car’s dashboard, on a bike or tripod. ($50, rokform.com)
Just Mobile AluRack and AluBase are two attractively designed aluminum stands for holding MacBooks. The AluRack attaches to the back of an Apple Monitor or desktop iMac and provides a shelf for storing your MacBook vertically behind the monitor, hidden from view ($60).
The AluBase is a compact, heavily weighted aluminum stand to hold your MacBook or MacBook Air vertically on a table or desk for storage or while being charged. Each of these products is handsomely finished to match the materials of Apple products. ($50, just-mobile.com)
Just Mobile is one of the few accessory companies from Asia that I've come across that understands the importance of good industrial design.
Samsung cover for Galaxy phones -- Two of the hottest phones continue to be the Samsung Galaxy III and Note 2.
Samsung has taken advantage of having a removable back, and has come up with an ultrathin case that protects the display. The case replicates the back cover, contacts and all, and grafts onto it a flat front cover that opens like a book. It can fold around the back to use the display or stay in place to talk through an opening on the cover.
Prices range from $30 to $50, and it's available at AT&T stores and other carriers that carry these Samsung phones. Beware of some the online sites that are selling cheap imitation copies for less than half the price. (Samsung.com)