Looking for a small gift for the technophile in your life? These are my recommendations for this holiday season:
- Portable Battery Charger: At least one person on your gift list spends their day on the move, whether at work or play, and probably spends the back third of that day babying their mobile device’s dwindling battery while desperately looking for a convenient AC outlet. Give them one of these chargers for their daily carry and they can work or play into the wee hours of the next day without being tethered to a wall socket. They are small, light enough to carry in a jacket pocket and will quickly charge just about any USB powered device and then some.
- Brightly colored, extra-long Lightning charging cable: Everyone and their mother’s brother has an iSomething at home, and you can bet their one power cord is one tug away from an electrical disaster. Why not get them something that is hard to miss and long enough to use comfortably while being plugged into an inconvenient power source? If they have an older model iPad or iPhone with the older connector, this will work for them. Sadly, the color choices aren’t nearly as festive. If they hail from the Android side of the fence, these swanky cables will work for micro-USB devices, and these will work for the ones that come with the new-fangled Type-C connectors (the new Nexus phones, for example).
- Portable 4-port Wall Charger: The best holidays are spent with friends and family, and you can bet a full house will have its share of dying mobile devices looking for a charger. These handy devices are compact with a folding plug for easy storage and portage, and can provide a quick, safe charge for up to 4 devices and with minimal wall-wart eruptions.
- Chromecast TV: Small enough and cheap enough to put one on every HDMI TV in the house, and capable of playing content from both Android and iOS devices. Small warning, they will need Wi-Fi, and cat videos are even more awesome on a big screen in your living room. If you are more into music, they make an audio-only version as well.
- I call this the “Gadget Hound Night Stand Sanity Saver“: Some of us keep our phones and tablets on the night stand by our bed. Every single one of us has at least one charging cable dangling on or about our work space. This handy gadget provides charging for up to 4 USB devices, two AC outlets and a convenient stand that works perfectly for phones or small tablets, and is right at home by the bed or on your desk. Why not have one for every night stand in the house, so your family and guests can charge up right where their devices work and sleep?
- Waterproof Bluetooth Earbuds: While perhaps a little steep for a stocking-stuffer, these might be the perfect gift for that special, active person in your life. I personally find music, audio books and podcasts to be great motivators while engaged in labor-intensive but otherwise mindless endeavors (exercise, yard work, house work, etc), but I hate getting tangled in the cord running to my smartphone. Bluetooth headphones allow you to cut the cord without sacrificing quality audio, and they can double as a headset when the inevitable call comes in right while you are in the middle of your activities.
Despite the advent of wifi technology which has made staying connected a much more elegant, wire-free affair, we are still tethered by the ever-present power cord. Just about everyone who has traveled with electronics has cursed the forgotten power cord, and probably thrice cursed the tangled knot of cords they did remember to bring. Induction charging has attempted to answer this nagging first-world issue, but adoption of the technology has been slow, and it hasn’t conquered the primary complaint: your devices are tethered not with physical wires this time, but by the need for contact with the induction surface.
Enter surprise start-up Ossia and their product, Cota. Making their debut at the TechCrunch Disrupt13 conference, Ossia founder and physicist Hatem Zeine has developed a technology dubbed “Cota” that can safely power devices wirelessly, at a distance and through walls. The technology is still in the prototype phase and is slowly making its way through the FCC approval process, but Zeine was able to provide a live, on-stage demonstration of an unmodified iPhone being charged wirelessly from the prototype at a distance of several feet. The company’s initial foray into production is aimed at industrial applications where wireless power delivery is a top priority, such as powering remote sensors in a refinery, where electrical sparks are a constant worry. Ossia aims to to have a consumer product by 2015, which is envisioned to consist of a charging station approximately the size of a desktop tower PC, and will be partnered with a variety of receiving platforms such as built-in electronics, battery replacements and add-on receivers for legacy devices.
What this means for you:
We’ve a bit of a wait until the Cota arrives for consumers, but given the world’s aggressive adoption of mobile electronics and fondness for wireless aesthetics, it’s likely that even if Ossia fails, other companies will rise to the challenge. According to Zeine, the technology is as safe as current Wifi technology probably permeating your house and office right now, as it works in the same frequency spectrum. Whether or not you believe that platform to have any health implications is probably moot if you live or work in any urban first-world environment, as you are “soaking in it” as we speak. Assuming the health question is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, Zeine is predicting a complete paradigm shift in how we look at mobile technology, envisioning a world without batteries and the concept of “charging” made obsolete by an omnipresent power source. Are you ready to ditch the power cords? It may be coming sooner than you think!
Among the many things that complicate technology, batteries have historically been a big, heavy, environmentally disasterous anchor around everyone’s necks. Researchers at UCLA have recently announced a breakthrough in producing graphene-based “supercapacitors” that essentially takes the best parts of a capictor and a traditional battery to form what may be as transformative as the discovery of electricity. Graphene-based batteries are envisioned to be able to charge in minutes. On top of this, graphene itself is very eco-friendly (compostable, in fact), durable and flexible, almost the exact opposite of current battery technology.
What this means for you:
I don’t know about you, but my mobile devices always seem to be on low battery at the most inconvenient moments. Even if there is a power plug nearby and you happen to have your charging cable, putting your phone/laptop/camera/tablet down in the middle of a busy day (not to mention a public place like an airport) for an hour or more is just not practical. What may be really eye-opening is if graphene battery technology could be used for electric vehicles, specifically electric cars which have been struggling against “range anxiety” in their adoption and spread. Charging stations, once envisioned as impractical (mostly because of the slow charge times) could literally operate with the same speed and convenience as a traditional gas station, paving the way for a fossil-fuel free future. Say that four times fast!
Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net