Trender Research™

Technology meets people.

iGo Vs. Powermat: Gadget Accessories Good, Bad, and Ugly (Part 1)

As I said before, I try to be positive and open-minded when it comes to new technology. Not only are peoples’ livelihoods at stake, but we should realize that for every good tech product or service that makes it into our homes, 10 others tried and failed. But I am also cognizant of the fact that at Trender Research we focus on not just nerd-food, but tech devices and services that have a good chance of becoming mainstream— that is, they hit a sweet spot of usability that everyday folks can relate to. I would do a disservice to you, our dear reader, if I didn’t on occasion point out overhyped products that won’t likely be gracing your homes.

But let’s start positive with some of the goodies. Amidst all the gadget regalia at this year’s CES were hundreds of accessory products that add value, improve, or simplify other products. Several of the products that caught my eye for their practicality were all from iGo. You have to hand it to iGo, they have built an arsenal of very practical devices. First up is a universal charger called the iGo Everywhere Wall and Auto Charger.

One of the biggest problems for all consumers is the complete proliferation of all things digital—all of those little electronic gremlins need to be powered. The iGo Everywhere is a must for anyone sick of having to buy a menagerie of different chargers for the home or car. And if you think it is a big conspiracy theory, you are right. Consumer electronics manufacturers, especially mobile phone providers, figured out a long time ago they can make huge margins on accessories. Ever wonder why you buy a subsidized phone (by your service provider) for $50 only to have to spend another $29.99 on a mobile charger? That is no accident. So instead of having to buy a dozen different chargers for all your devices, now you buy one iGo charger and small $9.99 attachments called “tips” for each type of charging interface.

Watch iGo video from CES.

Two other products worth taking a look at are the $24.99 iGo Notebook Cleaning Kit (yes it does need to be cleaned of all that gunk every now and then)…

Laptop Cleaning Kit

International Adapter Kit

…and the $24.99 iGo International Travel Adapter Kit for the global road warrior. Did you know that if you went from the US, to UK, to France, you would need three different chargers? I found out the hard way on trips to France and Japan. Pop quiz: is it easier to beg for power in French or Japanese? (I’ll leave it to you to ponder the answer).

Contrast this paragon of practicality with, well, something else… Powermat, a company that received a huge amount of attention at the recent Consumer Electronics Show.


In theory, Powermat has a lot of promise. It uses magnetic induction to charge your CE devices without wires. You simply lay the device down on the Powermat and your gadget gets just enough juice to fully power it at a rate equal to or better than a traditional charger---without wasting what has become known as “vampire power” which drains well past the full recharging point. When a cell phone is placed on Powermat, the mat recognizes what it needs to power up and supplies only that electrical charge.

See Powermat demo video.

The problem is that the device is not truly wireless. It does not charge a device through the air. You still need to plug the Powermat into a power outlet. And worse, you need a special case unique to each device that you want to power (iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, etc.). And finally, the Powermat is not exactly a space saver. While it is a pain for me and my wife to find plugs for our two cell phones and iPods and such, we can at least stick them where they are convenient—whether it be the side table, kitchen organizer, or desk. Not so with the Powermat. It takes up too much space on only a flat service. And the mobile version comes in a bulky case way bigger than a simple mobile recharger.

The ultimate goal of Powermat, and when it would become hugely practical, is to get its technology adopted by builders so that is gets baked into your homes’ counters and walls with no extra effort of your own. It’s working on that recharging Nirvana, but it would still have the problem of the custom cases needed for each device. If only we could just leave our gadgets lying around anywhere with no plugs at all and no dedicated services.

But let’s not dog PowerMat too much because they are certainly heading in the right direction and their technology has a lot of promise. Like most things, the key will be to get the major industry players on board so that most of their devices are shipped with the proper Powermat case, perhaps one that could double as a protective carrying case with optional belt buckle for geeks like me. Then, they will need to streamline the Powermat itself to take up less room. Heck, maybe even merge it with the iGo Everywhere so that you have one compact, integrated charger that works by both magnetic induction and traditional methods. That would be a real winner. Now who has more funding to buy the other company?

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