Most of the low-cost Mac stuff I see is software,but there are plenty of companies that sell great hardware products for $100 or less. One of the most innovative companies is Griffin Technology, which has been producing neat Mac gadgets since 1992. I first met Paul Griffin, the company’s president, back in the mid-1990s. Paul is the classic inventor type — with a mind full of cool products, crazy ideas, and sleek designs — and every time I run into him, he’s got some new gizmo to show me or a wild idea to discuss. The biggest knock against the company has been its problems delivering Paul’s vision to the public on his timetable, but it’s become much better recently about shipping products, and the product pipeline shows no sign of slowing down.
At last January’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Griffin was showing the iTrip, a stylish $35 FM transmitter for the iPod. The iTrip allows you to listen to your MP3 songs on a home or car stereo — unfortunately, it didn’t have shipping units for me to test before this month’s column went to print, but I have been playing with a few other Griffin products you should know about.
Griffin has been shipping the $35 iMic, a small USB audio-input device, for more than two years. The iMic is a great product, especially if you’re looking to capture simple two-track audio out in the field or on the cheap (or if you don’t have an audio-in port on your Mac), but some people want a bit more fidelity and flexibility. To that end, Griffin is now shipping the PowerWave (
), a $100 USB-based audio-input and -output device.
The PowerWave is full of features that separate it from some of the other USB audio devices on the market. To start with, it includes a 20-watt-per-channel amplifier and comes with Griffin’s $25 ProSpeaker Breakout Cable, so you can connect standard stereo speakers — not the cheap powered kind hooked up to so many Macs — directly to the unit and get great sound. You can also connect Apple’s Pro Speakers to the PowerWave, since Griffin uses the same connector on the PowerWave that Apple uses on select iMacs and desktop Macs. (And since the PowerWave is self-powered, any audio device hooked to it — such as an iPod — will play through the speakers, even if your Mac is shut down.)
For sound input and output, the PowerWave has stereo RCA jacks and minijack ports and includes the cables necessary to connect the unit to your stereo or iPod. It doesn’t require drivers — any OS 9 or OS X application that supports the Mac’s standard audio functions will work with the PowerWave, and Griffin has a free application, Final Vinyl, that lets you record and edit audio quickly and easily. The PowerWave even has a switch through which it can provide zero-latency sound recording. This lets you overdub multitrack recordings while you’re playing them back, a powerful feature not found in other low-cost sound devices. All in all, if you’re looking for a way to get a little more audio into and out of your Mac, the PowerWave is a great way to go.
Another cool tool from Griffin that often gets overlooked is the PowerMate (
), a $45 USB controller knob that can be used for lots of different tasks. With its brushed-metal look, hefty feel, and pulsing blue base, the PowerMate looks like a mad scientist’s panic button or a fancy knob that was pulled off of a high-priced stereo. Out of the box, it really is nothing more than a volume knob for apps such as iTunes, but its power lies in its programmability. You can program the controller for use with just about any application — iMovie, iTunes, Final Cut Pro, various audio applications — to scrub audio, scroll through documents or movie timelines, and more. And it looks pretty cool, too.
The last Griffin item I’ll talk about this month is the iCurve (
). It’s a bit of a departure for the company — it doesn’t hook up to your Mac, but it’s quite nice nonetheless, especially if you’re a PowerBook or iBook user and have a desktop setup with a keyboard, mouse, external display, or other peripherals.
The $40 iCurve is a sleek, transparent Lucite stand with small rubber feet that keep it from sliding around your desktop. It holds your PowerBook above your desk surface at a slight angle — giving you a clear view of the screen and giving your notebook plenty of ventilation. It supports the 12- and 17-inch PowerBooks without any trouble. It might not seem like an essential piece of equipment at first glance, but, as with many of Griffin’s products, I find myself missing it when I’m working in a remote office or on the road. To me, that’s the sign of a winner.
A Simple Click of the Phone?
Bluetooth is here. I resisted it for a long time, but thanks to the built-in Bluetooth support in the 12-inch PowerBook, I’m finally starting to see the technology’s potential. I’m using two Bluetooth devices, Palm’s excellent Tungsten T (
; May 2003) and the Sony Ericsson T68i, in conjunction with my Mac. That combination generally works fine, but what really blew me away was Salling Software’s Salling Clicker (formerly named Sony Ericsson Clicker) (
), a $10 preference pane for OS X that works with five of Sony Ericsson’s Bluetooth phones: the T39m, R520m, T68, T68I, and T6810.
Salling Clicker lets you use your phone to control your Mac remotely via AppleScript. Any scriptable application can receive commands from your phone, and Clicker ships with scripts for controlling Apple’s iTunes, DVD Player, and Keynote; Microsoft PowerPoint; and more. (Salling’s Web site has links to all sorts of scripts for Clicker.) To make things easy for you, Clicker has a mechanism for creating simple scripts, so you don’t really have to get down and dirty with AppleScript if you don’t want to.
Clicker also has a proximity feature that can trigger scripts or actions based on your phone’s (and, assuming the phone is in your pocket, your) location. At its simplest, you could have iTunes pause the current track every time your phone goes out of Bluetooth range, and start it back up whenever it comes back into range.
All in all, Clicker is one of those wondrous little utilities that demonstrate the power of interconnected technologies. If you have one of the supported phones, buy it — you’ll have a blast.
From Analog to PhotoKit
If you’re a digital photographer, chances are you spend a lot of time in Adobe Photoshop — I know I do. I freely admit that I use only about 60 percent of Photoshop’s power and rarely take the time to deal with masking, layers, and other lengthy methods for color-correcting, toning, or sharpening my images. My pictures are looking a bit better these days, thanks to PhotoKit (
), a $50 Photoshop plug-in from Pixel Genius.
PhotoKit can perform a range of different operations on your images, including color correction, selective sharpening, dodging and burning, and transformations from color to black-and-white and sepia-, selenium-, and platinum-style tones. Many of the effects are the digital equivalent of the things film photographers have been doing in the field or the darkroom for years, such as placing color filters on a lens to highlight a specific color range on film. And since it does all of its magic in a new layer, you never lose your original image (which makes it great for comparing effects on a single file).
Unlike many other Photoshop plug-ins, PhotoKit doesn’t have a lot of flash — there are no effect previews, for example — but I regularly find an effect or combination that works beautifully, especially on older images that I had discarded for various reasons having more to do with color than composition.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I know a couple of the brains behind PhotoKit — one of the principals is Macworld contributing editor Bruce Fraser — but I wouldn’t write about the product if I didn’t like it, and I know these guys developed PhotoKit because they wanted to be able to do these types of operations quickly and efficiently.
If you spend any appreciable amount of time working on images in Photoshop, download the demo and take a look at what these geniuses have been able to do.
Crosswords Redux (Mea Culpa)
In my last column, I wrote about MacXword, the puzzle client from Advenio Software (
; April 2003), claiming that it was the only stand-alone OS X app for solving New York Times crossword puzzles. Wouldn’t you know it? Shortly after I wrote those words, an OS X 10.2 version of the original puzzle client from Literate Software Systems, the free Across Lite (mmm), was posted on the Times Web site.
Although I was unable to reach anyone from Literate to discuss Across Lite for OS X, at some point I should have noticed the link posted on the Times site — I am downloading the Sunday puzzle, after all. I played around with it, and I can say this: the Across Lite update works fine. I still prefer MacXword; with its Cocoa interface and direct link to the OneAcross hint site, it’s worth the $15 fee — but free is free.
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