Paris Expo Features Mac Accessories

Reporter's Notebook: FastMac offers battery upgrade for iPod, while Belkin rolls out Mac Mini hubs with USB and FireWire ports and AssistiveWare demonstrates accessibility software.

PARIS—Without a keynote announcement to satiate attendees, visitors to Apples Paris Expo had to be content with a number of smaller disclosures.

On display were a number of iPod accessories, including a bondage-esque little number for the iPod nano, compliments of Tunewear. Elsewhere, however, hardware and software designers adopted the Apple aesthetic to develop add-ons and complementary hardware for a number of Apple devices.

Well, some tried to, anyways. FastMac has made its living developing performance upgrades for the Macintosh, swapping G3 processors for G4 chips, et cetera. However, the upgrade specialist has moved where the market has led it, developing its first battery upgrade for the iPod market.


Although the life of a battery is difficult to quantify—and therefore characterize—iPod batteries tend to run down over time, to the point where a fully charged battery provides only a fraction of the power capacity of a new unit. FastMacs upgrades add a small, capacitor-like device to the battery-unit to reduce the "strain" on it while searching for a song, spinning up the hard drive, et cetera. FastMacs battery upgrade will provide 70 percent of the original capacity after two years, according to Patrick Manning, a representative of the Salinas, Calif.-based company. The company will charge 24 euros or about $30 for a third-generation iPod upgrade, and 26 euros ($36) for a Gen-1 or Gen-2 player.

"We think you shouldnt care what the battery life is on day one," Manning said. The key is, whats the battery life after one year, two years, three years."

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Belkin, meanwhile, showed off an expansion port for the Mac mini. Since the mini is an obviously compact piece of hardware, Belkin executives felt that users might not have access to all of the USB and FireWire devices that theyre used to.

Enter a pair of USB hubs, priced at 24.99 pounds sterling for a 6-port USB hub and a slightly pricier 34.99 pounds for a hub that includes both the six USB connections and a pair of FireWire connections. Both hubs launched just before the show but have been out less than a week, according to a Belkin representative.

Finally, in the shadow of the "Digital Life" aisle sat a small row of educational software vendors and other developers for smaller markets. In one corner, a small group of Russian educators gathered around AssistiveWare, whose KeyStrokes and SwitchXS software was complemented by the release of Proloquo, a speech-synthesis software package for the Mac.

AssistiveWares software actually allows severely disabled people a life, digitally. In one demonstration, a woman with severe ALS communicated to the outside world via an eye-tracking mechanism and a sensor attached to a cheek muscle.

The Proloquo package can serve as a talking word processor, but can also verbally read a Finder menu, highlighted text, or any other command, translating a visual cue into an aural one. The software can also be used to translate or vocalize foreign languages, although the English-speaking versions do sound better than the built-in foreign voices, said David Niemeijer, the companys chief technical officer.

For all the glitz and glamour surrounding Apple today, it was a nice reminder of what the company was founded on: an operating system that facilitates the interaction of man and machine.

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