Keyring Key - Sure, why not?

Want one less piece of metal jangling around in your pocket? Get one of these keys from Amron Experimental and ditch the keyring. It's one of those ideas that's so good it makes you feel stupid for not having thought of it. Sure, there are problems: that becomes the one key you can't remove from the others without causing a mess, there may be practical metal-strength problems, and so on. But just look at it, and tell me it doesn't feel right! Not bad.
[via Gizmodo]

Cablox: Wrangle those cables!

An increasingly wired world means... well, increasing wires. Many of us now have computer and/or home theater setups with oodles of cables all over the place, making an unsightly rats' nest surrounding our expensive gadgets. There are a number of cable-management solutions out there, but here's one that just looks a bit more clever than most. Instead of a single clip for a single cable, CABLOX is a grid of mushroom-shaped pegs, to route any number of cables any number of directions. With an upcoming move and a chance to make my own setups a little tidier, I just might go for some of these myself...
[via Wired and Gizmodo]

Cellphone-Camera Microscope: Field tool for the developing world...

Pete Kazanjy is at it again, finding so much material for this blog that I'm starting to feel guilty that he's not on the payroll. This time, the suggestion came with a disclaimer, "not sure if this is Unpressable Buttons material" - oh, Pete, it certainly is! The subject is the development of a microscopy attachment for cellphone cameras, by the University of California at Berkeley. The value of such a tool may not be obvious to most of us, but that's because most of us have never been where this tool has value: in the clinics of the developing world, where (according to the article on ScienceBlogs) "resources are limited and laboratory facilities scarce, but mobile phone networks are ubiquitous." This attachment provides the necessary hardware to enable life-saving diagnoses, while keeping costs down by leveraging existing devices and infrastructure. That is good, usable, well-thought-out product design!

SmartSwipe - It may swipe, but it ain't smart...

Are you a shopaholic struggling to make the transition from brick-and-mortar sprees to online splurging? If so, the SmartSwipe may be for you: it verrry slightly simplifies the task of online shopping by letting you swipe instead of type in your credit card, and hey, the device itself is yet another useless purchase that will give you that shoppers' high! Seriously, though, the company claims security advantages, but I'm highly doubtful that this is more than marking fluff; really, it's a way to swap one data entry method for another. And for 90 bucks? Well, I'm just not buyin' it...
[via Gizmodo]

Bookmarking Reading Lamp - A nighttime trifecta...

I've posted about something similar before, but this latest concept from designers Jun Yasumoto, Alban Le Henry, Olivier Pigasse, and Vincent Vandenbrouck (wow, that's a lot of credits) adds one more feature to the list: it's (1) a reading lamp that (2) serves as a bookmark, and (3) is turned on and off by the book itself. Yup, placing the book onto the wedge of light saves the page and turns the light off in one fell swoop; picking the book back up turns the light on. Simple, functional, and even intuitive - for the limited real estate on one's nightstand, that's not a bad combo!
[via Gizmodo & Core77]

Sniper Rifle Cup Holder - Deadly and refreshing!

Product designers often opt out of designing weapons for moral/ethical reasons, but hey, someone's gotta do it. And sometimes those who do it come up with interesting things - and this, for better or worse, certainly qualifies as "interesting!" Yup, this is a cup-holder that attaches to your sniper rifle, thanks to Badger Ordnance. So, is this frivolous or useful? At first it seems ridiculous that such an ordinary accessory should go with such an intense product, but with more thought it makes sense: a sniper's job consists of lots and lots of waiting. That waiting is often in the military hot spots of today, which tend to be hot and dry. Why shouldn't the sharpshooter have a libation to quench his thirst? Just hope the target doesn't show up while you're in the middle of a sip...
[via Wired & Gizmodo, photo by Bryan Jones]

Double Shower Curtain Rod - You're doing it wrong...

Pete Kazanjy, a friend who's such a frequent contributor that he should almost be listed as a co-author of this blog, has another gem for us. Remember the simple and practical double shower-curtain rod, with an extra bar for towels or clothes? Well, Pete spotted one for sale out in the wild - but with a photo on the packaging that gets it all wrong. The towel is hanging inside the shower curtain, dooming it to become soaked during the shower instead of drying you after it. Maybe this just makes a more attractively composed product photo - or maybe the photo crew didn't give a hoot - but it's just a bit sad. The bright side is that it would take a real user just one shower to discover their error!

Laptop Notification Light - Why isn't this a real feature?

The image at left is a hacked, home-built feature added to a standard netbook, but it's pretty darn brilliant: a single tri-color LED, visible at all times (even when the laptop is closed) illuminates in different colors depending on whether there's activity on the user's email, IM, Twitter, or whatever. My question is, in an age of constant connectedness and instant updates, why isn't this a real product feature being offered by PC makers? Of all the lights that are visible on a laptop - power, hard drive access, wireless, bluetooth - why couldn't one be something just like this? It adds value, it would be cheap to implement, and could be as easy to use (for beginners) or customizable (for power users) as the owner wants. C'mon, PC makers, pick this up!
[via Engadget]

Gadgets vs Social Interaction

Fellow usability blogger Jasper posts on his Uselog site about how mobile web devices (yeah, iPhones) are throwing a wrench into normal social interactions. Good old-fashioned conversational delights give way to whipping out the phone to look up some fact, photo, or video; or worse, those present decide that their company is less interesting than texting those absent. He also found this photo, from Flickr user garrettmurray, showing no fewer than five iPhones in use at an (otherwise) fun social gathering. Maybe some of the fun in conversation, what makes it work, is not knowing the answers immediately by looking them up, but instead talking about and debating them... Something to think about, or laugh at, either way!

Spaghetti Measure: Neat, but why not get a scale?

This aperture-sporting little gadget is Joseph Joseph's Spaghetti Measure, which quantifies your pre-cooked noodles by cross-sectional area. It's cute, and visually compelling, and has the guise of usefulness - but how useful is it, really? I can think of a few problems: the "serving size" numbers are arbitrary and can't seem to be translated to standard units; the measurement depends on spaghetti of a certain diameter and length to be consistent; and worst of all, this is a one-trick wonder that only works on spaghetti noodles, not any others! If you're going to get a truly useful pasta-measuring gadget, find a lightweight kitchen scale; it's good for pasta of all shapes and sizes, and other small measurables as well. It may lack the cuteness factor, but I wager it'll serve you better for years.
[via Gizmodo]

RunPee on iPhone: Perfect marriage of utility and platform...

RunPee, the service I previously wrote about in its website form, has made the platform jump from PC to iPhone. This is a definite usability improvement, because now the info is there where and when you need it, in your pocket as you squirm in the theater waiting for a good time to go. The utility provided by RunPee remains excellent: for each movie, it tells you (1) how many minutes into the movie to go, (2) a "cue" of spoken dialogue or other signal to make a break for it, (3) how long you have to do your thing before the action picks back up, and (4) what you missed while you were away. It's probably about as close to perfection as anything with "pee" in its title can come!
[iTunes link, via Lifehacker]

iPhone Podcast Scrubbing - Getting better, bit by bit...

I listen to a lot of podcasts on my iPhone - NPR when I feel like substance, Sarah & Vinnie when I feel like trashy goodness - but the iPhone's interface for podcast listening has never been great. When I first got the thing, the problems were pretty glaring - for example, the podcasts played in reverse chronological order, which made no sense for three-hour shows broken into chunks. Things have gotten better since then, one piece at a time, and there's one feature in particular that I'd like to point out about the latest update. "Scrubbing" a podcast - that is, moving the position slider to get to a different time in the recording - was previously a difficult task. An hour-long podcast displayed as a 1-and-a-half-inch slider to be manipulated with a large index finger meant an accuracy of plus or minus 3-5 minutes - not good enough! With the latest update, though, the iPhone offers variable-speed scrubbing; as seen in the image, drop your finger down in the area below the position slider, and it will have a finer effect on the scrub. The area is broken into regular-speed, half-speed, and quarter-speed, and "fine" scrubbing, which is learned quickly enough with a little hands-on (or fingers-on) fiddling. Even better, the audio automatically plays at the new location before you remove your finger, so you can get feedback on the new location before finishing the scrubbing operation. It may seem like a small improvement, but it's a big deal for those of us who (now) use it a lot. And it's not just me, I promise - Eddie Lopez at User Centered has been meticulously chonicling the features and omissions of the iPhone and other products. Keep on making it better, Apple -and we users will keep pushing you!