Tuesday saw the Computers Unlimited Exposed autumn show come to Islington, with a conference room full of technology companies setting up shop in the snappily-named Business Design Centre in London, N1. Now is the time, apparently, for the world’s brightest and best purveyors of gadgets and gizmos to show off their wares prior to the Christmas shopping period.
Despite being primarily a film blogger, I was welcomed to the expo with open arms and thrust into a dizzying world I did not fully understand. Gathering my wits and arming myself with a beer and a bagel, I wandered around the fair and learnt the following things.
1) Toys you control remotely by an app are going to be popular this Christmas.
Pretty much the first thing I noticed in the room was a hovering UFO thing bobbing erratically above the heads of the punters. This was an AR.Drone by Parrot and was controlled by a blasé man fiddling with an iPhone (iPhones were pretty much ubiquitous at the expo). This was not all – app controlled RC cars and helicopters were also on display, produced by BeeWi. These were pretty cool and I imagine there’ll be many of these toys nestled under Christmas trees come December time. What wasn’t made clear is what happens if you get a phone call whilst remotely piloting your helicopter – I assume there must be some sort of failsafe to stop it crashing to the ground in a ball of flames.
2) Once a music tech nerd, always a music tech nerd
My curiosity aroused by a guitar and a MIDI keyboard, I next checked out the latest version of Pro Tools. The chap who demonstrated was keen to show me what his box of tricks could do. Having done an A Level in music technology and due to my occasional dabbles with various bits of software, I was keen to hear the what the top end stuff could do. As the demonstrator was frank enough to tell me, the latest version of Pro Tools (10, fyi) doesn’t have too many new bells and whistles, it’s mostly comprised of technical improvements. The real attraction was the Avid Eleven Rack, a guitar interface for the system that makes your axe sound like pretty much any famous guitarist you’d care to mention. With a twist of a dial, I was treated to the sounds of Gary Moore, Eddie Van Halen and David Gilmour. I was delighted, but it turns out I was only the second person who’d asked for a demonstration all day. Apparently we music tech nerds are a rarer breed than I’d thought.
3) Technology moves on with or without you
CU Exposed also gave me the chance to check out a couple of other pieces of software I’d used in the past and see how they’d progressed, namely the Adobe Creative Suite and QuarkXPress. I have a version of Photoshop so old, it’s probably rendering grandchildren. CS6 was demoed for me, with all its new tricks and gimmicks. Most impressive was the panorama stitching tool used to create joined up images that don’t have weird angles and wonky areas and the ‘content aware’ patching that makes moving elements of images around dead easy. I used QuarkXPress back when I was Screen editor of the London Student newspaper. It’s moved on considerably from those days and now allows for app building rather than just print layouts. Impressive stuff but unfortunately there was no live demonstration.
4) Freebies are always welcome
Next to the QuarkXPress stall was the Scribbly stand. Scribbly make styluses for iPads and the like that look like big chunky whiteboard markers. They’re ideal for Draw Something and similar games but also work just as well for note taking. Their main selling point is that they retail at about a tenner, considerably cheaper than their rival Crayola’s model. Given that I chatted perhaps for longer than most about iPad styluses with the stallholders, they quite happily let me take a Scribbly home with me. Unfortunately I don’t have an iPad but it’ll make for a nice little gift to keep my day-job boss sweet. Most other stalls were giving out sweets and pens and such, with which I stuffed my pockets. Unfortunately, one of the most exciting stalls was Atomic Floyd’s, who, whilst happy to let me sample their £200 gold-plated, Kevlar coated earphones, were not giving out samples. You can’t win them all.
5) There’s money to be made in protecting expensive stuff
By far the most common products on display at CU Exposed were cases for iPads and phones, ranging from the military-tested, heavy duty Griffin models to the style-conscious designs from Maroo, including the Chinese-imagery inspired ‘Drogo’ item (inspired by 2012 being the year of the dragon, not everyone’s favourite Dothraki horse-lord). Gadget cases came in all shapes, sizes and designs and are clearly a market to get yourself into if you’re looking to cash in on people’s not unreasonable fears of dropping their expensive toys.
There were of course other areas of interest at the trade show, including some excitable Germans at Parallels (‘Run Windows on your Mac!’) and a rather droll lady from Pantone. Most of the trades folk and PRs I chatted to were in agreement that this iteration of the expo was much better than the one held at the London Film Museum (where team Blogomatic once spent an enjoyable afternoon) held earlier in the year. All were friendly, welcoming and more than happy to let a know-nothing film blogger ask them fairly obvious questions at their industry show. And judging by some of the niftier items on display, Father Christmas will be delivering some pretty exciting stuff to some very lucky people this year.
Find out more about the expo at http://www.unlimited.com/cu_exposed/