We saw some very cool gadgets come out of the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 in Las Vegas this week, ranging from cars to cameras and everything in between. A common theme through all of them: connectivity and apps, apps, apps.
Apple (AAPL) didn't have a presence in Vegas, but that didn't stop software developers from showing off new things users can do with Apple devices. After scouring the news from the show, we've come up with our top five iPhone apps that got the preview treatment at CES.
You've heard of General Motor's (GM) ubiquitous OnStar subscription service inside its cars — mbrace is the Mercedes answer to it, and a new version of its iPhone app is expected to hit the iTunes App Store next month. Having an mbrace subscription will let the app pick up navigational data and map destinations using speech recognition — and apparently, you can use the app to actually speak with mbrace operators (just like those OnStar commercials) and have them figure out your destination and send the relevant nav info to your phone. Even better is the mbrace app's Friend Finder function, which shoots a text message to a person in your contacts list. If the contact approves it, the app will generate your route to that person using his or her phone's GPS information. The service uses TXT messages only, so even ancient dumb phones can interact with the Friend Finder. Pretty cool.
Another spiffy connected car app, MyFord Mobile is designed to interact with the auto manufacturer's new electric car model. Ford (F) intends the app to make owning an electric car easier by mapping charging stations, helping to plan gas-free routes, and monitoring your car's charge so you never end up stuck without any go-juice. It also lets you unlock your doors from a distance, and adjust climate controls so the car's ready to go when you get into it. Want more? MyFord Mobile monitors the cost of electricity from your utility company, and can be used to set your car charging at the times of day (or night) when electricity costs the least. And it even Tweets. Unfortunately, we won't have any more info about pricing or release dates until Ford officially announces the electric car(s) it'll go with.
Prototype remote-controlled potential-cat toy Sphero is interesting, if not incredibly useful or mind-blowing just yet. The toy is a ball with stuff inside that lets you control it with your iPhone: Once you've pointed it in the right direction, controls on your screen let you drive it around a room and adjust the cosmetic LED lights inside it on the fly. It's still in the early stages, so Sphero is a little finicky, but it's expected to be somewhere less than $100, and it could be a neat gadget, especially if Orbotix, its maker, is able to get some support from other companies to advance what they can do with Sphero and its app. Preliminary buzz is centered around games, maybe with augmented reality, like changing the Sphero on your screen into a car and driving it around. Basically, Sphero could be a fairly cheap app-driven toy you run with your iPhone, and there's definitely some potential there. Orbotix hopes to release the ball sometime this year.
Pandora competitor Slacker Radio rolled out a bunch of new features for its service at CES, including a new iPad app and premium on-demand service tier you can pay for on the current iPhone Slacker Radio app. That, itself, is pretty cool — unlike Pandora, but like some other Internet radio services like MOG, you can now pay a monthly fee to listen to whatever you want from the Slacker cloud, without dealing with any of the ads or randomness of the free alternative (which is what you get with Pandora). Slacker also used CES to dish about an upcoming iPad app, along with some Nokia phones and other devices. All these new features are quickly turning it into a more-than-viable Internet radio solution for the kind of people who dig Pandora's fullness of musical information and streaming freedom, but with a lot more freedom.
Withings' Blood Pressure Monitor and App
Our last pick is a little more hardware than software, but it's too cool not to mention: Peripheral maker Withings has created a setup that allows you to use your iPhone to monitor your blood pressure. Expected out sometime this month, the monitoring system connects to your iPhone using its sync port, takes readings, and stores them for comparison over time or to show to your doctor. The app also allows you to upload your readings to online health-data-tracking services like Google (GOOG) Health and Microsoft (MSFT) HealthVault. Withings' setup will retail for $129. It already has a competitor from iHealth that basically does the same thing (but came out about a half-day earlier) using a stationary iPhone dock, and retails for $99.95, with a free app that's already available.