Apple Apps Create Sci-Fi iPhone

Apple's new iPhone 3GS doesn't just want a pretty new case -- it wants your soul.

The new iPhone went on sale this morning. The $100 to $200 upgrade from its newly obsolete 3G cousin has changed neither the iPhone's dimensions (115.5 x 62.1 x 12.3mm, same as the original) nor its essential functions. Yet accessory makers including Belkin and iLuv are touting new 3GS "exclusive" window dressing, while app makers are changing their focus from Big Buck Hunter to Big Brother.

The RedEye turns the iPhone into an (almost) universal remote control.

Like the iPhone itself, Belkin's and iLuv's "new" cases are designed for those who value aesthetics more than application. Belkin's BodyGuard Cinema lets you prop up your iPhone 3GS and enjoy its claimed 10 hours of video life, but it's no more original than iLuv's windshield mount kit and power combo for the 3GS's GPS users. (TomTom's app for turn-by-turn directions isn't included.) When compared with an accessory that turns your iPhone into a universal remote and an app that can reduce your whole life to a bar code, such cases are like putting a miniskirt on a supercollider.

Matthew Eager, president and co-founder of the ThinkFlood technology group in Waltham, Massachusetts, and partner Adam Shapiro have been beta testing their Red Eye remote control for much of the past year. The device is a docking station that communicates with the iPhone via a WiFi-powered app and sends out infrared signals to flip through channels, turn up the volume or stop your Blu-ray disc just as Tony Montana introduces his little friend.

"My blue-sky scenario is whole-home automation," Eager says. "We've been talking about it since the 1950s, with Disney's House of the Future, but only the super-rich have really been able to do it."

While other home appliances can be manipulated through an infrared signal, a garage door opener still requires a radio signal, and many home heating and cooling devices need either an extensive database of codes or pricey automation peripherals. Eager says he and Shapiro likely won't be able to turn iPhones into an all-access pass by the time the $149 RedEye is sold in September, but he foresees a day when wireless technology makes it easy to live like the Jetsons without mortgaging your future.

"Half the houses with Internet access have Wi-Fi, but you can still start thinking about embedding Wi-Fi chips in things like air conditioners and ceiling fans," Eager says. "What you'd pay $100,000 for, you could get for $1,000 spread out over a series of updates."

It was a similar search for convenience that led Adam Miller from his overstuffed wallet to technology straight from a dystopian Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi film. With 12 store membership cards on his key ring and 15 more in his billfold, Miller enlisted partner Danny Espinoza to help create an iPhone app that could turn all that plastic into a bar-code database. His efforts begat CardStar, an app introduced earlier this year that enables retailers to scan a high-resolution bar code right off of your iPhone. CardStar also is the company's name.

Embraced by CVS, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Bally's Fitness and several supermarket chains, among others, CardStar is set to launch a new version this month. It includes a GPS-powered store locator, and the company is working on versions of the app for Google's G1 Android phone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry Bold, Curve and Storm. The drawback? You're being watched.

CardStar allows partner companies to track customer-purchasing preferences and offer targeted, electronic coupons and individual discounts. Airlines like United and Continental, which already use CardStar for their frequent-flyer programs, may also turn to the service for ticketing as scanned boarding passes become the norm. Miller has held the line on using CardStar for gift cards and as other means of payment, but says a "Total Recall"-style, all-purpose use of the technology may develop whether he likes it or not.

"You can do all this without tattooing a bar code on your wrist or putting a chip in your head," Miller says. "Yet you're starting to blur lines when the technology is outpacing the legal system and the morals of society."

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