- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Apple’s iPhone, birthed last summer, is a force to be reckoned with. Combining a mobile phone with a digital music and video player, hand-held photo album and full-strength Web browser, it’s a great device. A new version was announced June 9 and is likely to stoke even more “iMania,” given that it has a lower price and more features than the original.

Roughly 6 million iPhones are already in circulation, and Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs has forecast 10 million iPhone sales for 2008; Apple says 1.7 million were sold in the first quarter. That’s a lot of phones and, therefore, a lot of users.

There might be an iPhone user who has only the basic phone from Apple, unaccessorized, but I haven’t met one yet. Just about every iPhone I have seen is sheathed in either a hard case or a leather sleeve of some sort. Many use the standard Apple headphones, but many also like a Bluetooth device for phone calls. Though the built-in speaker is OK, docking the iPhone to a set of hi-fi speakers can do wonders.

On the Bluetooth front, I’ve come across two interesting items. The $130 Aura Mobile BT from Spracht (www.spracht.com) offers conference-phone qualities for an iPhone or other Bluetooth model. Once charged and “paired” with the phone, the speakerphone will handle both ends of a conversation hands-free. At an office or home, that enables you to take notes or type on a keyboard with ease. In a car, with the built-in visor clip, you can bring your passengers in on the chat. I liked the sound quality of the Spracht device and its versatility. People I called said the sound was clear as well.

The New Jawbone - I kid you not, that’s the name - from San Francisco-based maker AliphCom is another $130 Bluetooth communicator, this time an in-the-ear headset. The Jawbone’s big sell is its ability to block out ambient noise and let you be heard on the phone. Again, I had good results with this new, smaller version, which for the fashion conscious is available in gold and silver along with basic black. A nice touch is getting several sizes of earbuds and loops to fit the device to your ear, making it possible to size the New Jawbone properly.

The next frontier for iPhone users will involve the great indoors, I believe: how to get the sound from your device into your bedroom or home office or kitchen. For that, a docking device of some stripe would come in handy. Altec Lansing in Denver has the first entry in the T612, but I wouldn’t rush to buy the $200 device.

In concept, the product is a great idea: Connect, or “dock,” your iPhone, and you can play music through the T612’s speakers, which promise “full-range sound” from “four specially engineered speakers.” There’s a remote control that will move through the iPhone’s music playlist as well as control volume on the T612.

On the plus side, the sound output is superb. The sound is excellent, and you can fill a good-size room with the volume. The controls are easy to use, and the remote does its job well.

I wish, however, that the same could be said for the iPhone/iPod dock connector. Without a lot of jiggling and even a bit of prayer, I couldn’t get any sound from the iPhone. A 30-gigabyte iPod, which should be compatible with the T612, according to Altec Lansing’s claims, didn’t work at all.

The maker may claim the test unit was an anomaly or that my iPhone is somehow defective. I have had the iPhone since March, however, and both it and the 30GB iPod work just fine in a Bose SoundDock Portable, which is similar to the T612 but sells for $400. Of course, unlike the T612, it works with my portables, although using the iPhone requires switching to “airplane mode” and losing the phone capabilities for the moment.

More solutions are coming from other makers, so if the Bose price scares you, hang on.

Questions? Ideas? Feedback? E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.