Spring has sprung. Which means it's time for another Macworld. Which also means it's time to check out some of the coolest new apps and digital products on the market.
We dropped in on the show last week in San Francisco. Here are five gems that stood out from the crowd:
Pitching its app-and-iPhone attachment as a tool that gives users "the ability to see what the naked eye can't,'' FLIR Systems has come up with technology so cool that it can "feel'' things that are hot.
Attach the $349 FLIR ONE snugly to the back of your iPhone 5 or 5S, download the app, point the camera where you like, then start taking the temperature of the world around you. The tool essentially translates invisible heat into images with colorful heat signatures. Want to see where the studs in your wall are located so you can hang a picture? The personal thermal-imaging device can actually locate them because, as FLIR's Keith Metz-Porozni says, they give off a slightly different temperature than the wall itself.
It can be used by a motorist trying to find out which part of an overheated engine is the true hot spot. Or by waterfowl hunters, who can use the attachment's infrared sensor to locate those heat-emitting mallards within 300 feet. Metz-Porozni says law enforcement officers even used a FLIR camera to find Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in a boat covered by a tarp.
We've all suffered through it: A friend makes you watch a sloppy video of his kid playing soccer and the twitching and shaking images nearly makes you nauseous. Well, Belgium-based Creaceed has an answer to dizzying videos with its new app that stabilizes images and makes them much more enjoyable to watch.
The firm's Raphael Sebbe demonstrates on his iPad: the GoPro video of a young skier in action is full of convulsing movements as the photographer tries to capture the skier mid-slope. Sebbe uses the app to split the iPad's screen -- horizontally, vertically or even diagonally -- and you can see a before-and-after showing how Emulsio has cleaned up the video, bringing a smoothness to the images where near-chaos had once reigned.
"You can see clearly how the wobble has been fixed,'' Sebbe says of perhaps the most common mistake made by users with hand-held cameras, known in the trade as the "Jell-O effect.''
Now for some fun! The 100 employees at San Jose-based Reallusion have fine-tuned their popular facial-animation tool, CrazyTalk, and its seventh iteration is seven-times amazing. Working off its "revolutionary auto motion engine,'' the animation software turns "any uploaded photo into a digital avatar,'' says John Martin, vice president of product marketing, of the free app.
Martin demonstrates: On his iPad is a photo of a cat. Touching the screen, the user tells the app where the animal's eyes and mouth are. The app then draws what Martin calls "a wire frame mask'' over the cat's face, which then magically turns the image into an animated puppet character.
Next, Martin records his own voice-over -- "Welcome to Macworld 2014!'' -- and the cat now "speaks,'' mouthing its master's words, creating great hilarity in the process.
"We have everyone from first-graders to Jimmy Kimmel Live using it,'' he says. "They love it.''
This home gadget may be just what you and your homebound pet have been looking for -- a way to bond 24/7, even while you're at work.
Shipping out in May, the Petcube comes from a small startup in the Ukraine, funded by a Kickstarter campaign and now based in the Bay Area. CEO Yaroslav Azhnyuk says the iOS-only device, which sells for $199, consists of a 4-inch square, video camera equipped box that sits in a room with your pet and which you control remotely with a joystick on the screen of your iPhone. The wide-angle camera in the box lets you see the entire room, while the box's microphone and speakers let you virtually keep your pet company.
"Through the box, you can talk to your pet or play with your pet by moving a laser pointer around the room, using your iPhone,'' he says. "It keeps you both connected, and it keeps your pet entertained and in good shape because they're running after the laser dot. Cats and dogs go crazy.''
Due out in July, the $85 Ring is just that -- a Bluetooth ring you wear on your index finger -- but much, much more. Takuro Yoshida, CEO of San Carlos-based Logbar, which makes the aluminum ring, says it comes in nine sizes. Its gesture-recognition software allows users to type out a text in midair, with just that one magically enhanced finger, and then send it via their smartphone.
Demonstrating the gadget, Yoshida "writes'' the word "ring'' in the air. He has already programmed into his phone app a special gesture identifying the text's recipient, so he does a quick swirl of his finger, then a backward slash to send the text on its way.
The ring can control a smartphone camera from a distance of a few feet. And it can be used for payment at stores that have installed the app. It works like this: You walk into a coffee shop and buy a $3 espresso. A beacon at the shop has already detected you and your Ring. To pay, you make a big check sign in the air and the $3 goes from the bank account or credit card associated with your Ring account and appears as PAID on the cashier's iPad. Your Ring then vibrates, telling you that your payment has been accepted.
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc
FLIR ONE, by FLIR Systems, is a phone attachment with thermal imaging that works with iPhone 5 or 5S. Cost: $349.
Emulsio, by Creaceed, is a video-stabilization tool that works with any Apple device using iOS 7. Cost: Free with a 30-second limit and some company promotion attached as a watermark to your shared video, or $3 for no watermark and videos up to 15 minutes.
CrazyTalk7, by Reallusion, is a facial-animation app that turns a photo into a digital avatar. Works on Macs and PCs. Cost: $29 in special online offers.
Petcube, by a company of the same name, is a camera-equipped box that allows virtual playtime with your pet. Works on iOS devices. Cost: $199.
Ring, by Logbar, is gesture-recognition software that "writes" texts in midair on devices running iOS or Android. Cost: 85
Source: Mercury News reporting