Kickstarter Spotlight: An iPad airplane stand and two AirPlay audio receivers

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[Kickstarter is changing the way tech products get made, but it's hard to tell which projects are worth backing. For every sure-fire hit, there are dozens of flawed ideas and inexperienced teams. Our Kickstarter Spotlight series highlights a few projects worth checking out, and gives you an idea how they might turn out.]

In this installment of Kickstarter Spotlight, we take a look at an iPad stand that connects to a closed airline tray table, and two competing AirPlay audio receivers.

Arctic Flight

If you fly a lot and you own an iPad, Arctic Flight (funding through June 19) is like a dream product. It’s a configurable stand that elevates and tilts your iPad so you can type on the bluetooth keyboard underneath it. Translation: you can actually use the thing on the little tray table, which is an exercise in frustration with laptops.

The prototype looks kind of crummy, though it smartly changes to several configurations—you can rotate your iPad to portrait or landscape, lower it if you prefer to type using the on-screen keyboard, and even “dock” the stand behind the raised table to turn your iPad into an eye-level back-of-seat entertainment device. Perfect for watching movies. I don’t know if they’ll sell a lot of these at $75 each, but I know I want one. They could make a killing selling these at airports.

Confidence level

The low-rent video and prototype design does not inspire a lot of confidence, and the creator, Anton Jachim, doesn’t have a lot of manufacturing experience. He does have some excellent enginnering chops, though. If the future revisions show more polish, this could be a must-have product for frequent fliers. At the time of this writing, the project has a long way to go to meet its goal.—Jason Cross

TuneBridge AirPlay receiver

Apple’s AirPlay technology lets you wirelessly stream audio from an iOS device or iTunes to any AirPlay-enabled receiver, including a growing number of third-party speaker systems and home-theater receivers. But if you don’t already have AirPlay-enabled gear, the least expensive way to add AirPlay to your home-entertainment arsenal is to buy an $99 Apple TV (which provides only a digital-audio connection) or a $99 AirPort Express Base Station (which has an analog/digital audio output).

The TuneBridge AirPlay receiver (funding through June 27) aims to offer a budget alternative, with an estimated price of $60. This compact wireless device can be powered by a simple 5V USB port or charger and offers two audio outputs: a 3.5mm (1/8-inch) stereo minijack, and standard left/right RCA. Connect it to your existing stereo or speaker system, use the company’s TuneBridge iOS app to join the device to your wireless network, and you’ve got a new AirPlay destination.

Why not just get a refurbished AirPort Express directly from Apple for $69, which will also let you set up or extend a wireless network? The TuneBridge adds a unique Direct mode. Switch to Direct, and the TuneBridge creates its own wireless network. Join this network from your computer or your iOS device, and you can stream audio via AirPlay even if there’s no existing wireless network. This should make the TuneBridge appealing for homes or businesses that don’t (or can’t) set up traditional Wi-Fi networks, as well as for using the TuneBridge when outdoors, traveling, or otherwise out of range of Wi-Fi. (When using an iOS device, you can continue to use 3G/4G data connections.)

Confidence level

The TuneBridge’s price and ad hoc option make it appealing for those looking to add AirPlay to their existing audio system or who want to be able to use AirPlay when an existing Wi-Fi network isn’t available. However, the creators don’t make it clear if they’ve licensed AirPlay from Apple or simply reverse-engineered the technology. If the latter—which would help explain the low price—I wonder if Apple’s legal watchdogs will be barking at the door.—Dan Frakes

PlayGo AP1 Hi-Fi Digital Music Player

Like the TuneBridge, the PlayGo AP1 Hi-Fi Digital Music Player (funding through July 5) is an AirPlay audio receiver. But while the TuneBridge offers AirPlay on a budget, the PlayGo AP1 is aimed at the audiophile crowd—and priced accordingly—and offers streaming options beyond AirPlay.

With a “special Kickstarter price” of $225, the AP1 is almost four times as expensive as the TuneBridge, but in addition to AirPlay support, the AP1 lets you stream audio using the DNLA (Digital Living Network Alliance) protocol and via USB, giving you more more playback options. The creator, Bicom, claims that the AP1’s audio circuitry (Burr-Brown components) is on a par with that found in expensive audio gear, and the USB connection lets you play audio directly—no audio cables involved—from a computer or even an iPod or iOS device. (The USB port supplies power for charging iOS devices and iPods.) There’s also an ethernet port for direct connection to your network, and DNLA support allows you to stream audio from any DLNA-compliant device, including network-attached-storage drives. The AP1 also supports Universal Plug and Play and Microsoft’s Play To.

Because the AP1 works with non-AirPlay sources, it has to support multiple audio formats. Bicom says the device can handle bit rates up to 24-bit at 96kHz, and supports AAC, Apple Lossless, FLAC, MP3, WAV, and WMA formats. It sports both analog (left/right RCA) and digital (Toslink) outputs in the back, as well as capacitative playback-control buttons on top. There’s also an IR receiver for remote control, although a remote isn’t included.

Confidence level

The AP1 should be of interest to those who need the flexibility of multiple streaming technologies, although I suspect the real appeal—assuming the device lives up to its audio-quality claims—will be to audiophiles who balk at the audio quality of existing AirPlay-enabled products and Apple’s AirPort Express.—DF

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