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From Thunderbolt to Robots: Apple cast a big shadow over CES 2012

Apple didn't need to pay for a booth at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show this week to make a big impression; the company's products and technologies were visible everywhere, from third party demos to its competitors' future roadmaps.

A wide range of trade show exhibitors at CES made heavy use of Macs and iOS devices, a big shift from previous years where, even at the Apple-centric Macworld Expo, third parties often demonstrated their products primarily using Windows PCs.

Segments of the CES exhibit halls were dedicated to iOS devices, or other markets dominated (or well represented) by Apple products acting as a host for third party apps, devices, accessories or services, a reflection of the growing presence of Macs and iOS devices among consumers in general.

From the GlobalVCard virtual credit card transaction system being demonstrated on an iPad 2 using video mirroring to video surveillance systems with iPad and iPhone clients such as the Withings "Smart Baby" monitor (the company also demonstrated a Smart Baby scale and builds WiFi BMI scales and an iOS blood pressure monitor) to the BigC Dino-Lite digital microscope shown attached to a MacBook, Apple's devices were visible everywhere. That's in part, no doubt, because Apple's gear has a fit and finish that makes it well suited to demonstrate.

Made for iOS, Mac

Other appearances of Macs, iPads and iPhones were exclusive, ranging from iOS docks and accessories spanning from pico projectors and 3D projection devices to dye sublimation printers (using Bluetooth, not AirPlay) to remote control helicopters and model cars outfitted with cameras and controlled via apps.

Small developer Catalyst Lifestyle demonstrated its $69.99 EscapeCapsule, a waterproof case customized for iPhone 4 and 4S to protect the device from "water, rain, snow, sand, mud, scratches and anything else you can throw at it," and capable of keeping it dry even submerged a few feet under water.

On the Mac side, accessories developer Belkin was showing off its new Thunderbolt Express Dock, a $299 unit that connects to 2011 model year Macs via Thunderbolt.

Similar to Apple's own Thunderbolt Display, it makes available three USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire 800 port, one HDMI port for video output, one 3.5mm Audio port, one Gigabit Ethernet port and two Thunderbolt ports (one upstream and one downstream) for daisy-chaining to another Thunderbolt compatible device.

While Intel is hoping to bring its Thunderbolt interconnect to general PCs later this year, Apple embraced the new technology a year ago and rapidly rolled out support for it across its entire product line of Macs that previously lacked PCIe expansion capabilities.

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