By  on March 23, 2007

For most consumers, a cushion that doubles as a phone, a bulletproof USB memory stick and a pocket-size navigation system equipped with an MP3 player and tourist tips for 37 countries would qualify as nonessential indulgences, but therein lies the price of invention.

These items, as well as a sleek Prada cell phone with a touch screen instead of number keys, were among those on display at the CeBIT design technology trade fair in Hanover, Germany, this month. More than 6,100 exhibitors took part, including Austrian manufacturer Urban Tool, which showed the battery-operated cushion that connects to a cell phone using Bluetooth wireless technology. Geared for anyone fed up with holding a phone to their ear, the cushion has speakers and a microphone. It also may be used as an alarm clock. Designed in cooperation with the University of Bremen in Germany, the cushion will be on the market by next spring.

Urban Tool also showed its grooveRider T-shirt for sports enthusiasts, which will retail for $186 in April, based on current exchange rates. The shirt has a pocket for an iPod, a sewn seam to loop the headphones through and a control panel on the front of the shirt.

Not surprisingly, the all-in-one cell phone is taking on incarnations beyond cameras and MP3 players built into phones. The next generation includes TV screens and mini PCs. T-Mobile's Ameo cell boasts high-speed WiFi, a PC with an 8GB hard drive and detachable keyboard. The Nokia Communicator also comes with a mini PC, but is slightly more compact. In May, Samsung launches the SGH-F500, a multimedia player with camera, camcorder and video player, and the following month, Sagem will launch My Mobile TV, a cell phone with digital TV reception.

The chicest model, though, is undoubtedly Prada's sleek new cell phone, which uses a touch screen instead of keys. Developed with LG Electronics, the phone has a radio, MP3 player, video player and camera. The phone is said to be the only touch-sensitive cell phone, with the screen fading to black when not in use. Europeans can buy it for about $800. The Prada phone will be sold in Europe at the end of this month. The U.S. price has not been set.Even the unglamorous USB memory stick is pepping up its design, with the ambitious aim of turning data storage into a sexy gift idea. Pretec's I-Disk Vogue, with its jewel-encrusted look, is more about bling than bytes and can be worn as a necklace. It sells for about $67. For maximum security Pretec has launched the I-Disk Bulletproof USB stick at $41, which comes attached to a key ring, in a double layer of metal protection. The case has been tested against water, fire and, yes, bullets. Meanwhile, for children, there is AData's Disney-themed USB stick for $20.

Portable navigation systems are also getting spiffed up at a time when their prices are dropping. Three years ago the average price was more than $800, but this year they are expected to fall to less than $400. While Nokia is offering one that is also a cell phone, more interesting is the Falk P300, equipped with an MP3 player and tourist information for some 37 countries. Even more high-tech is the Asus P535, which has a camera, WiFi and access to Skype.

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