One of the constants between CES 2005 and 2006 is an over abundance of iPod accessories. There's everything from fake-jewel-encrusting iPod Bling, to a million shades of pleather cases to doodads and whatsits that connect to the universal connector. iPod car connections are now a standard feature in several cars, with more third-party options than you can count.
During the holiday season, I wore what might be considered either the ultimate in iPod accessories, depending on who your style consultant happens to be. Kenpo Fashion sent me a Kenpo Jacket for iPod to take for a test drive in December. It has a wired system inside it connecting an iPod to a set of remote control buttons on the sleeve.
To give the jacket a real test, I wore it in the rain in Seattle, where it effectively repelled water droplets as any jacket should. For my trip to Iowa during the holidays, I wore the Kenpo Jacket in Iowa weather which was far from winter lows, but still cold enough to test the warmth of the jacket.
I'm no fashion plate, but in my mind clothing with some high-tech purpose shouldn't draw attention to itself. I'm not wearing a propeller hat after all. No one in either locale was aware of the buttons on the sleeve, which are visible on close inspection but remain obscured well enough to avoid attention in black-on-black color scheme. This isn't as obvious in the marketing materials on the Kenpo site, but the jacket I tested was very discrete.
The remote control functions behave as expected, providing play/pause, stop and track skipping features. A handy guide secures headphones along the inside of the jacket out of the way of the zipper. I had no problem jumping between tracks or pausing playback when I needed to hear something other than my iPod.
The one shortcoming of the jacket system is the same fatal flaw I have with every remote for a portable device: menu visibility. When the iPod is in the jacket pocket connected to the jacket remote, I can't see what's coming next. With a handheld iPod remote, I can't see what's coming from across the room either. If I'm merely jumping to the next track in a playlist or skipping between songs on an album, this is perfectly acceptable. If I'm trying to choose something new, the remote system is effectively useless because I still have to dig the iPod out of my pocket.
If someone can figure out how to put an unobtrusive screen on the sleeve of a jacket, I think the concept will be radically advanced. As a great looking black jacket, the Kenpo wins. For a short trip walking the city streets to work, the remote buttons might be better than the cold chill of unzipping your coat in the winter. For heavy-duty iPod usage, the Kenpo Jacket and every other remote control for the iPod still have a long way to go.
You can see the jacket in action in the Kenpo Jacket for iPod video