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App Explosion On Display at CES

Chris Morris,|Special to CNBC.com
Friday, 8 Jan 2010 | 9:05 AM ET

Apple , as usual, doesn’t have a presence at the Consumer Electronics Show, but, as usual, it’s still one of the most dominant companies on the show floor.

The app explosion is well underway. Apple announced earlier this week that over 3 billion widgets and programs for the iPhone and iPod Touch have been downloaded from the app store since its July 2008 launch—an average of 350 per second. (See top-selling apple apps.)

Apps are also big business at this year’s CES. Hundreds of exhibitors at the show are pitching them along with their their other new offerings. Recognizing the trend, the Consumer Electronics Association, which hosts CES, this year introduced a separate area called the iLounge, where 100 exhibitors with Apple-related products, including apps, are able to showcase their products.

Most of the apps to date have been games or widgets designed to make your life a little easier, such as a searchable guide to choosing the best wines when you’re at the liquor store.

But the app is evolving. Consumer electronics companies are integrating them with physical, real-world devices, letting users use their iPhone to control things around their home.

That includes TVs. A number of companies have released, or are about to release, products that, when used in conjunction with a free app, turns the iPhone into a universal remote control.

New Kinetix is one of those. Its R? Remote Control links a specialized app to a plug-in accessory that transforms the iPhone or iPod Touch into an IR device that can be used on virtually anything in the house that’s operated via remote control. And unlike other universal remotes, there’s no limit to the number of appliances that can be connected to the device.

“I think people have realized there’s more value in having [the iPhone] in people’s hand than just entertainment information,” says Barry Baril of New Kinetix.

The R? follows closely on the heels of ThinkFlood’s RedEye app/product combo, which also transformed the iPhone into a portable remote control, but used a series of IR repeaters set up in the room to convey the signal.

Of course, the iPhone can do more than just change channels. Qualcomm’s FloTV announced this week that it would begin offering live mobile television to the device.

Qualcomm is teaming with accessory company mophie to launch the service this spring. The company currently offers a standalone mobile TV device, but critics have pointed out that its high price and narrow functionality will hurt its chances of widespread success.

Even the makers of iPhone speakers are jumping on the app-enhanced hardware bandwagon. iHome is introducing a pair of systems that, when used in conjunction with a company app, will track sleep patterns—as well as offer customizable alarms and music settings.

And while you’ve been able to start your car with your iPhone for a while a $499 system went on sale last October from Directed Electronics—now you can put it in the garage, too.

AudioVox is showing a new product line called Zentral. One device uses older ipods as a jukebox in the home. Another controls home A/V equipment. But for $50, you can buy a peripheral that will allow you to use your iPhone to open your garage door as you get close to home.

“[We’re seeing] an amalgamation of sorts,” says Minh Doan, vice president of engineering for Unity4Life, which is working with AudioVox on the Zentral line. “People are getting rid of their extra remotes and unifying devices onto their iPhones.”

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