Top 15 App-Optimized Accessories for iPhones and iPads

These app-and-accessory pairings can turn your iOS device into anything from a remote control to a pinball machine to an Etch A Sketch.

Accessories That Apps Make Better

There are apps for your iPhone and iPad (over 300,000 of them), and there are accessories for your iDevice. Then accessories for your phone or tablet that work best when you use a companion app to control them. Their uses are varied, from remote-control camera shutters to pinball/slot machines. Here are 15 great app-optimized accessories for your iPhone and iPad.

Real-Time Guitar Effects

The $40 AmpliTube iRig lets you plug in an electric guitar or bass via a special (included) cable/plug and then use a free companion app to control the output and add effects from your iPhone or iPad. A paid version of the companion app gives you access to additional stompbox effects, as well as to import and play along with your own songs or backing tracks (with real-time effects).

iPhone Universal Remote

The $70 NewKinetix Re infrared transmitter plugs into your iPhone's 30-pin connector and enables it to perform as a universal remote control (with the help of a free companion app). You can use the device to control your DVD player, TV, and VCR. The app maintains a database of devices to simplify setup (you can train it with unknown devices, too). The app also permits you to create customized skins based on the particular activity you're performing with the remote (such as watching TV, watching movies, or listening to music).

Remote dSLR Shutter

The $150 BlueSLR accessory plugs into your dSLR camera (BlueSLR is currently compatible with 11 Nikon models, with some Canon model compatibility coming soon); and it connects (via Bluetooth) to your iPhone or iPad by means of a free companion app. You can then exercise remote control over the camera's focus, shutter speed, and timer; and you can add GPS location to photos from your iPhone or iPad. Three versions of the accessory are available, for different camera models.

iPad Pinball Machine

The Pinball Magic for iPad cabinet transforms your iPad into a fully functioning pinball machine. Place your tablet on this $80 stand--which comes complete with oscillating LED lights--and the plunger and the flipper buttons interact with the free companion app from the App Store, in virtually the same way as a real pinball machine. A smaller, $40 version of this accessory is available for iPhone and iPod Touch.

iPad Slot Machine

The Jackpot Slots for iPad brings a little bit of Las Vegas to your home. You place the tablet in the $60 dock, and crank the handle on the dock to play jackpot slots, using the free companion app. This accessory doubles as an iPad dock for charging and syncing your tablet, too. A smaller, $40 version of the Jackpot Slots dock is available for the iPhone and iPod touch.

iTrip for iPhone

Though the iPhone contains an FM transmitter chip, Apple hasn't enabled it. So for listening to music in your car, the $50 iTrip from Griffin is a handy accessory. Paired with a free companion app, it allows you to play any audio from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod on an FM radio--without any need for an external power source.

iPhone Bluetooth/Radio Transmitter

The $100 TuneLink Auto accessory takes car audio to the next level. Instead of plugging an FM transmitter into your iPhone (which drains more power), this one plugs into your car lighter slot and receives music signals from the iPhone via Bluetooth. The hardware then transmits the audio via FM to your car's stereo. A standard audio jack for hardwiring, and a USB slot for charging come bundled with the TuneLink Auto. The free companion app works with both iPhones and iPads.

Tizi Live TV

This little black box pulls in DVB-T/DT signals and uses an internal processor to decode them. It then streams the signals to an iPad or iPhone via Wi-Fi. The free companion app shows an on-screen TV guide. The Tizi goes for $200 in select European countries and in Australia, where DVB-T/DT signals are available.

Etch A Sketch iPad

The $40 Etch A Sketch iPad case is made of impact-resistant plastic and performs like a classic Etch A Sketch when you download the free Etch A Sketch app. You can keep the case on at all times: It gives you access to all of the buttons and ports, and has a built-in kickstand for easy drawing or typing.

iPhone Grip Controller

The CTA Game Controller Grip for iPhone is a fun and very inexpensive ($10 on Amazon) way to play many of the racing games that take advantage of the iPhone's accelerometer, such as Need for Speed Shift or Super Monkey Ball. Just place your iPhone in the controller, and and get started on some full-tilt accelerometer games.

iPhone Steering Wheel

The makers of the iPhone Grip Controller have also produced a special steering wheel for racing games. Unlike the grip controller, the steering wheel ($13 on Amazon) has a suction cup at the bottom, so you can stick the wheel to a desk or table, and feel as though you're really driving a car (or something like that).

Nike Running Companion

The Nike companion for iPhones and iPods ($29) uses a wireless sensor that you place in your running shoes. The sensor transmits workout data to your phone, which tracks distance, pace, and calories burned, and syncs with iTunes and, so you can evaluate how you're doing against your goals--or challenge other runners in virtual space. It's basically a personal trainer in your shoe.

TomTom GPS Car Stand

TomTom's $80 car kit for iPhone works with a $60 GPS app to boost the GPS signal. The stand comes with a line-out plug for music, a miniUSB port for charging, and a built-in speaker and microphone for taking calls or voice-based instructions within the app. Magellan RoadMate offers a similar accessory/app combination, with a stand for $100 and an app priced at $60.

Over-the-Air Media

At $100, the new Apple TV is a neat accessory for your iPhone or iPad, thanks to the iOS 4.2 AirPlay feature. Connect the Apple TV to your big screen, and you'll be able to stream music, videos, and photos wirelessly from your iPhone or iPad. Even better, you can use the free Remote app to control your iTunes music when the Apple TV is connected to speakers--even if you're in a different room.

Games Meet Reality

The Parrot $300 AR.Drone supports a cool combination of virtual gaming and remote-control flying. The AR.Drone is a (real-life) remote-control quadricopter that you control via your iPhone. The quadricopter connects to the phone over Wi-Fi, and it even has a "cockpit" camera so that you can see exactly where your remote-control counterpart is going (and what it's seeing)--right from your phone (using a $4 app).

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