A great deal of the innovation goes beyond the clever and rethinks a product category you might have assumed was predictable. While searching through products for the annual productivity gift guide I do here, some of the items stood out so much that I thought I'd gather them together separate and offer some examples of how people keep pushing boundaries.
Barracuda carry-on bag
Roller bags are a part of travel life. Just big enough to carry a few days of clothing yet small enough to fit in the overhead bins of a plane. The Barracuda ($299) is a wheeled bag that has some novel features. One, as you can see, is a tray that folds out from the handle. You can set a drink down, or put your laptop on it to get some extra work done while you wait to board. The tray folds right back up and drops down into the bag. An exterior compartment holds a battery for charging your phone or other devices. There's a portable luggage scale so you can be sure you're not over the limit, and if your bag gets lost the location tracker will send its position to an app on your phone. There's also a proximity alarm to help you know when the bag is coming up on the carousel. When you're home, the Barracuda collapses down to about half its width for more compact storage (and its storage bag comes with a hook so you can hang it in the closet).
Sometimes it seems as though there are almost more headphones on the market than there is music to listen to. Even H1 headphones ($179) has a great twist. A slim control box contains what must be a digital signal processor that acts as a pair of equalizers. A simple set-up checks the sound over a variety of frequencies for each ear. By the time you're done, you've got customized setting that gives you an experience regular headphones can't -- and because it's self-contained, you can use it with a laptop, PC, phone, or even audio gear. The Even is particularly good if you're hearing isn't all it should be. There is also an earbud version ($99) with the same technology and both have microphones so you can take a call.
Ever work away from the desk? Maybe you've set up a laptop or tablet on the sofa, a chair, in bed, or even on the floor. The Posture Stand ($69.99) is a clever cross between a lap desk and a laptop stand. The articulated extensions from the platform can be configured in a number of different ways to work around your position and preferred way of working. Set it up on the floor as you're lying down, on the table in front of you, or set the sections into an L-shape for a stand.
Big ideas can come in small packages. And anything that can make the experience of air travel more comfortable is big. The Airhook ($24.95) slips over the fold-up tray to let you store a drink and set up a tablet without crushing your knees. You're out of luck when it comes to placing a snack or book, but you can't have everything. And a little more room for your knees might outweigh anything else.
Wacom Bamboo Folio
Taking notes is a must in business or school. But what happens when you want to store or share them? Off to the photocopier? The Wacom Bamboo Folio ($199.95) is essentially a graphics tablet in which the pen is also a regular ballpoint. You can use any paper (it comes with a pad) and what you write gets transformed into a digital format faster than firing up a scanner and running the paper through. Store up to 100 pages, move the file to an iOS or Android device and enhance what you have with the associated app, move up to cloud storage, or, with a $2.95 per month additional cloud service, convert your handwriting into text. (You could probably also take the files and run them through an OCR character recognition program.)