Switched On: Devices designed to disrupt

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

Industry conferences that include competitions among scores of startups generally don't look too kindly upon companies producing hardware. Nonetheless, there were quite a few physical products shown off this week at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York. These were either the main offering of companies or complements to their service offering, and judging by their demo platform of choice, the iPhone appears to be a leading agent of disruption -- the companies introducing hardware used Apple's handset to do everything from avoiding stress to measuring its biological impact. Switched On will introduce four such products after the break.

CarKit by Getaround. Disrupt Cup winner Getaround is a peer-to-peer car rental competitor to Zipcar et al, and the vehicular counterpart to Airbnb. One way it hopes to get a leg up on its competitor RelayRides is with a user-installable CarKit that combines GPS, WiFi and a remote keyless entry solution. The idea is that prospective renters can unlock cars with their smartphones. Presumably, car owners can also use the device with their own cars regardless of whether they make them available for others to enjoy. It's not a complete rent-and-go solution, though, as the device can't remotely start the car, so renters will need to leave keys in the ignition. That, combined with electronic unlocking, may arouse the interest of hackers and car thieves alike.

Dot by Kogeto. There are a few add-on lenses for iPhones and other handsets to provide telephoto and wide angle capabilities, but Kogeto has been able to consumerize its $1,400 Lucy S panoramic capture system into a $100 iPhone add-on. It still could be a pricey novelty for consumers, but could have good potential for bringing a new dimension to webcasts of live events.

SmartHeart by SHL Telemedicine. It's hard to buy claims that everyone will purchase and use a $500 ECG monitor (unless cardiac arrest sets in after learning of the price tag). Still, a few companies making blood pressure monitors that connect to the iPhone costing hundreds less have had similar goals for their products. While proactive daily or weekly monitoring of such vital statistics for all may not be in the offing (at least until the process becomes more transparent), one can certainly see the product being adopted by those who know about their heart-related health issues. Fortunately (though unfortunately for the affected) that's still a pretty big market, especially if those people can make the case to insurance companies for reimbursement.

Lark Up by Lark. We have seen quite a few sleep sensor and sleep monitoring products in the past couple of years. The Lark Up is now taking pre-orders at $129, which places it well under the price of the $200 Zeo Personal Sleep Coach but above the $60 Wakemate. It's also a little more expensive with the sleep-monitoring $100 Fitbit, a great all-around general-purpose connected activity measuring product, but one that isn't as optimized for measuring sleep. In any case, Lark seeks to differentiate by selling the waking features of the wrist component of the product, which it claims can rouse anyone silently without disturbing their bed partner (or partners for as the case may be).

As has often been the case for Web and mobile technologies, the main target of disruption for the CarKit, Dot and SmartHeart was distance. The CarKit provides easier access to vehicles and even promises to bring the point of vehicle aquisition closer. The Dot provides a new way to experience events remotely, and the SmartHeart allows a new way to measure a vital sign without having to visit a doctor.

But while these are all useful ideas, they likely aren't the kinds of products that most consumers would use very often. The Lark Up faces a tough road in meeting a happier ending than the star-crossed lovers woken by a lark in Shakespeare's classic, but it at least targets a universal behavior, and seeks to make that daily disruption a little less disruptive.

Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.