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Spicebox's Mauz aims to make your iPhone an all-in-one controller

One of the weirdest devices I've seen so far here at Macworld is Spicebox's Mauz controller. The company recently started a Kickstarter for the project (their second, after a case that tracks your opening of multiple beers called the Intoxicase), but even though that campaign hasn't yet come anywhere close to the US$150,000 goal, the unit is already being prototyped and built by the company.

It works like this: The company has produced a little box (only a prototype so far, though Spicebox told me that the circuits inside have been finalized and are headed to production already) that will plug into your iPhone's 30-pin adapter. I didn't see a Lightning version, but presumably it's being worked on as well.

Once that unit is plugged in, it connects via WiFi to a driver running on your Mac, which Spicebox is right in the middle of developing. The unit on your iPhone will use the WiFi connection to send information about movement bidirectionally, so not only can your phone tell your computer how it wants to move the mouse or keyboard, but the computer can tell the mouse, for example, what app has gained focus, or what kind of gestures should become available on the phone.

There are four different ways the phone sends control information, then. The first is just through the touchscreen itself -- as you can see above, the default look of the phone imitates two mouse buttons and a wheel, and those work just fine when you tap them. On the bottom of the plug-in accessory, there's also a (low-power, says Spicebox) mouse laser, so the device can tell when you move it around on a mousepad surface. So at the very minimum, your phone can work as a tabletop mouse when the accessory is plugged in.

But of course that's not all. The little accessory also hooks into the iPhone to grab gyroscope and accelerometer movement, so the developers are working on allowing you to do Wii remote-style movement, where you can move the iPhone around in real space to push or pull around elements on your computer's screen. This function wasn't working when I saw it here in the booth at Macworld, but its makers say development is still well underway and they hope to have it up and running soon.

Finally, there's one more method of control with the Mauz. That mode uses the iPhone's front-facing camera (while it's sitting face up on a flat surface) to read live video of your hand passing by, and attempts to turn that into 2D movement (so, for example, you'd swipe your hand in front of the iPhone to spin a Google Earth globe). Spicebox even wants to try and track 3D movement (so you'd move your hand toward or away from the phone as it's lying down to push things in or out of the screen). That function was at least working on the show floor, but not in a usable way: The Spicebox guys were waving their hands back and forth above the prototype phone, with very little movement to see on the screen.

So there's a lot of work yet to be done. Spicebox says the unit's inner electronics are finalized, but the casing outside of the device is still being prototyped and developed. The software is still a work in progress as well. Spicebox says the beta for the device should hopefully start sometime in April, and then they're hoping to have everything finalized and ready to go later on this year. I was told the company is aiming for a price "in the $60 range, and I believe we'll get there," said one of the company's founders, Gilad Meiri.

Mauz is definitely an interesting idea. I have my doubts about how exactly the implementation will work, and while the company has some big plans, they're still very much in the prototype stage, especially in the software department. But I won't discourage anyone from dreaming big: If Spicebox can iron out the hardware and get the software to do what they want it to do easily and responsively, the Mauz accessory could be very useful indeed.

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