Useful technology triumphs at Comdex
LAS VEGAS'Like the IT industry generally, vendors at this year's Comdex trade show shed most of their 'technology for technology's sake' devices in favor of those with no-nonsense usefulness.
Vendors last week still hawked cool products and there were the requisite gadgets, but the most obvious trend at the show was practicality'especially for the mobile user.Tablet PCs
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' optimistic prediction that tablet PCs would outstrip notebook PC sales by 2005 might be on target. Six vendors showed next-generation tablets with low- and ultra-low-voltage Intel Centrino technology with longer battery life and clock speeds up to 1.5 GHz.
No vendor has embraced the tablet format more than Acer America Corp., which ranks No. 2 in Europe and No. 7 in the United States for notebook sales. Acer showed three new tablet PCs, including the TravelMate C300 with a large, 14.1-inch display'the only tablet PC billed as a full desktop replacement.
Jeffery Friederichs, vice president of the San Jose, Calif., company's notebook business unit, said Centrino tablets are poised to compete head-to-head with conventional notebooks. All Acer notebooks will be convertible to tablet format by 2005, Friederichs said.
But the tablet isn't a runaway winner in the portable market just yet.Handhelds
The NetBook Pro from Psion Teklogix Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, had crowds packing in around the booth. The Windows CE .Net unit bridges the gap between a notebook and a personal digital assistant while throwing in a good deal of tablet PC.
Resembling a miniature notebook, the NetBook Pro weighs 2.8 pounds and has an 8.5-inch touch screen that can display 800- by 600-pixel graphics. There are no moving parts; the rugged little NetBook Pro relies on 32M of Flash RAM and 128M of synchronous dynamic RAM. Company officials said it can take a 3-foot drop with no ill effect. The keyboard is nearly comparable to one on a full-size notebook.
Rob Williams, vice president and general manager of Psion Teklogix mobile systems, said the tiny device is easily configurable with a surprising number of expansion slots: CompactFlash, PC Cards, Universal Serial Bus and infrared data. LAN connectivity requires a PC Card, but future devices might have integrated LAN or modem ports, Williams said.RF phones
Meanwhile, the push-to-talk war between Nextel Wireless and Verizon Wireless is gaining another combatant: Sprint Corp.
Federal officials told the GCN Lab staff that although the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks overloaded cellular networks, Nextel's radio-frequency communications were not affected. Verizon has challenged Nextel by adding RF communications to some of its models.
And Sprint is jumping into the space, though not with a walkie-talkie unit that requires the user to push a button to talk and broadcast a series of tones when finished. Sprint's RF communications will be more like the usual cellular network and will not require a speakerphone; callers can instead hold the phone to an ear for private conversation.LCDs
Instead of larger, more expensive plasma displays, some vendors showed LCDs that work together to display images. The 20-inch LCD2080UX+ from NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics Display of America Inc. of Itasca, Ill., had a thin frame around the monitor for a feature called TileMatrix.
A user can instruct TileMatrix to display an image or video on a programmable number of monitors arranged in a square. Each monitor'up to 25'must be told its position in the matrix. Images then automatically stretch across for a huge presentation. At the show, NEC-Mitsubishi let GCN Lab reviewers play with nine matrixed monitors. Swapping them in and out was simple.
Because the frames were so thin, it was not distracting to piece the monitors together in a large matrix. LCDs tend to display poorly in sunlight, but for indoor viewing these units would make an inexpensive alternative to big plasma.