The Comdex Report

This year Comdex-Las Vegas ran from November 11 to 16. Nearly 2,000 exhibitors displayed their latest items, ranging from rather unlikely entities—such as the U.S. Post Office and manufacturers of battery-operated muscle stimulators—to the usual technology vendors. The entire show fit within the Las Vegas Convention Center; attendance dropped from last year’s 250,000 to about 70,000. This dramatic year-to-year reduction is due far more to the changed economy than to September 11.

Not much new this year. The big news for mortgage folks is the strong push towards device convergence among the tools most of us use. Handspring  announced its new Treo. The Treo is a cellular telephone, PDA, e-mail, Web browser, and short text message (SMS) device, all in one small unit. With its intelligent and reasonably sized screen, you can actually use the device for e-mail and Web browsing. Handspring offers a browser that uses its Web servers to handle the heavy work, sending to your Treo only that information which it can easily display. This allows quick, usable browsing, even over current wireless connections. With Handspring’s enterprise partners, companies can extend their existing Exchange e-mail systems to these units for better corporate connectivity. Treo uses world phone technology, so it can be used anywhere in the world. It may be used as a speakerphone and allows for easy one-button, three-party conference calls. It also has caller-ID technology that pops the caller’s name and information from your address book onto your screen before you answer. You can maintain a call history log of up to 1,000 entries, including the date, time, call duration, and phone number for each entry. This service is expected to cost $399.

Nokia showed working prototypes of their new 9290 Communicator. Incorporating the ability to send and receive images, sound and video clips, the Nokia 9290 Communicator is the first product to reveal the next steps toward Multimedia Messaging. With over 200 billion short text messages (SMS), Multimedia Messaging will build upon this success by adding rich content to messages, making this form of communication more unique and personal.

The Nokia 9290 Communicator is a fully integrated mobile terminal combining phone, fax, e-mail, calendar, and imaging functionality. Internet access is possible via both a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and a HTML-based Web browser, which also supports frames. Word processing and spreadsheet applications are included, plus support for many of the most commonly used PC applications. You can view and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents, and a PowerPoint viewer is also built in. Included SyncML support allows for seamless synchronization of contact, calendar and to-do information across SyncML-enabled PCs, PDAs, mobile phones and other devices. Expected price is $799.

Bluetooth products are finally beginning to ship and the eponymous pavilion showcased more new items. Bluetooth wireless technology allows short-range (about 30 feet) automatic connections between various devices. Now available are printer modules that eliminate the need for cables or a network box from computer to printer. Two-ounce earpiece sets for wireless access to your cell phone, desk phone, or car phone—all from the same tiny device—are now shipping.
Pen2Net’s CompuPen device automatically captures handwriting strokes on any writing surface, digitizes the data, and uses Bluetooth connectivity and encryption to communicate the data securely to mobile appliances such as handheld and laptop computers, cellular phones, email pagers, and personal information appliances, as well as to the wireless Internet.
Another important product area is WiFi certified wireless devices using the 802.11b standard. These tools enable wireless networking within an office space. This eliminates any need to pull cable through walls or ceilings. Running at standard wired Ethernet speeds up to 11 MB, functionality is excellent for networks of up to 20 or 30 users. Higher speed products are in testing, but will likely require more wired nodes to cover the same distances as the lower speed product. WiFi certification is important for compatibility between different manufacturers’ products.

A major area at this Comdex convention was digital photography, both still and video. As little as two years ago, digital still cameras with 2 Megapixels were expensive top-of-the-line items. This year Olympus introduced its D-40, a pocket-sized, zoom lens camera offering 4 Megapixels that is capable of prints of up to 16 by 20 inches.

Supporting technology has also improved dramatically. Products from Applied Science Fiction can restore old, scratched, or bent photos to like-new images. Another of their products restores original color to faded photos. While not sold to consumers, they are available at photo processing shops or included in other products from Nikon, Minolta, and other major vendors.

Preceding the Bill Gates keynote presentation, Bonacci & Wood, an acoustic guitar duo from Melbourne, Australia, provided an hour of entertainment. Their live session was recorded and then edited during the Gates presentation. DVDs of the concert were available the next day. All this was done using Windows XP, plus specific hardware and software from Pinnacle Systems, Mitsui, and Rimage. What seems remarkable is that the needed software and hardware, including the DVD recorder, cost less than $800, yet the quality is excellent. True, it helps that the recording was done using very high quality cameras and professional level equipment. Still, all the editing required only a single PC for full motion, full color video. Such technology makes it economically feasible for even small companies to produce top quality training and educational materials. You could produce DVD recordings of a new home buyer informational seminar, then offer these to other prospects as business incentives. Your real estate division could produce custom video tours of suitable properties and forward the resulting DVD to transferring executives.

There was one repeating theme, beginning with the Bill Gates keynote and threading through many of the exhibits and subsequent presentations: computers are too hard to use. More attention is about to be paid to increasing the trustworthiness of the hardware and software we must buy and use. One Microsoft demonstration of this topic took place during the introduction of their new X-box game machine. During the keynote demonstration, the presenter repeatedly flipped the machine off and on, even interrupting the boot process a couple of times. Nevertheless, the X-box booted properly and ran just fine. Try that with your standard PC and you’ll be down for several minutes to several days, depending upon what files become corrupt in the process. Microsoft XP claims to be a step in this direction. Self-correcting computers, self-correcting software, and sufficient robustness to withstand power fluctuations are now design targets. Any such valid improvements will certainly be welcome here.

There was much more offered at Comdex, but I have described a few of the most important prospects for our profession. I’ll keep you posted on further developments.

By Bruce Forge