CES Wrapup: Plenty Of SMB Technology

This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas brought few revolutionary products but plenty of important improvements in SMB products like data storage, wireless connectivity and portable computing platforms.
What did this year's CES, the gadget-heavy celebration of consumer electronics in Las Vegas, bring for small and midsize businesses?

Plenty, it turns out, with special emphasis on data storage, wireless connectivity, and portable computing platforms. In some cases, the products that were most significant didn't feature brand new technology, but offered SMBs value in terms of new approaches or novel configurations.

Data Storage
The two major trends in small business data storage at CES were simplicity and ruggedness. Crucial, Soligen, Seagate, and Plextor were just four of the companies exhibiting new solid-state disks (SSDs) on the floor of the show. These SSDs, while not matching the terabyte-for-less-than-$100 price points that has become common on rotating-media hard disks, have trended toward larger capacities and simplicity of packaging, in addition to the essential ruggedness inherent in the SSD memory technology.

ioSafe has taken advantage of that ruggedness in its new series of ultra-rugged backup storage devices. In a demonstration held in the desert outside Las Vegas, an ioSafe Solo storage device was burned at 1,500 degree for several minutes, hit with a stream of water from a firehose, then soaked in that water for a number of minutes before being dropped nearly 40 feet onto pavement. If the ioSafe's day wasn't already bad enough, the device was then run over by a large tracked excavator. It survived.

In most storage vendors' lines, if not on every product at CES, storage is now being packaged in a way that allows users, with a single click of a button, to back up all or part of the critical data on a laptop or desktop. Vendor representatives frequently spoke of executives, managers, and regular employees who were too busy or too poorly educated on the risks to make regular backup copies of their data. Single-button systems can simplify that process, but it still remains to be seen if end users will actually back up their data regularly.

Wireless Connectivity
While Google didn't announce its Nexus One phone at CES, the announcement -- which coincided with the show -- was strongly felt in the halls. Though the iPhone remained the target of most smartphone accessory products on display at the show, vendors were speaking with new confidence about successful smartphones that would not bear the Apple logo.

Motorola based its just-released Backflip phone on Google's Android operating system, as did Dell with its Mini3 smartphone, which was announced at CES for delivery later in 2010. Sony Ericsson eschewed the moribund Windows Mobile platform to run Android on its X10 smartphone. Each of these phones has features and form factors that should make it useful in a wide variety of business settings.

Applications were on display for Windows Mobile, but the highly anticipated Windows Mobile 7 wasn't announced or even discussed in any detail by Microsoft. (After all, we're still waiting for Windows Mobile 6.5.)

CEO Steve Ballmer did say in his keynote address that the new version of the OS should be available by the middle of 2010, but there were no mockups or technology demonstrations available to the public.

But there was at least one visually arresting mobile computing application in the Windows Mobile pavilion at CES. Under the Microsoft Auto banner in the Las Vegas Convention Center, Ford was showing a customer F-350 pickup truck with Windows Embedded XP running on a computer integrated into the dash of the vehicle. All standard office productivity tools were running on the computer, along with special software designed to let a contractor keep track of tools and materials on the go.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer