At the annual consumer-electronics fest, businesses see their own future.
It begins at the Las Vegas airport. There's the ad for Australia's Thunder Down Under all-male review. There's one for the new mind-bending Penn & Teller magic act, and another featuring the body contortionists of Cirque du Soleil. And then there's one for Intel.
This is where Intel, and much of the rest of the IT industry, is determined to be: planted in your entertainment picture and stretching your idea of what's possible.
Wouldn't it be easier to see this stuff online from your hotel room?
Last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is to the tech world what the now-defunct Comdex was in the '90s. Attendees endure IT-industry bigwigs bantering on stage with rockers and movie stars, and wait 90 minutes for a cab. They wade through overhyped product displays and, it's hoped, come away with a big-picture view of where technology is headed. The 1.6 million square feet of exhibition space leaves one lasting impression: Consumer electronics is driving innovation and creating market opportunities, whether it's for low-power processors, wireless connec- tivity, or mobile computing.
Or perhaps it's more accurate to say it's the withering of the distinction between consumer gadgets and business IT that's driving innovation. Look no further than Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' speech that kicked off the event, in which he talked of lifestyle and work style in the same breath, acknowledging how our gadgets will be as separated from our jobs as our personal lives are from work. Which for many is hardly at all. "We talk about this as the decade of digital lifestyles, the decade of digital work styles," Gates said. "That means that all these tools are becoming mainstream."
Trident Design's PowerSquid is so interesting to look at that you'll want to protect your surge protector. If you fill all its outlets, you're 100% geek.
Gates--who briefly shared the stage with singer Justin Timberlake in promoting a music-selling partnership with MTV--showed off new additions to the upcoming Windows Vista operating system, including improved application switching, quick Web tab browsing, and Windows Sideshow, which can give users access to their calendars and other apps via a small LCD screen built into laptop exteriors.
Gates sounded a "cross-device" theme that ran through much of the show, in which people expect to reach other people, data, and media through any combination of PCs, TVs, and handhelds. It's still more promise than reality. But the vision inched forward last week with products like giant TVs with better built-in PC integration, and Yahoo saying it would partner with AT&T, Cingular, and Nokia to sell access to its E-mail and other Internet apps for mobile devices. The effort, called Yahoo Go, also would link PCs to TVs.
A curious dynamic ran through one part of CES, where it shared the floor with the Adult Entertainment Expo, with big signs vamping the latest in adult-ecstasy offerings facing signs promising CES's version of innovation. So, computer geeks, electronics enthusiasts, and suit-clad business types mixed--perhaps not as uncomfortably as you might think--with half-dressed women of a completely different profession.
Sure it's a cell phone, but Samsung's nifty i730 is also much more. It's powered by Windows Mobile Pocket PC, plays MP3 files, and supports EV-DO data speeds. There's also a full hidden keyboard so you can send messages anytime, anywhere.
It's all about community of one kind or another, right? That was certainly a central theme at CES. Internet-enabled IT has unleashed a culture of openness and mobility--whether it's with MySpace .com, instant messaging, or file sharing--and electronics and computing companies are trying feverishly to catch up. People don't just want to connect to their data anywhere they are; they want to connect to their communities.
Microsoft showed how its Media Center will deliver lists of the videos your friends (who've given permission) are watching, so you'll know what you might want to see. And there are up-and-comers such as MusicGremlin, a Wi-Fi digital audio player launched at the show that lets users download music via a Wi-Fi network, then connect to other MusicGremlin-enabled players whose owners opt in for browsing one another's collections and, if they're subscribers, downloading those songs.
Sony Corp. and other consumer-electronics players are busy changing how creative content is made and distributed. Sony--in addition to teasing its much-anticipated PlayStation 3, without offering a delivery date--last week unveiled the eReader, which promises a "booklike" display of text that can be electronically stored and sorted. Yet CEO Howard Stringer acknowledged the company's struggle to secure content rights while letting consumers manipulate that content, a nod to its ill-fated decision to load some music CDs with copying-restriction software that created a security hole in PCs. "Is owning content a handicap for Sony?" Stringer asked. He noted that providing tools and also protecting content "may prove problematic. Who owns what?"
Toshiba's Tecra M4 is a laptop one minute, and, after flipping its monitor, a tablet PC the next. Its pen-based input is great for note taking in the office or on the train, and kids can have loads of fun drawing pictures.
Digital Homes, For Real
The notion of a "digital home" has been trumpeted for 20 years, but what has consumers and vendors in a frenzy is that people now really are building them. In several booths, attendees stood three and four rows deep to watch on the latest high-definition wide-screen televisions a replay of the college football championship between Texas and the University of Southern California. Among those rolling out new high-definition sets was Hewlett-Packard, whose new line will include a 37-inch LCD set that includes PC integration.
Intel's booth showed off fiber-optic poles that change TV images when you pull on them. But back in the realm of reality, Intel CEO Paul Otellini in his speech touted several hardware developments while also making clear that the company plans to compete in content services. "We're at the threshold of a new entertainment era," Otellini said.
Intel talked up its new dual-core processor, CoreDuo, which the company is integrating into its successful Centrino processor line for mobile PCs. By running 68% faster than older single-core processors while using 28% less power, CoreDuo will allow thinner, lighter mobile PCs, Otellini said. And he pushed Intel's Viiv platform, a chipset-and-software system designed to work with Windows Media Center to support entertainment PCs the way Centrino was built to support wireless technology. Viiv faces stiff competition, including Intel's main rival, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which also is expanding its consumer focus with "AMD Live" branded consumer desktops and notebooks.
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