Death of Comdex

Posted: 11.24.03


This week in Tech Watch: DVDs, Home Entertainment, and, yes, Comdex 2003.

Editorial from this week's Tech Watch

There's not much sense in going on and on about the death of Comdex. Either you were there and you have your own opinions or you weren't there and you're too pleased with yourself to give a rat's patootie about what we think.

This is probably the third year or so that we swore we'd never go again, though the reasons are different. One year we whined that the show management, K3 Media, were such condescending jerks that we couldn't be bothered. Then we complained that there was nothing new to see. We probably made a big deal about how crowded it was and you couldn't see anyone, and then of course we said there was no one there to see. We kept going though, didn't we? For that reason, if no other, we're not going to go on and on about the death of Comdex because we're liable to wind up going next year for some reason or another and then we'd have nothing to write about.

This year we were kind of interested in the evolution of new form factors as seen at Comdex this year. As most of us expected, Microsoft is dogged in its support of the Tablet PC, kind of an endearing trait in a giant, unfeeling, monopolistic company that tramples on the rights of the helpless. And indeed, Microsoft's partners in the Tablet PC market have repaid that trust with their own dogged introduction of new products and more companies have signed on. One of the interesting things we noted was that most new designs feature a keyboard of some sort—most of them are attached and we also saw more ruggedized versions, a feature that's as useful in the home as it is on the shop floor.

While we wandered around Comdex we stumbled upon an Alias representative who was demonstrating Alias Sketch on a Dell Tablet. We were enthralled. We had read about Alias Sketch, but we were impressed with its fluidity and easy interface when we saw it in person. This product has a double appeal if Alias can just get the word out. It's a wonderful tool for creative consumers, but it's also a first-rate sketching tool for industrial designers and artists who are looking for that digital connection between hand-eye-machine. Sketch looks like it might be it.

Another interesting angle in the intersection between business and commerce is the handheld. We do business on the phone and we do business on the move. The field has all but been conceded to handheld devices with communication capabilities. It's all over but the screaming for the straight PDA. PalmOne, the hardware company, is putting its hopes in the Treo and the Tungsten. PalmSource, the software company, is most grateful for customers Samsung, Kyocera, and Palm, all of whom offer phones with PDA features.

The exception to this rule is the new segment of handheld device that's taking shape as an entertainment device for big kids. Taking up where the Nintendo GameAdvance leaves off, devices like the Tapwave Zodiac keep their users entertained.

John Zeglis, president of AT&T wireless, took up the theme of always connected, always in touch with his keynote speech that suggested the mobile phone is soon to become our point of contact with the world. In the past, said Zeglis, the phone was the point of connection to our home. Now, as long as we have a phone, we're home.

Interestingly enough, both Zeglis and Nagel called for a world where devices can interoperate. Zeglis went so far as to say that interoperability, or the lack of it, is the one thing that's holding the door against the advance of the telecommunications industry. Nagel took a slightly different view, saying that the inability of devices to interoperate in the same way that all Palm devices run Palm applications is the key to success for Palm-based devices. That's not too far a cry from Nokia's approach, which is that Nokia phones interoperate just fine as long as you buy phones in the same product family.

It would be nice to see true interoperability so that we can play games with anyone, exchange photos, and make calls from anywhere in the world, but we don't see this brave new world coming in the next 12 months. If any of you do, please let us know. We'd like to know why.