Silicon Insights: The Newest Tech Toys

Although the computer industry is suffering from its worst downturn in a decade, and has been hurt as well by the events of Sept. 11, the mood at the largest U.S. computer show was surprisingly upbeat.

Now that the dot-com bubble has burst, the industry is back to focusing on what it does best and is again creating products and technology that are innovative and unique.

Not surprisingly, most people I talked with there were still very concerned about the industry slowdown and unsure when things will turn around. As of now, they see sales of PCs and technology products in general being slow even through the holiday season and not picking up again until mid-2002 at best. Many think we will not see a real turnaround until early 2003.

But, it was quite encouraging to see most of the companies at Comdex turning back to their roots and working on products that are once again innovative and highly creative. Perhaps that will start turning buyers' heads again soon and, if so, we could see our industry moving forward again relatively soon.

The Highlight of the Show

Perhaps the most significant new product introduced at Comdex was the first generation of commercial tablet PCs. At last year's Comdex, Bill Gates introduced the concept and urged vendors to back his vision for a new mobile computing platform.

Most portable computers today use what is called a clamshell format, that is, a keyboard with a hinged screen that lifts up when in use. By comparison, a tablet PC is exactly what it sounds like, a tablet or slate with input from a stylus or pen instead of a mouse or touchpad.

Although various tablets were introduced by Fujitsu and others, the one that got the most attention was Acer's modular tablet PC. Its clever design allows it to function as a tablet, yet its screen flips up to reveal a full keyboard and in this mode, it works just like a normal laptop computer.

While many analysts questioned the original tablet PC concept, most were pleased to see that when a keyboard is added to the design, the tablet PC takes on a more versatile dimension.

‘Information Appliances’

Another interesting product category is the information appliance. In the past, National Semiconductor had partnered on various designs, such as 3Com's Audrey and Sony's eVilla. But their somewhat plain vanilla nature led them to fail.

Now, National Semiconductor is showing off its Origami prototype, a cross between a Web pad, PDA and a digital camera. Origami is a unique multi-function mobile conceptual design that combines some of today 's most popular electronic products in one package.

The Origami folds and pivots into a digital camera, video camcorder, smart phone, MP3 audio player, Internet access device, Internet picture frame, e-mail device and video conferencing terminal. Think Swiss Army knife approach to an information appliance.

Fancy Cameras and Souped-Up Laptops

Digital cameras were also hot, and Ricoh introduced two models that got a lot of attention. One camera has 802.11 wireless connections built in and another has an MP3 player as one of the camera's features.

New laptops were in abundance as well. The one that really caught my eye was Fujitsu's Lifebook C series that sports a Transmetta processor and has a 9.6-inch sharp-looking LCD screen.

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