Comdex: Net devices just got smarter

You name it, and Comdex will have a Net device that will do it...

Net devices for processing of digital photos without a PC, creating music and even checking on the baby were shown off at Comdex Fall 2000 in Las Vegas Tuesday.

While sceptics question how many years Web appliances will be shown at Comdex before reaching the shops, many industry bigwigs are convinced that such devices have a huge market. Bill Gates is a fan, using his keynote speech here to show off MS' Tablet PC.

Not to be outdone, chief executive of processor firm Transmeta David Ditzel showed off the Touchpad, a Web device developed by AOL and Gateway and powered by a 400MHz Crusoe processor under Linux. The device is designed to go in any room in the house and has email, Web browsing and instant messaging capabilities. "Internet appliances are about to take off in volume," Ditzel said.

The idea of a networked home is very close to the heart of Don Fotch, vice president of 3Com. He showcased Audrey, 3Com's dumbed down appliance which he hopes will "be to the household what Palm is to the individual". Just as electricity became consumerised into myriad devices last century so the first years of the twenty first century will see the rise of what Fotch terms "datatricity".

One of the most interesting devices demonstrated came from photo company Polaroid, which is intent on turning digital photography into an instant experience. "One of the reasons digital imagery hasn't migrated to the mass market is because it is difficult to use," said Terence O'Hagan, group marketing manager of Polaroid.

Polaroid has created a camera which can be plugged into any normal phone line to upload digital images. It has also created a digital picture frame which allows users to download images directly from their cameras without PC intervention. "If you give one to Grandma, she can instantly get the photos you have taken too," said O'Hagan.

Taking digital photography to its extreme, US company Surveyor has a system that lets parents watch their infants using wireless Webcams.

For music enthusiasts Net4Music has been working on a Web appliance that will give even the laziest of musicians reason to practise. A microphone attached to an instrument and a Web appliance will give instant access to the company's SmartMusic studio which has over 5,000 accompaniments for instrument practise.

The Web site also has customisable sheet music and other 50,000 exercises for a variety of instruments. Net4Music announced at Comdex that the service is about to become available online for a monthly subscription fee of around $6.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Special.

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