Comdex: Tracking the product trends

It's time again for autumn Comdex, and everyone wants to know: What'll be hot on the spot? ZDNet takes a look in its crystal ball

Don't ask about wired products at Comdex/Fall 2000 -- you won't find many people to talk to. Wireless will rule the buzz on the show floor, in keynote addresses, and in back-room demos to investors, potential customers, and footsore but well-fed journalists. Exhibitors who aren't showing (or promising) wireless technology better have compelling products or they'll be talking to empty chairs.

But wireless products and services won't exclude all other technologies. First of all, Comdex/Fall is just too big -- Key3Media Group, the enterprise that now owns and produces the huge trade show, has reportedly sold more than 1,000,000 square feet of exhibit space for the annual Las Vegas technology blowout. There will be non-wireless-centric stories in town in mid-November, including operating systems, broadband networks, digital publishing (particularly via the Internet), e-commerce, and ASP technologies -- of course, in many cases those presenters will be able to work in references to wireless technology as well.

If they can't talk about the Internet or wireless technologies, however, most Comdex exhibitors this year will have to sit quietly handing out sweets, loudly decorated literature and shopping bags.

For the last couple of years Bluetooth has been a convenient answer to many problems, as in, "Well, when Bluetooth finally arrives, this will be a lot easier because you won't need cables and the devices will automatically recognise each other."

Bluetooth is intended to replace cables that connect devices to each other such as PCs and printers, phones, PDAs, and digital cameras. Now that the first Bluetooth modules have started to ship (in the form of PC Cards from Toshiba and IBM, with promised Mini PCI cards for other notebook vendors), we'll finally get a chance to see if Bluetooth can help without doing harm.

Don't expect to see many (or any) shipping products with embedded Bluetooth until mid-2001, but prototypes likely will be highly visible at Comdex. Look for clip-on Bluetooth modules for digital phones and PDAs. Ask about the potential conflicts between Bluetooth and 802.11b network access points to learn if the vendors are doing their homework.

Staying connected wherever you roam has become a universal obsession -- if you believe the ads and press releases, that is. Most digital phones are now Internet-enabled and you can count on any mobile phone shown at Comdex being Web-ready -- look for early talk about dual-mode browsers that can handle WAP and HTML content and convergent phone/PDA modules.

Phones may become more PDA-like but can't get around their small screens and tiny keypads, so the better bet is for add-on digital phone modules for Palm, Visor, and possibly Pocket PC PDAs -- most likely using the GSM digital network.

You can't make phone displays or keyboards much bigger without turning away buyers who don't want to carry big honking devices, but the promise of high-speed digital phone networks has carriers around the world buying up licenses at multi-billion dollar prices. No high-speed digital phone technology is available yet in the US, but with all the networks working on interim solutions (before the broadband 3G networks that won't show up before 2005), booths touting the benefits of the various 2.5G technologies should be prominent.

PDAs with wireless connections that don't include phones will also be evident. Long-awaited CDPD modems for Pocket PCs and OmniSky modems for additional PDAs than the Palm V family are also likely.

Other wireless technologies, including Metricom's Ricochet high-128Kbps speed service, will also be touted -- be sure to inquire about carrier footprint, specific city rollout dates, and service costs. Eventually, wireless PDA bundles will probably give you the hardware in return for a monthly service contract, but today the bits and piece still cost a lot.

Last year, two-way pagers and messaging units seemed to be on tired legs, but a resurgence in interest -- particularly with the RIM 950 and 957 units but also the newer Motorola PageWriters (now in the Timeport product family) -- has kept this category alive.

Take me to Pt II/ Internet and content provision

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Special.

Take me to the ZDNet Road to 3G News Special.

Take me to the Bluetooth special

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