Convergence soup: Let's get small

Comdex gave big companies a chance to think small.

One truism of technological advancement is miniaturization. Take a look at anything with a CPU, microchip, or memory module these days; newer models are always smaller than the last. In fact, the size of a piece of electronic equipment can be used to date it, not unlike the number of rings in the cross-section of a tree.

Looking into the crystal ball of this month's Comdex/Fall '00 in Las Vegas revealed big new things en route in small packages.

Notebooks, cameras, and consumer-electronics devices shaved ounces and even pounds at this year's show, and a few new miniproducts made a surprisingly big splash.

One of the coolest new products on the show floor was the Sony eMarker EMK-01, a tiny device that fits just as easily into the category of jewelry as it does consumer electronics.

The eMarker solves the problem of trying to figure out what song is playing on the radio at any given time. How many times have you been cruising down the highway jamming to a great new tune only to be frustrated by the fact that DJs no longer announce song titles on the radio?

The eMarker is a small, oblong device that you carry on your key ring. When you hear that favorite song on the radio, you press a button on the device, and it stores a time stamp. When you get to the office or home, you pop the top to reveal the device's Universal Serial Bus connector and plug it into your PC's USB port (or the Palm-like cradle that's included), and the eMarker software will list the artists and song titles of the songs that you had marked throughout the day.

The eMarker works by checking the time stamps that you record on the device against a profile of your favorite local radio stations. The software will then present you with a list of the artists and song titles that were playing on your favorite three radio stations at the time you designated. There are even sound clips of each if you aren't sure which song you heard and, of course, a "buy" button that lets you purchase the music immediately.

MP3 players were also well-represented at the show. Samsung took the award for displaying the largest number of MP3 models (both released and concept) and the largest number of crossover products. The company displayed no less than eight MP3 players, a phone that plays MP3s, and even a visual MP3 player with a 2-inch color TFT LCD screen that displays JPEG images.

Not to be outdone, Casio borrowed a page from Dick Tracy with a sampler of futuristic watches, including one that played MP3s (WMP-1V), another that took pictures (WQV-1), and even one with a built-in GPS receiver (GPS-2). Fuji Film sensed an untapped market and released the FinePix 40i, a tiny digital camera that plays MP3s.

If that weren't enough to blow an O-ring in the brain of any self-respecting mobile technologist, a trip to the Ericsson booth to check out the Bluetooth pen (yes, pen) would surely do the trick. For the demonstration, an artist in the Ericsson booth was drawing a caricature with the Chatpen, and with each stroke of the pen the image would appear on a neighboring notebook equipped with a Bluetooth PC card.

The pen could conceivably allow you to write an e-mail that is sent via you Bluetooth mobile phone over the Internet. The Chatpen is much better than fighting with entering messages via Short Message Service (SMS) on a 12-digit mobile phone keypad -- trés cool.

If you aren't already confused, add to the mix the peripherals and expansion devices for Palms and Visors that allow you to add a mobile phone module to your PDA (VisorPhone and TellMEN) or the litany of Memory Stick devices that includes a digital camera. Or the Palm camera (EyeModule, PalmPix); or the Visor MP3 player; or the watch Palm; or the Palm phone ... Or wait! Was it the phone Palm?

Technology for technology's sake is enough to make me crazy; in fact, I think that it already has. As a solution -- and to make things easier for the research and development departments of the companies listed above -- I have assembled this convenient mobile-technology grid. With any luck, this should speed up the product development cycle tremendously and get these products to market sooner.

Personally, I'm going to wait for the device that combines all the items in the grid. Or should I wait for USB 2.0 ... or 800 Mbps FireWire ... or GHz wireless ... or ... ?

Jason D. O'Grady is editor in chief of and and head of the wireless practice at Odyssey Systems Corp. When he isn't deciphering acronyms, he enjoys studying new ones.