Six big trends of Comdex '01

Among the 2000 or so exhibitors, you'll see six major trends that affect technology in business and personal life: security, mobility, telematics, digital imaging, networking, and Internet appliances.
Written by Patrick Houston, Contributor
Make no mistake. In the end, Comdex Fall, the mother of all technology exhibitions, is really about America's other national pastime: Shopping.

Some 2,000 exhibitors will converge to form a temporary but just as titanic Mall of America to technology, for an estimated 150,000 mostly business buyers--retailers, distributors and resellers, as well as corporate information technology pros looking for ways to improve productivity or to gain and maintain their competitive edge.

What are the chief concerns they'll carry around the Las Vegas Convention Center? What are hottest products or product categories they'll see? After chatting with top Comdex planners and their chief conference advisors, perusing its conference schedule, and scouring the shows product listings, here's our take on this year's Comdex hot spots:

Security. Sept. 11 elevated the issue of security to new levels of concern, especially for corporate IT managers. Their worries extend beyond run-of-the-mill hackers and viruses. "People are looking for more comprehensive methods of security--not just data security, but physical security," said Tom D'Auria, the CEO of Information Methods Inc., a management-consulting firm and Comdex advisor. A growing number of biometric security solutions--technologies that recognize unique human identifiers like fingerprints or the eye's retina--will share the Comdex spotlight. Enough will be on hand, in fact, to form their very own "Biometropolis" showcase on the floor.

Networking. Companies and individuals are more dependent on networks than ever, and security today means making these data lifelines robust, reliable, and secure. Plus, the speed and ubiquity of digital networks is opening up high-end nets to voice traffic. Voice over Internet Protocol-- known as VoIP for short-- holds the potential for combining the power of the phone and the PC in ways not possible till now. The other attraction is strictly bottom-line: Companies are looking for big telephone service savings by making VoIP part of their digital infrastructure. Comdex advisor D'Auria believes this year's Comdex will mark VoIP's coming of age.

Mobility. Laptops, cell phones, PDAs, wearable computers, and their derivatives will be abundant this month in Vegas. Anticipate a lot of attention to phone-computing-browsing devices, such as Handspring's new Treo. Consultant and Comdex advisor Tim Bajarin expects more Web tablets, similar to the prototype Bill Gates trotted out last year. Bajarin said most will be "proof of concept" devices, but Taiwan's Tatung will debut a Web Pad for real use, the first to use Microsoft's next-generation mobile OS. Just as LANs exponentially increased the power of the PCs, wireless connectivity will fuel possibilities for mobile devices. This year's Comdex will be rife with discussion and demonstration of short-distance technologies, such as WiFi--a k a 802.11--and rival Bluetooth, as well as long-range, third-generation wireless networks.

Telematics. The largest uncharted territory for mobility is the automobile, a region known as "telematics." Car phones and increasingly common GPS services carved out a new role for technology in cars, and this year's Comdex will showcase new devices intending to fill it. Example: MobileAria, a Mountain View, Calif. Startup, will display its voice activated computer-car phone combo, which allows you to talk on the phone, review e-mail, and surf the Web, while keeping eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. This tech trend becomes even more newsworthy in light of escalating worries over whether, like drinking and driving, computers and cars don't mix.

Internet appliances. As the Internet becomes an integral part of daily life, many of us need ways to get online from more, and different, places. Never mind that recent Internet appliances, such as 3Com's Audrey, met with dismal failure, this Comdex will prove that efforts to create new connectible devices remain undeterred. Internet-enabled telephones and televisions will be much in evidence. Kunitake Ando, Chief Operation Officer of consumer electronics giant Sony, is expected to use his Comdex keynote to show off new Net devices that his company has in store.

Digital imaging. It's fun, it's easy, it's cheap, and the quality keeps getting better. No wonder so many people are trading in their film classics for digital cameras. But digital imaging is no longer merely a consumer phenomenon; it's become an important aspect of doing business--and not just for photographers and graphic artists. The Web created a compelling reason for most companies to display their products online. That means that any company with a Web site must become adroit at making, editing, capturing, storing, and managing digital images. Expect to see the introduction of all-encompassing image management systems that will help them to do just that.

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