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Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Consumer electronics firms pushing the 'digital home'

If electronics companies have their way, people will be wired their every waking moment


It starts out innocently enough. You buy a cellphone to stay in touch with home, or a Blackberry e-mail device to remain productive on the train or a portable game player so the kids don't drive you mad on that long cross-country drive.

But beware. If you pay attention to what the industry leaders were saying this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, they have designs to turn your every waking moment into an electronic experience. The only wonder is that they weren't showing off a digital dream manager.

In the meantime, almost every major company at the show was busy touting a "digital lifestyle" that they see as connecting you to information at every juncture of the day.

You are awakened by your iPod alarm clock, just as your high-definition flat screen TV rises from the base of your bed, already tuned to a personalized Internet television station that brings you news about local weather, your business, your favorite sports team and whatever other information you need in the first minutes of the day.

Your new e-mails pop up instantly and you are also pinged by your friends and colleagues on your buddy list, alerted by your instant message program that after a blissful night of rest you are back where you belong -- interacting with a computer.

In its version of the connected home, Yahoo sees you using a bathroom in which the mirror doubles as a display screen to continue feeding you all that essential information as you brush your teeth or apply your makeup.

With so much going on, there's little time for breakfast. But at least on the way to work you have a choice of the 50,000 songs on your iPod, 500 channels of digital radio and digital navigation systems to speed you on your way. For those not driving, there are cellphones to talk on, or you might just use them to play a game, watch downloaded TV shows or take advantage of fast new wireless connections to synch up with specially formatted Web services from Yahoo and Google.

Proponents of this lifestyle -- which include all the big technology companies -- have long touted such convergence of powerful portable devices and broadband wireless technology as the essential modern experience.

Until now, this vision was not ready for prime time, but the theme of this year's CES is about how all these myriad devices are coming together to wrap people's lives in a digital bubble.

"Every device is connected and always on," says analyst Tim Bajarin. "It changes everything."

Tech boosters say this flexibility will increase productivity and give consumers unprecedented choice about what, where, when and how they consume the information that is relevant to their lives. Just by coincidence, the tech companies that make this stuff will also make a fortune hawking these new products.

All the big names have their sights firmly fixed on this holy grail. Microsoft's Bill Gates kicked off the CES show by touting the way his company's software will coordinate all these devices.

Chipmaking giant Intel launched a US$2.5 billion re-branding effort to focus attention on a new generation of chips that will go inside everything from music players to cellphones. Hewlett Packard launched a line of impressive new televisions, its first venture into TV-making, while both Yahoo and Google announced services to tie their information smoothly to mobile devices and televisions.

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