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Fri, Jan 10, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Vacant Las Vegas greets tech show

COMDEX With the city still struggling to attract visitors after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, guests can expect to have the town to themselves, coupled with great service


Sanyo displays a variety of flat-panel plasma televisions during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, Wednesday. About 110,000 people are expected to come to the show, which opened with a keynote speech by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates. The exhibit floor opened yesterday.


Over 100,000 gadget enthusiasts and consumer electronic gathered in Las Vegas Wednesday where over 2,000 companies were set to unveil the best and brightest of their new products for what Bill Gates called "smart living in the digital decade."

The Consumer Electronics Show is a massive shot in the arm for the ailing desert town which has experienced a huge drop in tourism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cab drivers are pleading with passengers to page them if they need transport, the famous Las Vegas Strip is almost empty of pedestrians, casinos are half empty, and while the hotel signs are still lit in gaudy neon, many of the rooms appear shrouded in darkness at night.

Many of the products on show are similarly uninspiring, unless you happen to be a hopeless gadget junkie or one of the thousands of hawkers who are paid to hype for companies at such shows.

One of the first products showcased came from a company called There, which for the last four years has been developing a virtual online community to supplant the instant messaging systems that have become one of the Internet's killer applications.

The problem is that the company intends to charge users some US$10 per month to use the system, which according to most analysts, will prevent it from reaching the critical mass that is needed to make it a useful communications tool. Despite its problems however, There looks positively brilliant compared to products like the Intelligent Oven, which was named as one of the most innovative products of the show.

This marvel of modern engineering is a normal oven that has been fitted with a refrigeration unit and an Internet connection. In the vision of the founders, users would place their refrigerated food in the US$2,000 device before leaving for work, and then connect to the oven over the Internet to tell it when to have the food ready.

Not surprisingly the company is yet to take any orders.

Of course, not everything was quite that silly and a host of high end televisions, computers and audio devices were a feast for the eyes and the ears.

The major innovations seem to be in wireless networks, battery and screen technologies, which appear to be converging to facilitate an era of ubiquitous mobile computing in which modern consumers will be connected via the Internet to a constant stream of personalized information.

Whether this is what we need or want, Bill Gates seems determined to let us have it. The founder of Microsoft showcased a watch based on the company's Smart Personal Object Technology, which receives personalised information via FM signals to update weather, stocks, sport or any other information the user chooses.

Gates also unveiled a laptop media center that functions as a combined TV, hi-fi and PC, and a smart wireless screen that can be separated from a computer and used to control every device in the house.

Other devices Microsoft sees as becoming a part of everyday life include computers that automatically synchronise family information, from grandma's doctors appointment to little Bill's homework assignments.

Though Microsoft is clearly one of the main drivers of this age of convergence, other companies are just as keen on the idea.

Sony calls its concept the "ubiquitious value network" and unveiled a stream of undeniably impressive devices which rich consumers of today, and perhaps average consumers of the future, will be using to stay in touch all the time.

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