CES Day One: My Computer Dies; Zander Makes a Colorful Entrance

After a hearty breakfast of minibar M&Ms and Diet Coke, I bolted from my hotel on Monday, ready to sink my teeth into the leathery hide of the CES monster. But first, a quick stop at a local shop for laptop repairs, because the hotel wireless network corrupted my com stack!

Aaaargh!

I hate it when something happens to my machines that I can't figure out for myself. (Hateithateithateit!) Fortunately—and I mean that literally, because it was nothing but dumb luck—I found a local repair service that held my hand and fixed my gear. Smartech is a little Mom-and-Pop-and-Two-Other-Guys operation on Tompkins Road, near the Orleans Hotel. It's run by three local boys who went off to college and came back to set up shop in the old home town. Frank Lorie is the computer service guy and Microsoft specialist (and fellow Battlestar Galactica fan). Joe Domingues is the cheerful TV service guy, and Joe's wife, the lovely Brooke, runs the office. There's also Matt, but I didn't meet him. They offer lots of services at Smartech: data recovery and backup; network design and e-mail setup; data security and firewall configuration; and more. They reassure panicking reporters for free.

But I digress...

Back at the conference, Motorola's CEO Ed Zander added some color to the show by riding onstage for his morning keynote on a bright yellow bicycle. But the clearly able-bodied chief exec wasn't just showing off his cycling prowess, or how silly a man of a certain age dressed in business clothes can look on a bike. He was making the point rather vividly that cell phones, which are widely used in countries where the tech is often otherwise pretty low, are fast becoming the dominant computing platform and content delivery vehicle worldwide. Zander expects about a billion mobile devices to be sold worldwide over the next two years as countries such as India and China, which are leapfrogging wired infrastructures and going straight to mobile tech.

'Over the next 10 years, you can expect an explosion of mobile technology,' Zander told his audience, adding that there are 500 million cyclists in China.

Zander's bike featured a new Motorola product: a bike-mounted handset charger, which Zander said his company hopes to provide to so-called emerging nations.

Throughout his presentation, Zander referred to Motorola's efforts to provide ''cool experiences'' anywhere, anytime. ''In this new world,' he said. ''The Internet will follow you; you won’t follow the Internet.''

Zander introduced a new mobile phone during his speech. Dubbed the Motorizer, it will use Microsoft's Windows Media software to transfer music purchased from a roster of more than 200 Web-based stores worldwide to the handset. Motorola says the phone should be available in the first half of this year. He also touted some new capabilities of the Motorola Q, the one-time trendsetting darling of the smart phone market, now a bit faded as competitors snag the concept and refine the form factor. He demoed a cool Bluetooth stereo headset, designed to play music streamed from a phone. The headset is meant to work up to 30 feet away from the phone, and it comes with controls to allow the user to pause songs to take or make calls. He talked about Motorola's recent acquisition of Good Technology, which is allowing the company to tie mobile enterprise users to their companies' back-end systems, e-mail, and video content. And he announced two important partnerships: The first with Yahoo, to put the new Yahoo Go for Mobile 2.0 mobile software on Motorola handsets; the second with Warner Music Group, to sell Motorizer phones pre-loaded with music. Users will also be able to buy ringtones, digital wallpaper, and videos from Warner.

Zander did a good job of acknowledging in a light-hearted way the elephant in the room: Motorola's disappointing holiday sales numbers, which hit the company's stock price. He rode the bike in from Chicago, he told conference attendees, because Motorola is on ''expense controls.'' (Motorola is headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois.)

Zander's best bit: He pulls out this ancient, just-barely-mobile phone about the size of a shoebox and holds it up to his ear. ''The analysts who are here today will like this because there are a lot of gross margin dollars in this puppy,'' he quips, adding that the phones once sold for $4,000 each. ''If I could get some of you to buy some, it would sure help.''

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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