CES Wrap-up

I still get a surprising amount of guff from colleagues who also cover enterprise IT for attending the annual CES gizmofest. First, let me say with affection and respect to those colleagues: bite me. Second, at the risk of repeating myself, these are not toys. For anyone with the ability to see beyond next week, ''consumer'' is a misnomer when applied too strictly to the technologies exhibited at this show. As I walked the conference floor among the glittering handhelds and dazzling high-def displays, I didn't see consumer products, but hardware platforms—platforms for which ISVs are increasingly called upon to develop increasingly powerful applications, and which the enterprise ignores at its peril. These ''toys'' set employee expectations for rich user experiences, and they offer serious potential for productivity gains. Remember instant messaging? How many network admins managing a hundred IM-capable devices do think still consider it tech for teenyboppers?

That said… Man, were there some cool toys at this year's show! I'll wrap up my coverage here with a few of my personal product favs, celeb-watch results, and other observations.

My Favorite Laptop Gizmo: The Tornado. It looks like a slightly bigger-than-average, retractable USB 2.0 cable, but when used to link a laptop and a PC, this device automatically loads a GUI, displaying the contents of both machines on both machines. You can then drag and drop files, folders, or entire directories from one to the other. It's Windows-based, weighs slightly less than five ounces, and the cables extend four feet. I love that the interface labels the directories ''This Computer'' and ''Other Computer.''

Coolest (other) Concept Phone: The Onyx. I'd probably be voting for the iPhone if Apple had unveiled it in Vegas, but among the cutting-edge cells shown at CES, the Onyx from Synaptics was definitely the coolest. A candy bar phone about the size of TV remote, it features GPS, music, teleconferencing, and Synaptics' ClearPad ''capacitive'' touch screen, which nearly takes up one whole side of the device. As the Synaptics PR people put it, The Onyx input system ''eliminates the traditional mechanical keys found on phones today and dramatically adapts to present the information and controls a user needs at any given moment.'' Another face of things to come.

Best Laptop on Steroids: Generally speaking, I really couldn't care less about gamer laptops—they typically weigh a ton—but I have to give props to Alienware's truly impressive Area-51 m9750. Even from a company known for its kickass portables with suped-up innards and chassis designs from another world, this is a mobile monster. The system comes with a 17-inch display (1920 x 1200 resolution), SLI NVIDIA graphics, Core 2 Duo processors, a Blu-ray optical drive, dual HDD up to 200GB (per drive), and up to 2GB of dual-channel DDR2 667MHz RAM. It even has a TV tuner and, weirdly exciting to me, a full-size numeric keypad. (I never learned to touch type the numbers line of a Qwerty keypad.) Rumor has it that instead of a laptop bag, you carry it around in a cage. Look for this beast sometime in late January.

Toughest Booth Babes: The young women riding the mechanical bull at the Casio booth. They didn't crank up the bulls to rider-throwing levels (at least not while I was there), but the thought of bumping around on that damned thing all day took my mind off my aching feet. Talk about buns of steel. Cool G-Shocks, too. They have pix on Engadget.

Most Disturbing Display: The Elvis-Bot. Now, from Wowee, the folks who brought us Robopet and Robosapien, comes the singing Elvis robot head. Watching that pompadoured head-thing writhe around and flex its lips while ''Heartbreak Hotel'' played in the background caused me to flash back to an episode of the original ''Twilight Zone,'' in which this guy sells his soul to the Devil (played by Julie Newmar) to return to his youth in a small town, and when he's there, as he passes a hat-shop, one of the manikin heads in the window display turns, and it's Julie, checking up on him. [Insert involuntary shudder here.] There's a video on YouTube. Truly creepifying.

CES Celeb-Watch Radar: Not much on the radar this year. Evangeline Lilly and Matthew Fox of ''Lost'' joined Disney CEO Bob Iger during his keynote. I was tempted to jump onstage and choke one of them until he/she told me who the freakin' Others are! Also, I spotted Kent McCord on the conference floor. He's the actor who played rookie patrol officer Jim Reed on the 1960s TV show ''Adam 12,'' with later cameos on everything from ''SeaQuest'' to ''Farscape.''

Best Keynote Venue: The Hilton Theater, definitely. I understand why CES organizers had to move the biggies to the Venetian ballroom, but watching the keys in an actual theater is a unique conference experience that I actually look forward to at this show. I'm glad at least a few of the presentations were scheduled there.

Richest High Tech Exec to Agree with Me: Mr. Bill Gates, who said during his conference keynote, ''“You can’t even say 'consumer,' because the experiences span into the business environment.''

Wise man. 

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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