I Went to the Show(s)

By Jeffery Allen


Conventioneers at the 2003 COMDEX convention in Las Vegas, NV.

As both a technophile and a technologist (fancy words for people with an overactive geek gland), I love the late fall and early winter. What, you ask, could the seasons have to do with technology and my insatiable search for useful gadgetry, gizmos, and other electronic devices? Smiling to myself, I respond. Well, here’s the story: It is the season of the Big Three computer and electronic shows.

Every November Las Vegas hosts COMDEX. Although COMDEX has fallen on hard times since the destruction of the World Trade Center and its impact on the economy in general and the travel industry in particular, it is still a significant event. COMDEX has historically been the gathering place for computer-related technology. Recently, it has narrowed that focus toward IT (information technology).

Every January, San Francisco hosts MacWorld. MacWord San Francisco is the biggest Mac event of the year. It is at MacWorld that Apple (and many other vendors) traditionally presents (or at least announces) new products and improvements to existing products. MacWorld has a somewhat different orientation than the other two shows as it seeks to attract the end user as its primary audience, while the others look for distributors, retailers, and other industry connections as well as media attendees.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) also occurs in January every year in Las Vegas. By far the biggest of the three now, CES attracts makers of all manners of electronics and related technology. At CES manufacturers show off their wares including computers, office machines, home theater equipment, and myriad communications devices ranging from wired and wireless telephone to radios and transmitters, digital cameras, video cameras, and so forth.

The interesting thing about these events is that by actively participating in them, you can learn about what products are available for purchase today as well as what products you can expect to see over the next few months and even years. For those of us with a relatively high geek quotient, the frustration runs high when we see some of the products in the pipeline (or already released in other markets, usually Asia) and have to live with the knowledge that we can’t get them here in the United States now or in the foreseeable future.

I write this piece annually in order to respond to the many questions I get about what I saw that looked good at COMDEX/CES/MacWorld and to share with you my insights and observations about developing tech and electronic trends.

For those of you who have not yet fully wired your homes or offices for broadband Internet connections and networking in every room, take heart, you don’t have to do that any more. The word I saw and heard most often this year was wireless. It seemed like everywhere I went vendors showed new wireless products. Wireless networking for home and office has taken off on the new, faster 802.11(g) standard. The 802.11(g) technology runs at a nominal speed of five times faster than the older 802.11(b) standard (54 as opposed to 11 megabits per second); unlike the similarly paced, but older 802.11(a), the (g) standard is backward compatible with 802.11(b) equipment. Equipment supporting the new (g) standard sells at the same price or sometimes even less than the older equipment sold for a year ago. The good news is that the equipment works reasonably well and is continually improving.

You can set up a completely wireless network in your house or office in just a few minutes. Moreover, the new standard provides solid security to protect your network from hackers. To make things even more interesting, within two weeks of the CES show, at least two vendors announced “ultra ‘g’” connectivity, using adjacent channels to double the nominal rate of an 802.11(g) connection to 108 megabits per second. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to personally try the “g ultra” technology, I have talked with reliable sources who have reported that it does work at a noticeably faster speed than normal 802.11(g).

Do you have your surround sound home theater system installed yet? No, well, then do you at least have your house wired for it? No? Well, guess what? You don’t need to wire your house for home theater any more. New versions of home theater systems provide wireless connectivity for the ultimate flexibility in locating your surround sound speakers. Your home theater won’t be complete without a big screen HDTV. New offerings from major manufacturers include larger and less expensive LCD and plasma display screens. The price for plasma displays has dropped to less than half of what it was two years ago.

Another form of wireless connectivity also dominated the CES show. For the last few years the phenomenon known as “Bluetooth” has grown slowly but steadily. I have expected Bluetooth technology to take off big time, and it looks like this is the year when that will happen. I saw a tremendous number of Bluetooth devices at the show. Examples include Bluetooth keyboards, Bluetooth mice, Bluetooth-driven remote control units, Bluetooth connections to speakers, and Bluetooth headsets for all kinds of telephone configurations. For those of you not familiar with Bluetooth, it is a short-range wireless connectivity technology supporting connections among devices over approximately a 30-foot range.

Presentation technology continues to flourish and has reached the point of affordability for most attorneys. Just a couple of years ago you could not find a sub $5000, sub 5-pound projector that generated more than 1,100 lumens. Now you can find extremely small-footprint projectors costing less than $3,000, weighing three pounds or less, that produce 2,000 lumens. Projectors generating 3,000 lumens have also become readily available, but in somewhat larger configurations and weights. For a small office presentation under controlled lighting, a 1,000+ lumen projector should prove sufficient. For larger rooms and brighter lighting conditions, you will need more powerful projectors (more lumens). You should look at around 2,500-3,000 lumens for use in courtroom presentations to a jury.

As an added bonus, some of the newer projectors offer wireless connectivity as well. The wireless connection to your computer means that you don’t have to worry about carrying a connection cord or about where to lay the cord so that people don’t trip over it. It also means that you can have the projector in the location most convenient for projecting the image to the screen and your computer in the location most convenient to you. The location of the computer will no longer be subject to the limitations of the location of the projector and the length of the connecting cable.

Multifunction devices (printer/copier/scanner/fax combination machines) that once we eschewed as unreliable compromises that were too prone to break down have achieved higher quality and a much greater level of acceptance. The current crop of such devices looks to be much more dependable, faster, and more reasonably priced than earlier versions. Less expensive offerings appear well suited for home office and small office environments, while bigger and more powerful units will meet the needs of larger offices. Many of these units offer network connectivity to better enable them to work in office environments. Good news for attorneys working with Macintosh computers: these devices no longer work only with Windows. Several manufacturers have released multifunction devices that will work in a network environment for both Windows and Mac users.

Color printing, once prohibitively expensive or (in the case of ink-jet printers) just too slow for most small firms and solo practitioners, has become faster, better, and more reasonably priced. You have many choices of color ink-jet printers at very reasonable costs (ranging from “free after rebate” when packaged with a new computer purchase to much more, depending on the quality and features). Color at a reasonable cost is no longer limited to ink jet printers, however. Xerox uses a hard ink technology that works exceptionally well in its Phaser printers. My personal experience with one of the networkable Phaser printers has been delightful: rapid production, good quality color, and reliability. At not too much more, you can also find color laser printers.

Computers continue to get smaller, lighter, more connectable, more powerful, and less expensive. Look for more and more emphasis on the laptop and tablet varieties as desktop computers become more and more easily replaceable.

Digital photography has all but taken over the field. Many manufacturers now offer a plethora of choices for the digital photographer. Cameras continue to get more powerful and less expensive. Newer consumer and amateur models have broken the 6 megapixel barrier and sell for under $1,000. Video cameras also have improved with new offerings including the ability to record directly to a DVD disk or in a new Mpeg 4 mode onto flash memory cards in very small units that easily fit into a shirt pocket and produce quite acceptable video (although not as good as mini-DV recorders).

Music continues to become more portable with newer, bigger, and better MP3 players. Pictures join the party along with video through new pocketable offerings of hard drive-based portable devices (usually in the 20-30 GB range) that display still pictures or video images on integral LCD screens.

There was much more to see at the shows, but I have already run out of space . . .

Jeffrey Allen (jallenlawtek@aol.com) has a general practice in Oakland, California. His firm, Graves & Allen, emphasizes real estate and business transactions and litigation. He is a frequent speaker and author on technology topics and the Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide and the Technology eReport.

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