Volume 5, Number 1
March 2006

Table of Contents
Past Issues

My Trip to the Show (The International Consumer Electronics Show, That Is)

 Baseball players refer to the major leagues as “The Show.” It is the focal point of their efforts to be the best that they can at their sport. In the consumer electronics industry, the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is The Show. The show takes place in January of each year. Every January the consumer electronics industry gathers in Las Vegas to display its newest and best technology as well as some of the old standards. From the manufacturer’s perspective, CES offers an opportunity to get the word about new products out to the press and to entice new orders from distributors. The show offers an opportunity to see what manufacturers now have available, what directions they are moving toward, and what they expect to offer in the near future.

CES 2006 hosted in excess of 150,000 visitors and presented thousands of products and innovations from more than 2,500 exhibitors.

Reviewing the award winners is among the most interesting parts of the show, as the awards highlight a number of new and interesting examples of technology. If you want to check out the innovations honored, go to the CES website awards page and follow the links that you find interesting: http://www.cesweb.org/attendees/awards/innovations/default.asp.

Exhibitors showed products and services in many areas designed to affect our private lives as well as our workplaces. Lest you think that you will be unaffected in transit between home and work, the automotive innovations took up a significant amount of floor space at the Los Vegas Convention Center. Displays included everything from home theater components to office equipment, to iPod accessories (lots of those), to digital electronic cameras and camcorders, to cases for computer and electronics gear, to furniture, and to car audio-visual systems. As usual, there was a lot to see and to make sense out of in terms of perceiving trends and directions.

Judging by the number of exhibitors showing new or improved versions of products, several technologies will continue to grow in the near future.

The type and nature of exhibits gives us some guidance in trying to ascertain the direction of the evolution in electronics technology. Wireless communications of all sorts continue to grow at tremendous rates. Places that we will likely see growth include wireless telephony, wireless Internet access (from telephones and other devices), wireless networking (home and office), and Bluetooth (short-range wireless connectivity) for devices such as earphones or speakerphones to telephones.

Vendors continue to offer more and better versions of mobile phones. Mobile phones have become multifunction devices that now include such things as personal information managers, cameras, GPS (global positioning system) capabilities, and, in some cases, full-functional PDF capabilities. Some of them also combine radio and MP3 player capabilities. Likely, the evolution of the smart mobile phones and converged devices will see the end of the dedicated PDA as a viable product. Why carry a PDA, a cell phone, a camera, and an iPod (or other MP3 player) when you can carry one device that handles all of their functions? That is particularly true given the fact that digital and electronics technology have allowed the combination of these functions smoothly and with little or no loss of quality. To be sure, the pixel rating of telephone cameras remains on the low side by comparison to dedicated cameras, but we now see more and more phones offering cameras of one megapixel or greater resolution. As time goes on, that resolution will increase.

Experienced photographers will undoubtedly continue to purchase the more and more sophisticated dedicated cameras, but for day-to-day use, the point-and-shoot cell phone cameras will grow in popularity as they will prove sufficient to satisfy most users. In dedicated cameras, eight megapixel resolutions have become available in very small packages for less than $400.

Many of the phones now have Internet access capabilities. Manufacturers will make more Internet-ready phones available this year. All of the major mobile service providers have plans for using technology to take advantage of Internet capable phones. Expect such plans to increase along with the use of such plans. More and more services will come over the Internet through such plans, including shopping online, radio and television programming, and information services.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) continues to grow in popularity. Several large VoIP providers now offer Internet telephony for home and business. The quality of the service has proven good and the connections strong and clear. I have installed a VoIP telephone connection in my house as an experiment and have been quite pleased with it. VoIP does not even require special telephones. Once you install the electronics for the connectivity to your Internet connection and a telephone line (a simple enough task that you can easily do it yourself), a standard touch-tone telephone will work fine to complete calls. You can even use your wireless telephones with VoIP. Several providers now offer special phones to work with laptop computers as the use of VoIP has become more mobile through the ability of the laptop computers to connect to the Internet on the go.

The major cell phone providers all offer PCMCIA cards that allow a computer to connect directly to the Internet from almost anywhere using the signal from the provider’s network. The cards require a mobile phone data account. As ISPs implement 3G (third generation) technology, the speed of such connections increases to the point of comparability to a DSL or cable connection. The areas in which providers make such connections available continue to increase. Expect connection speed to increase and cost to decrease over time. Computer manufacturers have started to build cellular connectivity into their laptops. Although this development promotes the use of such technology, it has some drawbacks as well. Those computers have dedicated technology tied to a particular provider. That means two accounts if you have two computers. I much prefer using a PCMCIA cellular card because: (1) that process allows me to choose my own provider; and (2) if I want to use it with more than one computer, I can simply move the card from one to the other without having to pay for multiple accounts.

Wireless networking at home and at work continues to attract more and more users. Look for implementations of “WiMax” to will allow broader area distribution of a signal and, potentially, the ability to have high speed wireless Internet access in more and more locations.

Satellite radio has grown stronger and more popular. For those of you not familiar with satellite radio, you can choose between one of two providers, Sirius and XM. Both have a modest subscription fee. Satellite radio offers a wide variety of programming ranging from specific genres and periods of music, to talk shows, to comedy, to news and sports. You must have a special receiver to get satellite radio, and the receivers all tie uniquely to one or the other provider. The ability to receive broadcasts almost anywhere that the antenna has an unobstructed view of the sky has contributed greatly to the steady growth in popularity. Many car manufacturers offer built-in satellite radio receivers as an option. A growing variety of receivers for home, work, car, and personal portable use at very reasonable prices will contribute to the increasing popularity of this medium.

Digital photography remains a popular area for new products. Every camera manufacturer at the show brought new offerings. Digital still cameras continue to offer more and more features and better resolution at lower prices. Digital movie cameras have shrunk in size and in price while increasing in features and quality as well. You can acquire very decent digital movie or still cameras for only a few hundred dollars these days. One of the newer and very promising innovations is the digital movie camera using flash memory instead of tape or disks. Several new versions have come on the scene, and the quality of the images continues to improve. As the flash memory offerings improve (higher speed and larger capacity for lower costs), the utility and popularity of these cameras will likely increase. It is worth noting in terms of playback and editing of movies recorded on flash media that many computers (particularly laptops) now come with built-in flash memory card readers and that even if yours does not, inexpensive USB 2.0 card readers solve that problem quite well.

Speaking of flash memory, the capacity and speed of flash memory devices have increased substantially while the prices have dropped significantly. Flash memory drives have become the most popular means of backing up data, all but replacing such things as floppy disks and Zip disks. Flash memory devices holding two gigabytes have become commonplace and relatively reasonably priced. Four and eight gigabyte devices have come out, but are still fairly expensive. As larger capacities become available, expect the prices to drop on the four and eight gigabyte devices.

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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