Some Things Old, Some Things New

Comdex 2001: Will technology revive in 2002?

Although last fall’s COMDEX didn’t feature any groundbreaking technologies or earth-shattering news, some products did stand out. We all know it was a tough year for technology, but the question remains: Will it recover? There are signs that it will, and interest in three sectors hint at it: namely, security, virus protection, and biometrics. In addition, we did see further development of products already on the market, particularly in the handheld space.

Once again, there is the push for convergence. This time it’s cell phones and PDAs, as consumers and business people cry over device overload. One tool aiming for the gadget market is the Nokia 9290 Communicator (www.nokia.com), which offers contact management, calendar, and to-do features–with a cell phone. The device comes with 20 MB of memory for applications, 12MB user memory, and runs on the Symbian operating system. It also lets you send short messages and send and receive e-mail and attachments. You can also send and receive faxes and work in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. The 8.6-ounce device might be a tad heavy for pockets, but it’s a definite improvement upon the 9210 Communicator.

Handspring (www.handspring.com) unveiled its new handheld, the Treo 180 ($399) and Treo 270 ($599). The 180 will launch early this year; expect the 270 to hit stores in midyear. The devices offer PDA functionality (with a built-in keyboard), as well as a dual-band world phone and 16MB of memory. The Treo 270 features a color screen. Even Toshiba (www.toshiba.com) is getting into the handheld game with the e570 which has a dual expansion slot for a Compact Flash card and a Secure Digital media card.

The area of greatest interest, however, was biometrics. Convention attendees flocked to the Biometropolis Pavilion and companies such as Siemens Biometrics (www.siemens.com) and SecuGen (www.secugen.com), saw a marked increase in interest in finger scanners and smart cards (which are widely used in Europe for secure transactions). Security was a topic on everyone’s mind, and the metal detectors, bag searches, and bomb-sniffing dogs only heightened that interest. Tiny booths, like that of Digital Persona, were mobbed (for a review of Digital Persona’s U.are.U biometric mouse, see “Your Skin Gets You In,” March 2001).

Meanwhile, both McAfee (www.mcafee.com) and Symantec (www.symantec.com) have unveiled their security products with an eye on Internet security and the handheld market. Experts at McAfee say that when the number of handheld users (phone and PDA) reaches critical mass, viruses are certain to crop up. The first known handheld virus, Trojan Horse (also called Palm_Liberty.A), was unleashed in September 2000.

While last fall’s Comdex wasn’t the most exciting in terms of innovation, it’s an indication of what’s to come, namely, product development — both on the hardware and software front.

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