COMDEX Fall 2002 Report

Last month's COMDEX Fall 2002 show in Las Vegas, Nevada, was the smallest I've seen in the 10 years I've been attending. However, several items are worth reporting. Impressively, Symbol Technologies provided the event a complete wireless network, which covered the trade-show floor and provided hotspot access throughout the convention center. The company built the network around its Mobius Wireless System intelligent switch technology, which permitted the setup of what amounted to wireless subnets: One switch can control several access ports, each of which can control a separate range of dynamically assigned IP addresses. For more information about Mobius, see the following URL.

I moderated a Tablet PC session, which featured devices from Hewlett-Packard (HP), Fujitsu, Motion Computing, and Toshiba. I'd already seen a preproduction sample of the Fujitsu device (as well as the Acer TravelMate C100), but this was my first opportunity to see the others. HP's Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 was the smallest and lightest of the group—particularly with its removable keyboard detached. It was also the least expensive. The Fujitsu's Stylistic ST4000 and Motion Computing's M1200 Tablet PC were larger and included docking stations that hold the unit in Portrait Mode for use on a desk. Toshiba's Portege 3500 was the largest and heaviest but also the fastest. Its convertible design was similar to that of the TravelMate C100. For my beta review of the TravelMate, see the following URL.

The unique tablet form factor presented some challenges for the speakers in the auditorium. We had a typical super-VGA compatible video projector, which all the units can drive through a built-in VGA port, but the projector supported only landscape-mode presentation. One option, of course, was to ask the audience to rotate their heads 90 degrees. However, we had a relatively small crowd, so most of the presenters simply held their units up for the audience to see. At the end of the session, I invited attendees to approach the stage for an in-person look at the devices. All the devices drew positive reactions from the audience.

One question from the Q & A session bears repeating: An attendee noted that the Portege 3500 had the fastest processor (a 1.33GHz Pentium III) and asked why anyone would want to buy a unit with a slower processor. We'll soon be reading performance comparisons between the various units, but I think such speed discussions will be irrelevant. The processors in all of the Tablet PCs are more than fast enough for everyday use. In my opinion, size, weight, battery capacity, and ergonomics—how the unit "feels" when you use it in tablet mode and in either notebook or docked mode—are far more important considerations in this device class.

On the show floor, one surprise was my discovery that Windows Powered Smart Display (formerly code-named Mira) devices can operate as terminals in a Windows Terminal Services environment. At the Microsoft booth, 20 devices were running against two Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003 machines. Microsoft and its partners are marketing the Smart Displays (which look like Tablet PCs but function as a wireless remote display with touch-screen input) for consumer use. The current units' high price ($999 to $1499, depending on the model) will probably limit their penetration in that space. However, the devices might have a place in small-business and professional applications—for example, in a doctor's office. For more information about Smart Displays, see the following URL.

I was sorry to see COMDEX in such a shrunken state. The entire event—the trade show, conference sessions, registration, and media facilities—took place in the convention center. This small presence was in sharp contrast to past shows, at which the conference sessions were always across town and registration was in a tent on the front lawn. The small size had only one advantage for me as a speaker and journalist: I saved a bundle on cab fare!

Finally, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone happy holidays, and best wishes for the New Year.

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