CeBIT Digital Experience Preview: Widgets and Whiskey
Preceeding the CeBIT New York show is a fancy little press event called Digital Experience. There are only about two dozen companies that “preview” their wares, so the atmosphere is intimate, and lowly ST bloggers like myself get to rub elbows with the Wired stringers and the PC Mag writers who strut about the room like the veterans of the tech bomb that they are. The sushi is bad, but it’s free as are the top-shelf drinks that keep reps and reporters alike well lubricated.
Amongst all the booze and networking it’s hard to stay focused, but my position in the tech-totem allowed me to slip relatively unnoticed through the crowds and take a few product shots. Some of the more interesting highlights are below – though it should be noted before you read on that there is little “new” at CeBIT NY, since most everything has already been announced.
Pentax had a few nice little cameras, but the one that stood out to me was the OptioMX. It’s not one of those slender pocket-shooters that everybody puts out these days, but instead is a high-end consumer model with a unique set of attributes: a relatively meager 3 megapixel camera lashed behind a 10x zoom lens in a package that looks more like a video camera than a still cam. Of course, it does shoot video too – MPEG-4 at 30fps 640x480 (standard cam-corder quality) and it can keep shooting until you run out of SD memory. If I haven’t said this before, I’ll say it now: when shopping for a digital camera, optical zoom is more important than megapixels, and on that scale this Pentax looks like a winner for the soccer moms and Nascar dads alike. My impressions of the hardware were not matched by the firmware of the machine however, which seemed obtuse in the 30 seconds I tried it out. I’d also had two Manhattans by that time though, so it might have been the booze. Price is around $400, to be released late this summer.
The next item to catch my eye was the unfortunately named MP2 Solutions point-of-sale device. This has nothing to do with an old standard of music playback as one might think from the name – instead, it is a very small credit card reader coupled with a Pocket PC powered smart-phone and software that allows merchants to sell their items anywhere they get cell reception. While not a unique device, the integration of this unit is impressive and the price is right too – around $300. That’ll allow just about everyone at a farmer’s market, flea market or trade show to sell their wares easily without dealing with cash. Heck, with that kind of mobility, it might even change the way the oldest profession processes “transactions.”
Lexmark had a nice selection of printers available, most notably the 2400x1200 dpi SoHo unit with integrated 600x1200 flatbed scanner and 4800x1200 dpi photo-quality printing up to 8x10 edge-to-edge. It prints up to 14 ppm b/w and 8 ppm color. It also operates as a full-color copier at 5 ppm color and 13 ppm b/w. What was most impressive about this particular unit was the price: $129 takes it home. I had to ask the price three times to make sure I got it right because it just seemed so low for that kind of functionality.
Chipmaker Transmeta was also there showing off their new Efficion chips, and some new products that they were going in to. Of course, OQO was there showing off their little PC running Windows XP (with 20gb Hard-drive, 1GHz processor and 5" tft touchscreen), and everyone was drooling over it, though the reps were still not saying when it would be available. Much as I like the idea of the OQO, I just don’t see it being a market success because it really doesn’t fill a need. Transmeta was also showing off the HP servers and thin clients that use their chips to avoid heat buildup and reduce power consumption, showing that the chips have much greater promise than just the low-power laptop market.
PalmOne showed off a new Bluetooth GPS unit ($300) that they’ll be selling from their website, which uses software from TomTom. The unit will work with both the Zire and T|3 handhelds, and compatibility with other Bluetooth enabled PalmOS powered units is expected. The software is very impressive, presenting a 3-D birds-eye view of the route, with maps available for the entire U.S. with literally hundreds of thousands of points of interest.
TomTom was also showing off their stand-alone GPS units that have 3.5” touch-screens. The units will cost around $700, and can easily be moved from one car to another, or taken on a trip and installed in a rental.
IBM had a nice spread of desktop and laptop units, though nothing terribly new except the S50 small-format unit that I can’t tell you too much about – not because I didn’t get an ear-full, but because I promised not to print too much or show any pics until the 9th of June. Suffice to say it’s a small-format desktop PC that is exceptionally well designed, allowing for easy upgrades of every component. It’s so nice that you might even want to “pop the hood” and let passers-by check it out like you’re cruisin’ the strip in a tricked out Toyota Supra. But then you’d be a real geek.
Nokia showed off their latest cellies, including the N-Gage QD and the Communicator 9500. The QD is a much improved version of the original N-Gage, offering hot-swapping of games and a thinner design. Oh yeah, you also don’t have to hold it to your head like a shoe-phone like the old one either. Too bad Nokia’s going to get eaten alive by Nintendo and Sony in this corner of the gaming market. The 9500 continues in the same vein as the previous models, running Symbian OS on the clamshell 640x200 color screen. But in addition to the GSM/GPRS connection, it also includes both Bluetooth and WiFi, and can use all three simultaneously, so users can literally be talking on a BT headset while surfing the web or emailing documents. Very impressive, even if it is still styled and sized like a circa 1990 cell phone.
Motorola was showing off their WiFi enabled smart phone called the MPx, which runs Microsoft’s CE-based operating system (I’ve given up trying to figure out what they’re calling that OS this month). While the unit is extremely sexy, with it’s two-way folding screen that allows portrait or landscape mode operation, the unit is likely doomed to failure because of the poorly designed and confusing keyboard. Motorola also had a nice BT speaker phone though, which costs just around $150 and is a great addition to any BT phone.
Xerox displayed a new printing system for business users that uses a unique ink system. The system replaces inks or toner with a waxy solid ink that is melted onto the target paper. Xerox claimed the new solid inks are more versatile than either toner or inks, and less expensive too. Curiously, the chunks of ink do not have any container, and are just dropped into the printer. Each color has a different shape, so loading the printer is a little like playing with a old kindergarten toy. Who knew loading a printer could be so much fun?
Finally, Kodak showed off some nice new cameras – all of which were very reasonably priced. Their 3 to 5 megapixel models all come with 3x or 4x zoom and support Kodak’s docking cradle and direct printing to any enabled printer or to Kodak’s own printer that spits out 4x6 pictures for about $0.50 apiece. The printer costs just $130.
nate -[Tuesday, May 25, 2004]