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Electronic Design

Gadgets, Time-Wasters, And Bright Ideas

After returning from last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., I was struck by the wide variety of products that I'd seen on display. Next to basic telephones were full PBX-like systems for the small-office, home-office (SOHO) market, what seemed like hundreds of inexpensive MP3 portable music players, and home theater systems that rivaled movie theaters for immersion. I have to admit that I experienced the "I want its" very badly. Hardly an aisle went by where I didn't see something I would have liked to own.

Although many of the products are just recreations of the previous year's model with a different-colored case or the addition of a new feature, many did promise more convenience and thus a better lifestyle. Of course, they all appear attractive at first, when they're being demonstrated by experts that make their operation seem effortless. But many of them turn out to be very awkward to use. Or, they may require extensive setup or won't really perform as claimed. I think we've all been snookered by a good sales job at one time or another, buying into a product that ended up sitting in a drawer or closet.

At least creative intelligence ran rampant at the conference, with brilliant ideas surfacing from small companies and large. Connectivity was the big buzzword, with every personal-digital-assistant (PDA) and advanced cell-phone supplier offering users a means to connect to the Internet. But is this capability reliable? Will we have all of the connections in place, and will it be easy to use and apply? These questions must be addressed, along with perhaps an even bigger question: Do we even want this level of connectivity?

At first glance, many of the capabilities of the connected world sound terrific. Think about getting instant access to information from anywhere and at anytime. In my humble opinion, the AutoPC that Microsoft has been demonstrating for the last year or so looks like a promising technology that may go nowhere. Setups and configuration may be too complex for the average consumer. After all, how many of us still see the blinking 12:00 indicators on VCRs? And VCRs have been with us for over a decade.

Connectivity was being stressed for a reason, though. It's the key to the future. Whether it's aimed at the cable-less connections between cell phones, cameras, and PDAs to the advanced networking and wireless video phones on the other end, the world will shrink as we create better, new, and more seamless ways to communicate and share information. What types of devices will be needed in the future? Where should we be applying our resources? And how affordable should these capabilities be?

Send me your ideas. We'll collect them and put them on our web site.

TAGS: Components
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