Is There a Future for PCs?

With computer equipment virtually disappearing into the forest of consumer electronics, we soon may not need PCs at all.
As I roamed the halls of the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 6-9, I felt a twinge of pity for the place personal computers have been consigned to in CES' sprawling vision of the future.

With the demise of the other large computer trade shows in the U.S. -- Comdex, PC Expo, CeBit America -- CES has claimed with a vengeance the mantle of the largest trade show of any kind in America. The show takes up hall after hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is the size of Delaware. And the show's sponsors say they'll take over the cavernous Sands Convention Center down the street next year as well.

Lacking much of an alternative, purveyors of personal computer equipment hardware and software have poured into CES, which only a few years ago was a desultory TV and radio equipment show. Now, with the entertainment media exploding and CES wildly growing, the PC stuff was all shoe-horned into the 2nd floor of the convention center's south building -- far from the action in the central hall.

When Your TV Does It All For You

What was taking up all the rest of that space (and getting all of the attention)?

Flat-screen televisions, many of them larger than some of the walls in my home;

Ear-splitting car audio, loud enough to deafen an entire generation of teenagers (who'll be walking around in a few years going, "What?", "Huh?");

iPod carrying cases, which were represented by approximately 10,000 different exhibitor booths, offering everything from sheepskin shoulder holsters to crocodile-look shock-resistant enclosures;

Anything coming from a satellite: Satellite Internet, satellite radio, and especially satellite TV, which a variety of entrepreneurs seem to think would be a great thing for you to watch in your car while you're driving.

Somehow, a few of us in the press were able to ignore all the new ways we can vedge out in our living rooms. Instead, we concentrated on the new computer gear that's supposed to help us get our work done (so we can earn enough money to buy those new TVs).

What were some of the most promising things? Here's a look at a few award-winning ideas.

A Terabyte Of Storage For All Those Digital Photos

CNET.com, which regularly reviews computer and consumer-electronics products, combed the CES show floor for new products to grace with the editors' Next Big Thing award. The "Best in Show" went to (gasp) a new TV set, which makes me pretty suspicious where CNET's priorities lie. It's Samsung latest, 67-inch (170 cm) model, which is currently the largest DLP (digital light processing) rear-projection television available. The price: a cool $5,999.

Other CNET picks, however, restore my faith that our global productivity can keep booming:

One terabyte RAID drive for $999. The Buffalo TeraStation, which looks like a tiny silver safe, actually contains four 250GB hard drives in a RAID 5 configuration. That means if one drive fails, you can swap in a new, blank disk and all of your data will magically be restored. Look for this in February 2005.

MIMO wireless routers. MIMO stands for multiple input, multiple output, and it offers better performance for 802.11g Wi-Fi networks by using several transmitters and antennas. Linksys' Wireless-G router, which lists at $199, received the award.

Color lasers that compete with inkjets for photo output. Inkjets have historically produced better photographic prints than laser printers -- until CNET saw the Minolta Magicolor 2430DL. Its $499 list price makes it worth considering for small offices as well as enterprises with a need for color photo prints.

For details on these and other new technologies, see the list of award winners.

Pocket PCs With VGA Screens

The "Last Gadget Standing" is PC Magazine's CES contest, in which readers and show visitors vote on the best new technology. The two winners this year were:

Dell Axim x50v Pocket PC with 640 x 480 display. The limited displays on handheld computers have always been a problem no device can be small but large at the same time but at least now we're up to VGA resolution with this Dell offering.

CarChip stores 18,000 miles of driving data. This gadget is like a computer under the hood. It can track the health of a car, mile by mile. But it's more likely to be used by employers to record the speed and engine rpm of the drivers of their company cars.

The complete list of new products that were nominated for awards is on the finalists' page.

For additional honors bestowed on the hottest new trends, see CES's Innovations 2005 Design and Engineering Showcase and Five Technologies To Watch.

Conclusion

It may be good that computer equipment is virtually disappearing into the forest of consumer electronics. We soon may not need PCs at all.

I've often felt that, in the near future, we'll carry around an entire computer in our watch, our cell phone, or on our key ring. We'll use whatever keyboard, mouse, and screen happen to be nearest to us to do our computing. There'll be no need to carry a laptop or anything else. Our latest whiz-bang consumer gizmo will be our computer.

I didn't, unfortunately, see that technology demonstrated at CES. Maybe next year.






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