- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

LAS VEGAS
The Walt Disney Co., it is rumored, last week rushed actor Rick Moranis here to do another film, and quick. The title: "Honey, I Shrunk the Comdex."
That's not true, but it might as well be. The venerable, 26-year-old showcase of the personal-computer industry limped into the convention center here, a shadow of its former self.
At its peak, somewhere between 225,000 and a quarter of a million souls traipsed through the miles of exhibits. This year, according to veteran computer journalist Peter Lewis, in a Fortune.com story, "[total] attendance is likely to be around 110,000, about where it was when [Microsoft Chairman] Bill Gates delivered his second keynote in 1988."
Opening day drew only 60,000 people; I believe more folks turned out for a Washington Wizards season, even before Michael Jordan's un-retirement.
Two days before the event opened, show organizer Key 3 Media Events was reported to be near bankruptcy, with shares trading below 2 cents. One rumor: Comdex's founder, Sheldon Adelson, who sold the event for $800 million, could end up buying the remains, the better to rebuild from.
The fault lies not in the show's stars, but in the changing nature of technology and business. There was precious little here that was truly "new," with the fall's major product Microsoft's Tablet PC, as implemented by a host of companies having been introduced two weeks earlier. All the Tablet PC makers were at Comdex, and, yes, corporate buyers of information technology could get a first look, but that same look might well be available at the local Comp USA or Best Buy.
Two companies introduced new handheld computers at the show, which are worth consideration. Hewlett-Packard's new top-of-the line iPAQ offers built-in Bluetooth and 802.11b wireless connectivity, a boon for synchronization, printing and Web surfing at many Starbucks locations (but not the Las Vegas ones, I'm told, not for at least a year).
At the lower end, the $299 iPAQ Pocket PC 1910 is slim, stylish and has replaceable batteries: carry a spare and you can keep on working without losing power. Its screen is also a little brighter than some competitors', and its form factor is nice: it won't bulge a shirt pocket or stress out a Kate Spade handbag.
Dell Computer Corp.'s entry into the handheld market, the Axim X5, starts at $199 for a "basic" model sporting a 300 MHz Intel StrongARM processor and 32 MB of memory; a full 64 MB model, with a 400 MHz processor is $100 more, each price the result of a $50 rebate that you have to claim by mailing a form back to the Internet-and-phone-marketing company that sold you the product. As AnchorDesk.com editor David Coursey noted in his online newsletter, Dell doesn't need "proof" that you bought the device to send you a rebate.
To borrow from Dell's TV ads, the whole rebate idea seems a little bogus, dude.
But beyond the handhelds, there was precious little that was really "new" at the show. In fact, one item will come out in about six weeks, at the Consumer Electronics Show scheduled in Las Vegas just after the New Year.
The advent of the Consumer Electronics Show, organized by the Consumer Electronics Association of Arlington, underscores what may be Comdex's biggest problem: computers are, by and large, a consumer item, or at least a commodity. Thus, it's the Consumer Electronics Show, not Comdex, where I expect some of 2003's hottest new products to make their public debut.
E-mail [email protected] or visit his Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk to Mr. Kellner live on Fridays from 5-6 p.m. on www.adrenalineradio.com.


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