- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2010

The winds of tech hyperbole blew fast and fierce in Las Vegas the past few days at the just-concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and, tempting though the news is, not all of it has immediate promise.

The demonstration of a “slate-style” Tablet PC by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, not to mention previews of an armful of e-book “reader” devices, shows that things are moving in a certain direction. In many respects, we’re resolutely moving away from desktop computing to more and more portable platforms. That’s not news, per se, since the portable computing revolution, defined as the adoption of “desktop replacement” notebooks, is a about a dozen years old.

But the new styles are, well, new styles and they will move computing into new areas. Some of the e-book readers are designed to also display Web content and even allow you to send and receive e-mail, but their primary purpose is, well, reading. And that’s fine: sitting on the Metro or waiting at an airport, reading matter without the heft of a regular notebook computer can be useful.

I’m still unsure as to where the e-book format wars will shake out. A book I buy for an Amazon Kindle can’t be carried over to a Sony Reader or a Barnes & Noble Nook or to most of the other new readers announced last week. If all your CDs only worked on a Philips player, life might have been very different in the ‘80s. Publishers and reader-makers need to come to terms here, or a nascent market might have serious problems.

The hype of 3-D television — some makers are talking about sets for the fall — is inspiring all sorts of forecasts. Market researchers DisplaySearch last week predicted “the total stereoscopic 3-D display market will grow from 0.7 million units and $902 million in revenues in 2008 to 196 million units and $22 billion in revenues in 2018.” Maybe so, and, yes, James Cameron’s “Avatar” continues to rock the movie box office, but is this enough to build a technology platform around? Do we want to see “The Hangover” in 3-D?

To this observer, the greater TV interest from the CES event is news that TV-makers LG and Panasonic plan to integrate webcams and Skype video-calling software into their HD television sets. Hooked up to an Internet connection, users will be able to “call” friends and family from their family rooms and get a high-definition picture in the process. It’s only been 45 years or so since AT&T first demonstrated a “picturephone” at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, and the promise of videocalling may yet arrive.

As might be expected at an expo centered on consumer electronics, home entertainment, with or without an actual home, continues to be key. FLO, a streaming television service powered by Qualcomm, is teaming up with Mophie, whose Juice Pack accessory has been a popular iPhone add-on, to bringing the TV programming to iPhone and iPod Touch users. This could put live TV on the iPhone, although the FLO people concede their “service is not available in all areas.”

Still, it’s a start, and it’s one of the few things missing from the iPhone platform: You can download TV episodes and podcasts aplenty, but you couldn’t watch last Thursday’s BCS Championship game live on your iPhone.

In a similar vein, Slacker Radio announced software applications for the iPhone/iPod Touch as well as Research in Motion’s BlackBerry phones that allow “station caching,” or the storage of online music on the devices.

This way, you can listen to Lady Gaga whether or not you have a Wi-Fi signal for the Slacker stream handy. That is progress, right?

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