If there was any one message at Comdex2000, held in Las Vegas earlier this month, it's that the future of computing means spending less time in front of your computer, but more time on the Internet in ways and with devices that might have seemed comical 10 years ago.
Net appliances were big once again this year, and while the Bluetooth short-distance wireless technology (which allows you to share information between devices both on- and off-line without using connecting cables) doesn't yet seem ready for prime time, there is no doubt that wireless is the new buzzword in the tech community.
In the same way that businesses rushed to create Web sites in the late '90s to capitalize on the dramatic growth of the Internet, companies are now rushing to create products that will connect to the Internet without being connected to anything at all. The future is very much a wireless world.
Wireless Web pads were much in display, like the Honeywell WebPAD (which sells for a little under $1,000). Basically, it's a tablet that allows you to walk around your house while online. Eventually, you would use the tablet to control all the appliances in your house that are connected to the Net: fridge, garage door, thermostat, oven, etc. (AOL showed a similar prototype pad at last year's spring InternetWorld in LA; other companies also have similar devices in the works.)
Cellphone companies, meanwhile, showed off new wireless, hands-freeearsets that allow you to talk on your cellphone without having to hold up the mic to your mouth, or keep pushing the cord out of the way while you're driving.
Car maker Mercedes-Benz previewed Internet connectivity for its cars, which will allow users to download information about traffic jams, new music for the car stereo, even movies for the kids in the back seat.
Digital-camera companies are also looking hard at wireless. Polaroid, for example, showed off a new digital camera that has a built-in modem that will allow users to instantly send pictures to a Web site, or e-mail them to friends.
And while there was lots of buzz about Bluetooth (originally created by mobile communications giant Ericsson), there was some concern that not many companies featured products that actually used Bluetooth.
And some Comdex2000 panelists suggested that Bluetooth's time had already come and gone.
That was mitigated to some degree by Microsoft's announcement that it would support Bluetooth in the next full release of its new operating system, code-named "Whistler."
Microsoft doesn't see Bluetooth replacing the broader long-distance wireless standard, but it does see the technology as a way for its operating system to control Internet appliances in and around the average household.
Attendance at Comdex was down this year - perhaps a result of the shakeout in Internet companies and the reduction in workforce at many of the surviving firms.
More than a few attendees commented on the lack of new technologies - a staple of past shows.
This could be just as much a sign of an industry less likely to take wild gambles - than one suffering from a lack of new and exciting ideas.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society