If you didn't know better, you might think the hottest new item at this week's 2001 Consumer Electronic show in Las Vegas was cellphone plates - hard shells that attach to the front of a Nokia cellphone to give it a different look. There must have been two-dozen booths where the shells - which came in a true rainbow of colors and patterns - were displayed by the hundreds.
Amusing as the cellphone plates were, they were not one of the hot products on display. Those honors went to a number of amazing devices and technologies, including:
*An information-storage device that can hold up to 500 megabytes, is only a little larger than a quarter, and will cost about $10.
*Attachments that can turn your Palm Pilot into a GPS (Global Positioning System) appliance.
*The breakthrough of wireless broadband access, which will enable people to access the Internet at high speeds whether they live in an urban setting or in the remotest corner of America.
*Home networking, which has turned from something that computer geeks and Michael Jackson did in their spare time, to a turnkey solution that will enable people to run their homes from any place on earth so long as they can access a Web browser.
*The emergence of the digital car, where - thanks to onboard broadband Internet access - drivers can listen to their favorite radio stations from anywhere in the world, and then burn a CD if they like a song, or just purchase it and have it delivered to their homes.
But all the amazing devices didn't come close to matching the real story of the show - the attempt by major software and hardware companies to reposition themselves as players in the consumers-electronics market. Alarmed by the sluggish market for new computers, companies like Microsoft and Intel are trying to reinvent themselves.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society