Four things to watch post-CES

Consumer trends worth watching

As the dust settles from the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, here are four trends worth looking at based on some products that were announced at the show. On my radar screen for the year:

1. Ooma and the future of home VoIP: The first generation of the Ooma system had a bulky box and probably a higher learning curve than intended for most customers. At CES, the company launched its next-generation system, the Telo, which includes a cordless handset (using DECT 6.0 technology), the ability to add as many as six other handsets, and mobile transfer (routing calls from the cell phone to the Telo, saving on cellular minutes). The "free home phone" offering, where users pay upfront and no monthly fees, may finally be appealing once users try out the Telo handset and realize, "Oh, this thing is a phone system." The Telo will be available in the first half of the year. As we continue to see many homes ditch their landlines in favor of their cell phones, Ooma seems to be a nice way to keep a landline phone without having to pay for a monthly landline voice service.

2. HyperSpace and the bootup conundrum: One of my favorite booth visits was with Phoenix Technologies, which makes the HyperSpace "instant on/off" software for Windows XP and Vista systems. The software acts like a virtual operating system that launches quicker than the normal Windows boot-up process, letting users instantly turn their notebooks on and off. With the faster boot-up time, users also can connect to wireless networks quicker, letting them check e-mail or do some Web browsing while Windows boots up in the background. At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but the company also plans a development kit to allow other applications to utilize the software, which means we could see applications running on a user's notebook without needing to run Windows at all, including things such as listening to music or watching a DVD. On the opposite end, having a quick shutdown process will also be a huge time-saver, especially for mobile travelers who want to get their last bit of work done before the airplane doors close. Stay tuned for a review of HyperSpace.

3. Smartphones are here to stay: I'm holding off final judgment of whether Palm's announcement of its Pre smartphone will "bring back" the company or not until I get to touch the device and try it for an extended period of time. It certainly seems to have a lot of the features that users will want and like (touch interface, but also with a keyboard) in order to keep it competitive with the iPhone and BlackBerry devices. As 2009 moves along, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft and its partners respond with new Windows Mobile devices, and whether we'll see another Android-based phone in the United States.

4. Solving the energy crisis: We continue to see issues around trying to keep our gadgets powered and running. At CES, I walked around the show floor with two gadgets to try and keep my iPhone 3G powered through the day. Fortunately, there were several devices and power improvements announced at the show that should aim to improve the battery life on these devices. I really like the wireless "placemat" concept that uses magnetic induction to recharge devices, from companies like Powermat and ConvenientPower. Placing a device on one of these stands to recharge may eliminate the bundle of wires and power adapters that make our traveling bags heavier on each trip.

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Keith Shaw

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