September 29, 2007

Digital Life 2007

Digital Life, NYC-- the show was great, and there were lots of things to see, although I'll admit the show was smaller than I've seen before. Despite that, there seemed to be lots of enthusiasm and some cool new products. This time I actually got out of my shell a bit and instead of just walking around looking at everything, I stopped and talked to the representatives at the booths. Some highlights follow.

For once, we had absolutely no trouble getting in. My buddy and I had pre-registered so we were all set. We literally got our official badges and walked in the exhibit area within 2 or 3 minutes of walking in the Javits Center. In the past there have been throngs of people and much waiting, that was even the case last year. But this year, declining attendance and exhibitors meant a quicker entrance for us.

Upon entering we were greeted by two people dressed up as television sets, handing out business cards for mobitv. The card wants people to text "NBC" to number 43888. We then walked around some more and I immediately spied the one place I really wanted to see: the Palm booth, where they had just announced the new Palm Centro smartphone. I got a chance to play with it and try it out, and found out I liked it. The keyboard is a bit cramped, but it's usuable, and the form factor is very good -- so much better than a Treo. It's smaller and feels more like a consumer entertainment device, yet it's a smartphone. I think this will be the way for Palm to go in the future. Palm's booth was set up like a cocktail lounge with a bar and they were giving out free drinks to those who sat through a short Centro demo. My friend Chris and I sat through it, since we're both Palm fanboys, and then bellied up to the bar. I had mistakenly thought that the drinks they were handing out were some kind of mock cocktails or smoothies. Not a chance -- this was a real mixed drink, although I couldn't place what it was. It hit hard, since at this point it was about 11 AM and I hadn't eaten anything since around 6 or 7 AM. Ouch. Thanks Palm. Now I need some food to absorb this alcohol.

Over in the corner there was a tractor trailer for a group called the John Lennon Songwriting contest. There were scores of people clustered around it. I guess there's a fair crossover these days between musicians and techies. Other music exhibitors included Godin guitars, Roland, and a service called Sonicbids that touted the virtues of "making music your day job". This one looked interesting, as it allows you to create a press kit for yourself or your band, complete with bios, photos and of course music, then email your electronic press kit (EPK) to anyone at no cost. It also has services such as letting you know about music festivals, conferences, tours and other job opportunities. There was a 3 month trial available by entering promotional code DAYJOB at their site.

From here it was on to the other vendors, out of the music area and more mainstream. We saw a product called ooma that is basically an internet-enabled answering machine with unlimited long distance thrown in. You buy the box itself (which admittedly was a pretty unattractive device) but then there's no monthly fees or anything -- you supply the connectivity via your own network at home. It was intriguing, but then again the show special was $200 off the price of the box...which made me wonder how much could this thing be worth, anyhow? For my money, something like Skype seems like a better bet and far cheaper. We then saw some really high-end workstations from Xyber Technologies, which looked really good until we saw the price tag -- let's just say it's nothing you'd really want to plunk down unless it's on the expense account. Their models had great specs though, and their niche in the market seems to be a fanless cooling system, which uses passive heat dissipation via the use of aluminum tubing filled with gas that allows the heat to escape. Their literature states that because of this, their systems only require one tenth the power of a normal high end system: 110 watts instead of 1000 watts. They also have specific machines for home theater systems, and high-end gaming PCs, all with the same cooling functionailty built in. From there we walked a few more feet and talked to a rep from Duel Systems Adapters, which makes conversion kits for PCMCIA cards. It's funny, but with all the USB devices out there, I haven't heard about PCMCIA devices in years, except for the cellular cards that business travelers use. Nice to see that technology is still in existence and being put to use. The booth rep was very energetic and talked to us for quite a while, showing us all the kits. The company also does RFID tagging as well as custom packaging and enclosures for devices. We then took a look at a school program called Full Sail, which provides real world education to students in the fields of computer animation, digital arts, film, game development and the music business, just to name a few. Looks like a great program, where students get real hands-on experience on actual real world projects such as movies, games, etc. Finally, we saw a device called the Neuros, which seemed to be a portable Tivo system, allowing you to record TV shows, store movies, etc, and then take it anywhere you want to view it, without a PC. I didn't see a demo of it, but my guess it that it hooks in to your TVs video and audio inputs. They were offering 20% off the device price with coupon code DL2007NYC.

Clearly it was now time for lunch. The alcohol from the Palm booth was now disspitating on it's own but in it's place was hunger. Amazingly the downstairs food court wasn't open, which really blew my mind. I guess they didn't anticipate massive crowds so they decided not to open it? I'm still unsure about that decision. So, in its place were some individual snack areas peppered around the exhibition floor. We found one selling panninni sandwiches and decided to go for it -- our only other recourse being to go outside to one of NYC's vaunted hot dog vendors. While we were grabbing our sandwiches, the rep from the Duel Systems Adapters booth walked up and ordered one -- so we struck up a conversation with him and the three of us had lunch together. I think this is one of the things I'll remember most about this show--all the great conversations I had with absolute strangers. How cool is that?

After lunch it was off to the more entertaining sections of the show. Unfortunately there wasn't any Napster booth with strippers like at last year's show, but there was lots of other good stuff to see. We started by going to the newegg booth, which was one of the busiest booths in the whole place. Now what does that say when a simple web retailer's booth is the place to be? Not that I'm complaining, since they had a bunch of good show deals to let us know about, plus they were handing out Tshirts and baseball caps. But still, it amazed me that this was one of the booths that was hopping. We then looked at the Dell booth, which had some of their XPS laptops, which I really liked. A lot. Talk about power wrapped in a svelte package. These were full-blown desktop replacements, capable of running any program or game (we got to play Ghost Recon 2 and it was nice and fluid). Just awesome to see them in use and get to play with them. We even saw some of them running full blown interactive games, such as a go-kart game which is actually connected to a real go-kart. Pretty cool, and it was all being run off the XPS laptop. So now we were squarely in the gaming section of the show. We saw an innovative new device called the Novint Falcon, a new take on the traditional joystick. This thing is an orb, which you grip and depending on the surfaces you encounter during the game, the orb reacts differently to it, approximating it's feel. They call it 3D touch. So, the orb will slide along quickly if you're on ice, but will bump along if you're climbing or driving over rocks. Even more so with boulders. The device was a bit awkward to hold at first, but you got used to it. It seemed especially well-equipeed for walking around type games, but not so great for shooter-styles. Supposedly they're coming out with an add-on or a separate device to handle that. While this device seems well-poised to follow in the Wii's footsteps with the innovating and immersive gameplay, I don't think it's a serious contender yet, despite some of the press release-style statemtents on their literature, "I realized this product was going to change the way we all live in a fundamental and beautiful way". Umm....we'll see. It all depends on the games this will work with. Make it work and bundle it with something like Ghost Recon or Call of Duty and you might get an audience. I'm mentally bookmarking this item to see how it does in the marketplace. After this we saw a new robot by Erector called a Spykee spy robot, able to be used for surveillence. The cool thing about this is that you can view things through it's camera from any web browser. Kind of cool technique to keep tabs on your stuff. We also checked out the Digital Life game tournament area, where gaming contests were going on. Think: banks and banks of high-end PCs all with late teens to early 20-somethings glued to them. They were also giving out Tshirts which said "Play with Me" and an arrow pointing downward. Umm...OK, that's making a statement I guess. I grabbed one but have absoultely no idea where I'll wear it. Right next to this was the Lord of the Rings area for the online game Shadows of Angmar, which is a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game), where they were signing people up and handing out temporary hobbit tattoos.

OK, next up was one of the high points of the event, not only for me but it was one of the most-attended area: the America's Army Virtual Army Experience. This was an area where you could, after waiting for around an hour in line, get to play in a combat game, in a sort of virtual reality environment. The line was full of teenagers, making myself and Chris easily the oldest ones there (sigh). We joked to the kids in the line that this game was really just a recruitment tool. They scoffed at this, but we're sure that it is. Upon getting to the head of the line, we were met by some of the real Army soldiers, very young men and women, including a stunningly beautiful asian women, who tell you that what you're about to experience is the closest thing to real army combat imaginable. One of the army guys also when on to point out his attractive army co-worker, and said, "You like her? Think she's pretty? That's what you get if you join up in the Army...the chance to meet women like her". Talk about selling it. Anyway, once inside, they have you fill out your information, including address and phone number (for recruitment purposes, I'm sure) and then you're given a temporary badge and you're ready. You're ushered to a separate section, comprised of about 6 HummVees, each one with machine guns bolted to the doors, the dash, and yes even the roof. Everyone takes the spot they want and the game begins where you pretty much blow away the enemy on a large screen, where the game is projected in front of you. It's very engaging and immersive. One drawback is that even though you have to give them all your personal information, and the badge they issue you has an RFID tag in it, there's no stats in the end to tell you how well you did for the team. No shot accuracy, enemies killed, nothing. Bah. The other downside is I just know I'm going to get a phone call from the Army recruiter now too. One upshot: you got the full videogame of America's Army for your PC, which is pretty much like every other soldier/warfare game you've ever played. But nice to get it for free.

After this we checked out a few more booths, most notably the Opera web browser booth, where the nice booth girl took lots of time showing me the new features of the browser. She sold it so well that both Chris and I installed it the next day when we got home. We then checked out Zipitwireless, a dedicated device for text messages and instant messaging (hey, isn't that normally handled by a cell phone?) . It uses your network at home and doesn't rack up the minutes or against your phone plan's texting plan quota. Finally, we ended by looking at perhaps the coolest movie projector ever, the R2-D2 projector, and then took a look at some Gelaskins protection skins for electronic devices. I probably should have bought one or two of these since their designs were so cool.

One thing I didn't see, although I tried: U3 was giving out their USB smart drives at the show, and if you couldn't win one or grab one from the rep, they invited you to buy one at reduced show rates. So, I tried and tried to find booth 622, but to no avail. Chris and I did see an empty booth in the 600s section, and we assumed that was the booth and that they never made it to the show. Too bad...I was intent on getting one.

On the way out someone handed me a postcard with Jimmy Fallon from Saturday Night Live fame, which said "Everything tastes better late at night". Rock on, Jimmy, rock on. We grabbed a couple of hot dogs from a street vendor, then made our way home.

Check out the show pictures:

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