Comdex: More for the Mac user

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Fall Comdex in Las Vegas -- the biggest gathering of computer technology companies in the United States -- is typically a bustling, hectic event with massive crowds flocking monster booths from the likes of Microsoft, Intel and more.

Yet this year Comdex has a slightly different feel, with much lighter crowds (unofficial estimates put it at between seventy and one hundred thousand fewer attendees) and smaller booths from many of the companies. The metal detectors and bag searches are lending this event a slightly eerie feeling as well.

On its surface Comdex is a Wintel event, with an almost non-existent Macintosh presence. This year, for example, the show's darling is Windows XP, with hundreds of companies showing off new devices and software to take advantage of the "greatest" Microsoft operating system. (Another eager group meanwhile stands glued around Microsoft's Xbox kiosk playing everything from Dead or Alive 3 to Halo.)

Still, if you know where to look you'll see Mac products and technologies all over the show. Some of the best were showcased at last night's Digital Focus and Mobile Focus, while a few others sprang up quietly overnight.

QPS who announced their new 120GB FireWire drive and 32X CD burner, drew crowds around their new QUE 007, a convergence device that truly embraces the digital hub philosophy espoused by Apple. Difficult to describe, the 007 is a portable combination of a CDR/CDRW/DVD drive, PCMCIA slot reader, and video converter. Picture if you will the hybrid offspring of your DVD player, card reader and CD burner. Slide a Compact Flash card in the unit, and display images on the screen while burning them to CD. Or put a DVD in the reader and copy the data over to a 5GB PCMCIA sized hard drive, while playing the unit through your TV.

The unit operates on removable batteries, making it the perfect companion for anyone who wants to merge several different functions into one attractive unit.

Available around Christmas the unit will come in a variety of different configurations and will sport prices from $399 on up.

Kensington meanwhile displayed their new PocketMouse Pro, a compact travel-sized USB mouse with a twist. Nestled inside the body of the mouse is a compartment for storage of the USB cable. When not in use, the cord can be wound inside the body (via a small flip up compartment) eliminating the tangle of cables that is the bane of many business travelers. The PocketMouse works with Kensignton's MouseWorks software on the Mac OS.

Ricoh showed off their new 4 megapixel RR1 digital camera, featuring a variety of capture modes and a swiveling LCD display in a small flat body that's comfortable to hold and use. The RR1 captures stills, video, sound and more on SmartMedia cards.

In other digital photography news, Epson announced additional players in its ever-growing alliance of PRINT Image Matching partners. PIM for those who haven't heard of it "ensures that digital cameras and PRINT Image Matching-enabled printers work perfectly together to create the best possible prints." In use by more than 20 cameras, and five of the Epson color printers, PIM stores exposure related information with each image, allowing end-users to print with little need to learn color management techniques. This new announcement adds four software vendors (incuding ArcSoft) and a thirteenth camera manufacturer (JVC) to the party.

And speaking of parties, the mood is festive around Handspring's booth where the new Treo mobile phone/PDA is on display. Announced months ago, Comdex is the first major venue to provide hands-on with demo units and the crowds are lining up to see it. Online photos don't do justice to the device, which is just enough to feel comfortable in a pocket, but large enough to display essential PDA data. Even the Chiclets-sized keyboard is manageable for typing out meetings and addresses, and many graffiti-impaired individuals (myself included) will appreciate the ability to use a Palm device without always remembering how to write the alphabet.

HP released two new Mac compatible printers that also print directly from Compact Flash or Smart Media; the HP Photosmart 1315 and 1215 (both work with OS 9, no OS X support has been announced). Both offer 2440x1200 dpi printing, and print speeds of up to 17ppm black and 13ppm color (for the 1315 model.) The 1315 ups the ante with a 2.5-inch color LCD screen for direct selection of images off an inserted Compact Flash or SmartMedia card. Both offer Infrared support, as well as USB connections. The 1215 runs $299 while the 1315 runs $399.

Viewsonic meanwhile displayed two new sharp-as-a-tack monitors to make their debut by the end of the year. The new 17- and 18-inch displays will compliment the VX500 with fast LCD refresh rates, and a greater viewing area at affordable prices. Display models at the show had some of the clearest images this side of a Cinema Display.

On display over at ATI's booth is a not-yet-Mac product that sources say is "certainly possible" for development for Mac OSX. The All inWonder is a stunning display of technology that (among other things) puts a semi-opaque video feed superimposed under a Windows XP desktop. Picture if you will your desktop pattern replaced with the latest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or whatever) visible though the transparency of application windows. ATI indicates that they have received a lot of requests for a Mac version of the product, and are looking at the possibility.

When it comes to product announcements, this show is no Macworld Expo, but a number of hot cross-platform product announcements will help to ensure everyone's letters to Santa get a bit longer this year.

This story, "Comdex: More for the Mac user" was originally published by PCWorld.

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