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What’s The Lifespan Of Gadgets?

LAS VEGAS – So what cool gadget introduced at this year’s CES will still be around a year from now?

The attendees at the Last Gadget Standing Supersession were the judges after four-minute presentations by nine companies.

The high-tech game show was presided over by Ziff Davis’ Robin Raskin, her fast-paced New York patter hampered by a classic case of Vegas throat. Raskin rasped that the usual gadget mantra of ‘faster, smaller, cheaper’ was shifting slightly to when, where and how the device would be used.

First up was Scott Gaines, manager of product launch and lifecycle for Nokia, who demonstrated the Nokia 9290 Communicator, a clamshell PocketPC/GSM cellphone with a full QWERTY keyboard and a color touchscreen. Cool factor: a full-motion clip from ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ played on the 9290’s screen.

Next was the act no one wanted to follow, Mark Harlan, senior director of applications for Danger Inc., makers of the palm-sized HipTop cellphone/PDA. At first glance, the HipTop resembles a large-screen monochrome pager. But the $200 device, available this spring, is a GSM/GPRS phone with an HTML Web browser and PIM capability. With a flick, the screen springs around to reveal a tiny QWERTY keyboard, which elicited loud ‘oooh!’s from the crowd. Cool factor: after inviting one member of the audience to input a sentence into the HipTop suggested by another audience member, the shtick-happy Harlan donned a pair of safety goggles (‘the name of the company is Danger, not Careless’) and dropped a bowling ball on the HipTop. While the device was, not surprisingly, crushed, the sentence had automatically been transmitted and preserved on the company’s server and recalled on a second HipTop.

Chet Huber, president of OnStar, lamented having to follow Harlan, than ran a short video extolling the virtues of his company’s car-based technologies. Huber reported that OnStar was now available for 40 different car models from GM, Lexus and Acura, and had two million subscribers. Cool factor: Huber noted that around 15,000 calls a month involved keys being locked in the car.

The next demonstration was by Brian Donahoo, senior VP of products for ExpertCit, which is the maker of GoToMyPC, a remote access software package. The six-month old product allows users to control their home computers from any other PC anywhere with Internet access.

Samir Saxena, president of SnapStream, demonstrated his company’s Personal Video Station (PVS) software package ($50) that, combined with a TV tuner card, allows a user to record any TV show on a PC for later playback on any other PC or PDA connected to the Internet or a home network. The video is compressed with Windows Media Encoder, enabling a 10 GB to hold 33 hours of near-VHS video. Cool factor: played a streaming cartoon on a Compaq PocketPC.

ZapMedia VP of Business Development and Marketing Chris Solomon demonstrated the ZapStation hard disk A/V jukebox ($1499), which is now available. ZapStation has a 30 GB hard drive that can store MP3 and WMA digital audio files, can stream Internet radio, and can download and play Web-based video. Cool factor: played a downloaded full-screen trailer from ‘Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones’ in full-frame MPEG-4.

Next up was Panasonic’s and Iridian Technology’s Authenticam BM-TE100US ($200), an iris-reading security camera. Tim Meyerhoff, business development manager of vision systems for Panasonic’s Security and Digital Imaging Company, accurately scanned his own stored iris image with the slide-reader-sized device to access an iris-protected file. Cool factor: seeing an infrared close-up of Meyerhoff’s eye on the conference room’s big screen.

The last presentation was for Xybernaut’s wearable computing technology. The presentation by Edward Newman, Xybernaut’s chairman, president and CEO, together with a short video extolled the virtues of the company’s several wearable computer versions rather than a particular single model or gadget. Cool factor: Newman’s claim that Xybernaut represented ‘the end of computing as you know it.’

Each member of the audience was then asked to rate each product’s potential staying power on a paper ballot bearing no resemblance to Florida’s butterfly ballot. Results will be posted on the CEA’s Web site within the next few days.