There's usually a theme to Comdex/Fall in Las Vegas but this year it was harder to track down. To some extent you can taste the flavour of the all-American show by listening carefully to the keynote speeches but even those gave little clue this year.
Last year, the Internet was the buzz word but the US is now so permeated with awareness of the medium that while it still figured prominently in the show, it has already become an accepted part of the IT landscape.
One vendor at the show gave a statistic which demonstrated that very clearly. Pac Bell, a large carrier in the Western United States, now says that over 50 per cent of traffic on lines is data based. Every man and his dog has a Web site and a URL and it's clear from watching the TV channels that if e-commerce has not yet reached the European shores, it is widely pervasive in the US.
But behind the usual ballyhoo associated with this trade show, there is one clear trend and that is the arrival of the $500 and even the sub-$500 PC, associated with convergence with the consumer electronic market.
Penetration of PCs in the US home market is high but many families still cannot afford machines or associated them with a "gearhead" mentality. US vendors want to grab the hearts and the wallets not only of this sector, but want to persuade the rest of the world that the PC really is a home device.
That is likely to lead to both high-end consumer systems and low-end models for people who have not yet made a buying decision.
Eckhard Pfeiffer, CEO of Compaq, said in his keynote on Monday morning that his company had made the breakthrough to systems under $1,000 and mentioned sub-$500 systems in the near future.
He also took time out to present Compaq's PC Theatre, an entertainment console which uses DVD drives, high resolution flat screen technology and sophisticated audio and control systems, which, in his own words, meant people need never leave their couches. That system costs around the $5,000 mark and was matched by Philips, which was showing a similar system with a similar price tag.
On the other end of the scale, chip companies Cyrix and Cirrus Logic were demonstrating reference platforms for a box which will sit happily in living rooms and, while looking nothing like a PC but more like an entertainment system, also has PC functionality.
The integration of surround sound, high end screens and the ability to browse the Web and also perform PC computing at a price tag of around $500 or $600 will be attractive to many households.
Voice technology, too, was a major theme of the show. As taxis line up to take the visitors to their gaudy hotels on the Strip, many were blazoning out IBM's ViaVoice message. Voice recognition is close to realising the dreams of those who wish to avoid Qwerty keyboards, it seems.
Intel blocked the main corridor in the Convention Centre with a demonstration of the Pentium II applied to cars, with a gaggle of brightly coloured Bunny People thumping out the message that an intelligent chip in your Dodge was something to be desired.
And, in the background, the debate over whether Net PCs or NCs will capture the enterprise market continued. In the press room, there was a mixture of Macs, PCs and IBM Network Stations, all connected to a central server which then linked to the Internet.
Meanwhile, several vendors showed personal digital assistants and CE devices which will, if their claims are to be believed, will let people perform all kinds of miracles on the move. High quality colour printers and digital cameras - soon to achieve almost throwaway status - completed the picture.
The underlying theme, then, was the convergence of PC technology, and while at successive Comdexes over the last three or four years, that has been promised, it finally looks as though it is becoming a reality.
Whether the PC industry can support such a move, however, is a little more problematical. IT vendors which have made large multi-billion investments in manufacturing and marketing products all face the prospect that margins will become thinner than ever before.
The consumer market breeds commoditisation and that could mean the fulfilment of Pfeiffer's prediction - that in the next three to four years, there will be very few players who can still make hay while the Sun shines.
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