Computex: Show Highlights the Digital Evolution

The Computex IT show in Taipei last week used a lot of scantily clad young women as well as pen, mouse-pad and mini-soccer ball giveaways to hype what amounted to incremental improvements in a range of digital devices.

As with other IT shows so far this year, Computex didn’t offer the kind of killer application or hardware that people are used to from the tech world. Part of the reason is that the show is based in Taiwan, where contract manufacturers show off what’s going to be on store shelves in the next six months. Many companies aren’t trying to stand out with a prototype aimed at catching users’ attention or at offering a view of what might be possible five years down the road.

Another reason is that, of the new gadgets users will see in stores within the next several months, many are variations of what’s already available, or just a slight improvement over existing products.

Mobile phones with GPS, pocket-sized TV sets, memory sticks with small screens powered by a solar panel, and tiny PCs were the kind of products on show at Computex. While these are all nice devices, none of them had the power to grab the imagination in a way that would pull people out to stores.

It’s an affliction that the global IT industry has become used to: slow, steady growth in many areas, including the PC and the digital living room, but nothing zesty to set users’ hearts racing.

"We find improvements in technologies and products, but left the show concluding that [the second half of this year] will lack hot products," said Dan Heyler, a research analyst for Merrill Lynch & Co. in Hong Kong, in a report on Monday.

What’s more, even trends that companies suggest are just around the corner are actually still years away, such as the digital home. Heyler believes the IT industry is moving in the right direction, but says it will still take a year or two to bring together hardware, delivery systems and content to make the digital home a reality.

Computex only reinforced the idea that most of the coolest technologies (fuel cells to power laptops or WiMax, for example), won’t be out for years. We already know the living room is being transformed by liquid crystal display TVs and digital entertainment systems that store songs and videos in a hard drive. IPods, BlackBerrys, TiVos, Xbox 360s and third-generation handsets are all neat products, but they’re already old news in the world of IT.

Gadget enthusiasts would certainly have found fun items at Computex, such as Acer prototype laptops with built-in HD-DVD drives, and one with a huge, 20.4-inch screen. But despite such clever devices, very little smacked of the "Wow!" that really shakes people.

Maybe that’s just a sign of the times. Life-changing gadgets will no doubt still come from the digital revolution. But currently, we’re in a period of incremental improvements to what’s already out there.

As Gary Lin, marketing manager at Iwill, said: "It’s the digital evolution. There’s no more revolution."

-Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service (Taipei Bureau)

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