by Laurianne McLaughlin

Take Three, Tech Cynics

Jan 04, 20074 mins

It’s easy to get cynical about technology: I finished 2006 surrounded by bad jargon, wishing that the term “Web 2.0” would be dropped from the top of a tall building on New Year’s Eve and smash into pieces. (Nobody in NYC came through for me, regrettably.) So I was delighted to see three genuinely intriguing tech developments pop up in this first week of 2007.

A few more interesting twists await you next week, as Apple unveils its newest plans at Macworld Expo, and a slew of vendors strut their latest gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show. Will there be an iPhone to keep the iPod company soon? Stay tuned: Most CIOs learned in 2006 that the hottest gadgets will hit the enterprise as quickly as users can walk them through the front door.

Onto this week’s interesting news:

1. High-Speed Wireless on the Go: “Mobile wireless” takes on a whole new meaning now that Autonet Mobile has introduced Autonet, a totable device that will allow wireless Net access in your car. In other words, this gizmo acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot, in a parking lot or on the highway.

Why it’s cool: Full details are coming next week at the CES show, but the box costs $399 and charges itself via a car’s cigarette lighter. You’ll have to pay Autonet $49 per month for access, but will be able to tap into whatever Verizon, Sprint or Cingular high-speed wireless data network is handy, since Autonet has struck deals with all three. And anyone in your car gets Wi-Fi access, for whatever mobile device you or your passengers are toting. The New York Times reports Avis will begin offering Autonet as an option in rental cars later this year.

This is an interesting development for you executive or techie nomads who often find yourselves looking for the nearest coffee place or hotel lobby with a hotspot while you’re out and about.

The hitch: If you are married to a sales or consulting type who acquires one of these gadgets, you may soon want to throw this device out of the car, along with the cell phone that is surgically attached to your spouse’s ear at all times in the automobile.

2. Flash Hard Drives for Notebook PCs: SanDisk has unveiled hard drives for mobile PCs based on flash-memory. Notebooks packing the drives should show up before the summer, if the big PC hardware vendors sign on.

Why it’s cool: Flash is an interesting storage option for notebooks because these drives are less likely to break from physical abuse than today’s hard drives. (I pondered that thought carefully this morning as I stopped short in traffic and my notebook case slid onto the car floor.) Plus, flash offers faster access times. That means, for instance, your OS and apps should load faster on a flash drive than a traditional drive. SanDisk also promises battery life benefits for notebook PC users, since flash drives are less power hungry.

The hitch: These first flash-based drives are 32 GB, tiny compared to today’s notebook PC hard drives, and they’ll add several hundred dollars to the cost of the notebook – for now. But this technology is definitely one to watch.

3. An End to Adapter Hell?: Fulton Innovations plans to announce “eCoupled”  at the CES show next week – not an online dating service but a technology designed to solve the problem of  adapter overload — all the power adapters you must remember, pack, and lug for your various mobile computing devices.

Why it’s cool: The company’s technology uses inductive coupling, a technique that transfers energy from one device to another via a shared magnetic field. The idea is you slap your phone, PDA, music player or similar gadget down on an eCoupled wireless charger that’s in your car, or say, on your office desk. Fulton Innovation claims it has tackled problems with inductive coupling that have, to date, made it practical only for set power loads and devices that didn’t move. 

 The hitch:  The idea of dumping your power adapters is tantalizing, but a lot of companies have to get on this train before it’s going to ride. We’ll have to wait and see until next week at the CES show what devices are actually on tap in the near timeframe. The technology’s no good until you can get it to work with the mobile devices you use. But the company has partnered with big names including Motorola.