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Wireless, wearable, and wondrous tech

By Shoshana Berger
Business 2.0

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Editor's note: Gizmos Weekly is produced by Business 2.0 and features gadget reviews and gift ideas

(Business 2.0) -- Please excuse me if I slur my words. I'm a little tipsy after the CES Vegas binge, where the barkeeps of consumer electronics rolled out enough new products to souse any gadget geek. Weren't we supposed to be in an economic tailspin? Aren't recessions supposed to stifle innovation? Not according to the 100,000 or so bodies that passed through the Las Vegas Convention Center, whose sheer numbers suggested that a recovery is about five minutes away. The only proof of any tightfistedness is that I returned home with nary a branded yo-yo or showgirl story to tell. I know, you're crushed.

In the three categories that ruled the day -- 802.11b wireless networking, wearable computing, and enhanced DVD and LCD technology -- a few offerings really blew my hair back. This year will bring WiFi enabled wireless broadcasting of desktop MP3 playlists to cars, stereos, and beyond; you'll also be able to use your wristwatch to check on stocks and local traffic -- courtesy of Microsoft's (MSFT) new DirectBand technology. And keep an eye out for wireless devices for the kitchen this year: The Westinghouse-branded IceBox (available for about $1,800) is a touchscreen television, CD/DVD player, Internet device, and home video monitor all packed into a waterproof, eMac-style unit for the countertop. Even more Jetsony is the new refrigerated, wireless oven developed by TMIO with help from NASA; the Tonight's Menu Intelligent Oven keeps your dinner cold until you place a call or send an e-mail telling it to get cooking. You'll be waiting until the end of the year for that "space-certified" convenience.

In the wearable-tech-is-the-new-black category, Panasonic has launched a suite of new devices. The four-in-one E-wear -- a small, podlike device that looks like a pedometer -- records digital video, digital photos (with built-in flash), voice, MP3s, and TV (through a VCR), all onto a mini Secure Digital memory card. The demo rep had one around her neck and one clipped to her low-slung jeans -- very "right now." E-wear arrives in April for $300 to $400, depending on how much memory your memories require. Dick Tracy-style watches from Fossil and Timex are a little less MTV, a little more VH1. Fossil's wrist PDA, due out in March, shrinks the Palm OS 4.1 into a hip, stainless steel timepiece, complete with a removable nano stylus integrated into the watchband. Timex's curvy, 64-megabyte MP3 watch is available now for $150 and ships with a wristband, grip clip, or neck cord, depending on which extreme sport you prefer. The sleek Iron Man data-link PDA watch is due out this spring for $90.

Let the record show that CES 2003 finally put the CRT monitor in the grave. Flat panels practically wallpapered the place. Samsung and Philips (PHG) continue to dominate in LCD industrial design. What stood out for me were Philips's DesXcape wireless touchscreen monitor and keyboard that turn any desktop into a portable tablet PC (out in February for $1,500), and what may be the industry's first home-theater-in-a-box, also from the Dutch electronics giant, with a DVD recorder that will launch this fall for $1,300. Samsung had so many gorgeous new displays, I just stood there with my jaw on the ground. But stay alert: More than one major brand will be introducing liquid-crystal-on-silicon screens and next-generation HDTVs this year.

It's going to be a good year in Gizmoville, my friends.

For more personal technology news visit Business 2.0.

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