Demo 09, held in Palm Desert, Calif., this week, was a little smaller than usual (about 40 instead of more than 60 companies, some 500 instead of 700 attendees), and clearly the economic downturn was on everyoneâ''s minds. The new economy definitely changed things; very few new businesses, for example, are planning on supporting themselves through advertising; subscription fees and flat out sales of software or hardware are back in style. And most demonstrators had an economic hook to their pitch; though they must have started developing their products before the economy tanked, most could explain why their products were right for the new economy. Some even look like they could be right for me.
Top of the â''right for the economy, right for meâ'' list was the TouchBook, from Always Innovating Inc. (see photo, above). Itâ''s essentially a netbook, that is, a stripped down computer intended basically for email and web browsing. And, while Iâ''ve been seeing a lot of netbooks lately, theyâ''d left me flat; I just didnâ''t get why I would buy a computer that didnâ''t do everything that I do on my laptop. But with the TouchBook, I got it. I got that if I spent $399 for this computer (or $299 without the keyboard) that I wouldnâ''t have to buy another $1500 laptop to keep family harmony, as my three kids find that more and more they all desperately need their shared computers at the same time; instead, urgent Facebook updates or catching up on the last episode of Survivor could happen on the TouchBook. Plus maybe, with a touchscreen computer that includes an accelerometer and plays iPhone games, my kids would stop nagging for an iPhone as well; more money saved. I got that it only weighs .9 kilograms (.45 without the keyboard), and that would make for a very light load. And OK, the way the screen pops off of the keyboard to become a tablet computer was very cool, as was the user interface, that lets you spin through applications or web sites with a finger stroke.
Several enhanced email applications also made sense to me. Pixetell from Ontier Inc., Portland, Oregon, lets you narrate and annotate screen images, drop in webcam recordings, add other attachments, then send that multimedia package as a regular email. GoView from Citrix Online, Santa Barbara, Calif., does essentially the same thing, but only deals with annotating and narrating screen images, rather than letting you package a vast array of different media. Iâ''m not sure I need the extra functions of Pixetell, so Iâ''ll have to try both applications to see which one would work better for me. Both are intended to reduce the need for in person meetings as well as web conferences. Using email in a different way was Cc:Betty, from Cc:Betty Inc., Palo Alto, Calif. Cc:Betty sorts and organizes files, events, and contacts by analyzing email; basically, a replacement for a personal assistant. Iâ''ve never had a personal assistant, but Iâ''m planning on trying it anyway.
Symantec Corp., Cupertino, Calif., demonstrated a tool called Project Guru targeted at all the tech-savvy folks who find themselves doing tech support for friends and familyâ''so if holiday travel is down next year, the relatives who had been saving up their computer problems for Thanksgiving afternoon wonâ''t be stuck. Project Guru is a downloadable application for consumers that lets them troubleshoot a friendâ''s computer remotely, just like an IT department does for its employees. Symantec didnâ''t announce the productâ''s pricing structure or exact plans for when it will be available.
Finally, I have to mention Skout Out, though itâ''s not exactly a tool that would apply to my life. Skout Out (photo right), from Skout Inc. of San Francisco, Calif., is a giant touchscreen, that looks somewhat like an iPhone, and is intended to help out people who have spent way too much time doing online social networking to cope with a real-world bar scene. It flashes up photos of available people in the immediate vicinity (either the bar in which it is installed or nearby), and, for a dollar (a real dollar, inserted as you would in a vending machine), you can dedicate a song to someone, offer to buy them a drink, or hit them up with a pickup line selected from a menu. The company says itâ''s absolutely a tool for the new economy, because when business is down, dating is up.