Gadget Lovers Gather In Las Vegas For CES

The Consumer Electronics Show — the biggest showcase for new electronics products — opens in Las Vegas Thursday. Morning Edition tech guru Mario Armstrong talks with Ari Shapiro about some of the new gadgets on display.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

The technology industry's biggest extravaganza of the year begins this week in Las Vegas. The Consumer Electronics Show is where companies of all sizes showcase their latest gadgets and tricks for the year ahead. Morning Edition's technology guru, Mario Armstrong, is there, and he just came back from a sneak preview. Good morning.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Good morning, Ari. How are you?

SHAPIRO: Good. So this is the end of a long day for you, the beginning of the day for us.

ARMSTRONG: That's right.

SHAPIRO: What were some of the highlights of your day? What were the best things you saw?

ARMSTRONG: You know, I really saw some exciting things there. One category that really caught my attention was the netbook category. Are you familiar with what these are?

SHAPIRO: Is this like Kindle, the books you read in a handheld?

ARMSTRONG: No. They're bigger than a Kindle, but they're smaller than your average laptop. I mean, these are, for all intents and purposes, a laptop. I mean, it has a keyboard, it has a screen, but they're lighter weight, and the real appealing thing for a lot of people is the cost. They are right at around $400, compared to, you know, your average laptop of maybe 7 or 800 or more.

SHAPIRO: So this is sort of the computer equivalent of downgrading from an SUV to a Kia.

ARMSTRONG: That's exactly what - you know, that's exactly what this is. This reminds me of featuritis. And I kind of look at featuritis as just, you know, too many features piled in that we never end up using. You know, it's the 80-20 rule. You trim out the 80 percent of fat, and you get this 20 percent of real productivity, and I call those netbooks.

SHAPIRO: Well, what else do you expect to be big at this show?

ARMSTRONG: You know, I'm really seeing this convergence of the Internet now being easier to access on our television screens.

SHAPIRO: Oh, people have been talking about this for years, being able to play video games, use the computer, watch TV, video-on-demand, all of that on the same box.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, but, you know, it's still not quite there yet. I mean, you can do it, and in most cases it's very technical. If you want to try to connect your computer to your television screen, yeah, I mean, good luck with that. I mean, unless you have like built-in tech support in your house...

SHAPIRO: I can barely program my DVD player.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: And a lot of people can relate to that. But we all do, to some degree, watch video content on the Web. It's a growing area. And I saw a young company - it's a start-up, it's called Boxee, B-O-X-E-E. And I tell you, you use a regular remote, not a keyboard and a mouse, you turn on your television, and you really wouldn't even know where the source of the video is coming from.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

ARMSTRONG: It could be coming from a Web site, or it could be coming from over-the-air networks. You really don't know. And you really don't care. The fact that it was so simple really just floored me. And then the last thing about it, Ari, was the social media context of it.

SHAPIRO: Oh, like the networking, Facebook and MySpace, that sort of thing?

ARMSTRONG: You got it. I mean, it had like a recommendation engine in there. So I could have you as one of my friends, and I could see, oh, well, you know, what are you watching tonight? Or, better yet, you could recommend to me, hey, Mario, I saw this TV show. I think you would love it.

SHAPIRO: Cool. I understand there was something that looked very simple that drew a big crowd.

ARMSTRONG: Big crowd. And it's called Powermat, created by an Israeli company. It enables you to charge your devices without wires.

SHAPIRO: How does that work?

ARMSTRONG: So you grab your phone, or you grab your MP3 player, and you basically lay those devices down on a mat, something that's maybe equivalent to the size of a mouse pad or a little bit larger than that. And you don't need to plug anything in. You just lay the devices down, and it uses its own technology that's built into it to basically charge the devices.

SHAPIRO: Could this work with my cell phone now, or is there more technological innovation that's needed before this can be widespread?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I think that what they're trying to create is a standard here, so you do need some additional connections. Right now, what they were showcasing was something that looked like a magnet that would basically slap on to the back of your existing devices. But I think going forward, if they could create a Powermat standard, then manufacturers would create that specification in the devices before they left their facilities.

SHAPIRO: Mario Armstrong is Morning Edition's regular technology commentator, and he also hosts the show Digital Cafe on Baltimore's public radio station, WYPR. Thanks, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: Hey, I appreciate it. Take care.

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