Magazine article Newsweek

Getting the Whole World in Your Hand; Standouts Were Handheld Devices That Have Become This Century's Version of Swiss Army Knives

Magazine article Newsweek

Getting the Whole World in Your Hand; Standouts Were Handheld Devices That Have Become This Century's Version of Swiss Army Knives

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Levy

What struck me about last week's Consumer Electronics Show--the huge annual gadget bacchanalia convening, naturally, in Las Vegas--is the buzzword people don't say anymore. Only a few years ago people breathlessly uttered "convergence" as sort of a catchall mantra. It embodied the elusive idea that different media, including every variety of sound, image and data, could be served up together and consumed like a giant main-course salad, with fantastic benefits in the process. Now you rarely hear it, because the concept is so here and now that it would be like commenting on air.

Though the miles of aisles at the humongous show were filled with everything from cars pimped with half the inventory of a Circuit City to plasma television screens so wide you couldn't squeeze them into a McMansion, to me, the flagships of this year's event were handheld devices that have become this century's version of Swiss Army knives.

Someone would hand you a cigarette-box-size chunk of plastic with a little screen and then proceed to explain what it was. A music player, of course, And a camera-slash-camcorder. A radio. Oh, and it records radio too. As well as recording your voice. And next year we're putting in Wi-Fi so you'll surf the Net with it, and, of course, use it as a VOIP (voice-over-Internet-protocol) telephone. Because of the utter fungibility of digital, everything can do anything. (Making it easy to use is another matter.)

A related force, similarly relentless, is the Internetizing of everything, preferably without wires. This allows, in theory at least, for people to move all their entertainment and personal content from one device to another. "For the past few years, the big influence was time-shifting, but this year it's about space-shifting," says Brad Sugar of the start-up company 2 Wire. …

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