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GadgetDemo has always been my favorite conference and this past week in San Diego was one of the best ever. The Demo conference allows entrepreneurs to show off new gadgets, software, hardware and business ideas and enables the press, analysts, investors, and technology enthusiasts to assess what they see. The product introductions that take place reveal key technology trends over the coming 12 to 18 months. A new twist called FutureScan was added to Demo this year that takes a look at the more distant future.
Paul Jacobs, ceo of Qualcomm, gave the keynote. He talked about more radios operating concurrently in our mobile phones — cell phone connections, WiFi, gps from satellites, etc. He envisions much faster networks so that we can spend more time listening to music and watching videos as opposed to waiting for things to download. He showed a picture of a mobile phone containing a 10 megapixel camera. Phones will be inside of mp3 players, gps devices, cameras, etc with transferable subscription plans so that one mobile phone number will work on multiple things. There will also be “TV-out” so that our mobile phones will be able to connect to large flat panels in our homes to display the pictures and movies we take while outdoors. Keyboards will remain better than voice recognition for now. Our mobile phones will have tailored applications including glucometers and other forms of remote healtchare monitoring. Social networking will allow all this new content to come together.
Moderating the FutureScan panels is a way to share one’s perspective but more importantly to help bring out the depth and breadth of knowledgeable experts through an interactive conversation plus questions from the moderator and the audience. The panels this time were on the subjects of mobile computing and nanotechnology, The idea was to look at “the more distant future” and find some clues, not about what is hot today or next year, but about the next, next, next big thing. We were fortunate to have a very distinguished panel for both subjects.
Tuesday’s panel on “The Future of Mobile” included Tom Jacobs, Director of Research, Sun Microsystems, Inc., Juergen Urbanski, General Manager, FON North America, and Joe Ziskin, Vice President, Corporate Strategy, IBM Corporation. Each brought a different perspective about a day when mobile phones surpass desktop computers as our primary interface to information and services. Tom sees a big role for open source software to provide digital rights management so that could enable people to buy content on the web and hear it or see it on their PC or their mobile phone. Joe sees the enterprises of the world embracing a mobile world for communications and for applications. Juergen described a world where everyone has WiFi access. His company is helping make it happen. Take a look at fon.com. I signed up today. No doubt I will refer to Tom, Juergen, and Joe in subsequent postings.
Wednesday morning’s panel on “The Future of Nanotechnology” included Dr. Gian-Luca Bona, Department Group Manager of Science & Technology, Almaden Research Center, IBM Corporation, Dr. Gerald Hoegl, CEO, Metcomb Nanostructures, and Dr. Rohit Sharma, Principal, Mohr Davidow Ventures.
Millions of dollars have poured into nanotechnology startups in recent years, leaving many to wonder when will the market begin to see the return on those investments. All three panelists were not only bullish but bullish on seeing things in the next few years. Gian-Luca talked about storage and logic devices of incredibly small dimensions. He talked about nanometers. A nanometer is the size of a handful of atoms. A grain of salt is equivalent in size to more than 100 billion atoms! (See prior patrickWeb story about nano). Gerald showed a new material called cellular aluminum which will soon revolutionize cars and aerospace. Using nanotechnology, his company has created a material that can be molded into any shape which is strong as steel but yet floats in water. Rohit was enthusiastic about nanotechnology in healthcare. He is investing in companies that are creating cures for things not thought to be curable and paving the way toward personalized medicine based on our individual genetic makeup. (See prior patrickWeb story about computational biology).
The best part of Demo is the demos! Sixty-seven companies showed their stuff and, although there were some companies with solutions looking for problems, there were a lot of impressive ideas and plans. I could not possibly do justice here to what I saw and learned but I will mention a few of the highlights and encourage you to visit the archive at demo.com to see the demos and explore things you may want to learn more about. Here are some brief comments about a few of the things I found interesting.
CheckmarkGrandCentral – gives you a lifetime single phone number and a web site where you can manage all your inbound calls. A call to your grandcentral phone # will ring on all the phones you want – home, mobile, etc. Each caller can have a unique ringtone and you can identify spam callers and have their calls ignored. Voicemails can become emails and you can record and save any phone call. This is a really neat service. I signed up.

CheckmarkPhotobot – optimizes your digital pictures and stores them on a server in Switzerland

CheckmarkPresto – prints email and pictures on an HP printer at Mom’s house with no Internet connection. You can select crossword puzzles or opt-in newsletters and news content

CheckmarkSystemOne – a semantic wiki for the enterprise. It pulls together content from contacts, emails, presentations, and web sites

CheckmarkThinkFree – seamless compatibility with office applications via the web. Microsoft Office not required. This was part of a distinct trend toward lightweight IT-free enterprise applications

CheckmarkBuzzLogic – enables companies to determine what bloggers are saying about a company’s products or service. It creates a social map of who the key influencers are and who is in on the conversation

CheckmarkDash – a dashboard car system to allow someone to send an address to a car. Also allows a driver to find an optimum route based on data from other Dash units and from road sensors

CheckmarkscanR – a service which allows you to take a picture of a business card (or any document) with your cell phone. You then email the picture to scanR.com which then converts the picture to digital format and even extracts the contact info into your contact list

CheckmarkPhotocrank – take a picture, send it to photocrank and then it returns a picture superimposed with graphics and text

Checkmark3jam – allows you to send an sms text message to multiple people and then allows each recipient to do a “reply all”. Great for arranging a rendezvous

Disclosure: The producer of the Demo conferences is Guidewire Group and I am a member of their “Sounding Board”. I am also a limited partner (investor) in First Round Capital. First Round Capital invests in companies that come to it through an exclusive partnership with the Guidewire Group. First Round is currently a minority investor in fourteen companies.