Call it Comdex Lite

Commentary: Gone were the days of long cab lines and gaggles of nerds clamoring around booths for a cheapo mouse pad.

Call it Comdex lite. With many fewer attendees, fewer companies and fewer bucks for the shows owners to keep the event moving forward, this years annual event in Vegas was the easiest to navigate in years. Gone were the days of long cab lines and gaggles of nerds clamoring around the booths for a cheapo mouse pad or other dumb trinket. This was not a bad thing.

The bad thing, of course, was the question about the future of Comdex Fall and trade shows, in particular, in this time of a balky economy, lackluster tech spending and a general corporate reluctance to send their techies to Vegas for a week of buffet grazing. Personally, I think it would be a shame if this annual gathering of the techie tribes went away, but more on that later.

Pundits looking for the big product themes out of this years events could dust off the themes of smaller, faster and cheaper and be able to cover a lot of the product intros and booth displays at the Las Vegas Convention Center. If a dozing attendee from 10 years ago had finally awoken after a serious free shrimp and beer binge on the Las Vegas strip, the product claims would have sounded much the same as those from the early 90s.

Tablet computers, handheld devices and lightweight displays have long been part of the Comdex undercurrent. The difference this year is that the products work on more than a beta version level, and manufacturers are pushing production and driving down price to get these products as pervasive as possible. An even bigger difference is that the wireless enablement of all that pocket computing power makes it easy to communicate and might finally provide a reason for users to part with a couple of hundred bucks to stay connected.

Of course the economic downturn that saw the number of exhibitors shrink to about 1,100 meant that those strange booths that used to be relegated to the outlands now surfaced in prominent positions. Massage tables, widget vendors and booths promoting nearly every country on earth as a good place to locate your company held positions once occupied by big name technology vendors.

And how many attendees?

The cab drivers were remarkably consistent in their estimates of around 70,000. Id go with their number.

The shrinking show, combined with show owners Key3Media Groups statements at the end of last week that bankruptcy was a possibility and a stock price of around two cents a share, led to the shows future to become a main rumor item. Would Shelly Adelson, the shows original founder and current Las Vegas Venetian hotel and Sands exposition center owner, return to get the wheels back on the track? Would Comdex combine with the annual Consumer Electronics Show as computing products and consumer electronics mesh more and more? Would Comdex simply become a collective memory of late night drinking and early morning product demos for the computing community? All those possibilities seemed real last week, and midway through the show nothing was settled.