Comdex Rightly Comes Back to Basics

I went to this year's Comdex Annual Trade Show with lowered expectations. The ongoing war on terror, an economic slump and the tech meltdown all pointed to a lackluster event.

I went to this years Comdex Annual Trade Show with lowered expectations. The ongoing war on terror, an economic slump and the tech meltdown all pointed to a lackluster event. After a couple days of walking the aisles of the Las Vegas Convention Center, Id say those lowered expectations were exceeded and that Comdex has appropriately returned to what it was: a trade show for IT techies.

Gone are the days when Comdex was pitched as the staging point for the new economy. Back are the days when gadget-adorned techies carrying bags full of brochures would spend an hour at a booth going over the details of a technical specification sheet. The glitzy floor shows—which were all noise and no content—have largely disappeared, booths seem populated by people that really can answer questions and you can actually see most of the show in one days trek.

Although companies have largely stopped using Comdex as the place to introduce products, it is still a good place to get a hands-on feel of the constantly changing array of PDAs, digital cameras and software applications. There were certainly a lot fewer people in the aisles; a lot fewer companies exhibiting; and a lot more of those foot massage, country pavilion and furniture displays, whose purpose seems to be to fill out floor space. But the people who attended the show really did seem to be looking for information products to build actual systems rather than speculative projects.

Security was appropriately the top concern of the vendors, the show attendees and those putting on the event. Metal detectors were much in evidence. Biometric identity devices drew crowds. And, of course, any chance to catch the latest news on the tragic airline crash in New York and the rapid rout of the Taliban forces in Afghanistan brought throngs to televisions tuned to CNN.

Cabs were easily available, you could get a seat at the citys top steakhouses with no waiting and hotels had to refrain from doubling their rates. Getting in and out of town was no more a hassle than it is at any other major airport in the country. The annual ChiliFest to raise funds for missing and exploited children was a success, much to the credit of the events sponsors.

The keynotes tended to focus on real products to solve real IT problems rather than the events of previous years, where grand words were rarely backed up by real products or sales. Maybe the best symbol was Bill Gates introducing the Tablet PC yet one more time. This time around, the Tablet may actually work, and that is true of many of the products on the show floor. All the talk about the digital decade is now being supported by products that are priced right, compatible and useful in getting business accomplished.

Id be very surprised if Comdex ever returned to the size or the glories of the past. It has become a decent-size show for techies to get a hands-on look at the latest gadgets. And that does not seem to be such a bad purpose.