Toronto Star
January 2, 2002 Wednesday
Ontario Edition

HEADLINE: Electronics gadgets evolve modestly

BYLINE: May Wong, associated press

Portable MP3 players will shrink in size but hold more songs. Cellphones will double as handheld computers. Televisions will be bigger, sharper - and cheaper.

These are some of the new - well, really just mostly improved - consumer electronic gadgets that will debut in 2002, a year that also promises modest strides toward the wirelessly connected world that was overpromised a year ago.

Devices such as personal digital assistants, cellphones and combinations of the two will increasingly come with built-in wireless Web access.

Laptop-toters seeking to surf the Web through wireless hubs, their options currently limited, will likely see many more places offer the service as this technology proliferates.

Now that tech jargon such as MP3, DVD and PDA have entered the vernacular, the consumer electronics industry is concentrating on next-generation devices, learning from the mistakes and building on the successes of the past few years.

"Expect to see more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary devices," said Andrew Johnson, a market researcher with Gartner Dataquest.

It's a good time for a breather, analysts say - the industry is at a crossroads, switching from analogue to digital technologies, and consumers need time to fully grasp the advantages of the fancy new devices now available.

Some companies are moving cautiously after the bruising economic slowdown in 2001 depressed sales, even of popular mobile phones and handheld computers. Consumers now tend to buy products that fill real needs rather than dumping cash on the latest cool gadget, analysts say.

Many high-tech companies remain optimistic that the future lies with powerful, converged devices such as refrigerators with built-in
Internet access, or handheld computers that also serve as a cellphone, pager, digital camera, MP3 audio player and TV remote control.

But until consumers - and not just gearheads - show a liking to these technologies, and their prices become affordable, some companies are focusing on devices that serve one function well.

"Consumers are so jaded by how hard it is to set up a computer that anything that smells like it scares them to death," said Rob Enderle, analyst with the Giga Information Group.

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