At electronics show, vendors show cellphones used as tiny cameras and digital microscopes.
Bored while sitting in another business meeting? Whip out your cellphone and peek at animated greetings. Tired of resetting alarm clocks while traveling? Try a travel clock that automatically adjusts to time zones - and gathers weather, sports, and news reports in the cities you're visiting. Reluctant to tote around a bulky camera? Tuck a new digital cam in your chest pocket: it's no bigger than a deck of cards.
These are just some of the gadgets emerging from the nation's high-tech haberdashers - and, if industry executives have their way, those gizmos will be ringing, beeping, and clicking their way into your life over the next months and years. They are not the expensive, "revolutionary" contraptions of the late 1990s. "Big" is no longer the buzzword here at Comdex, the high-tech industry's annual convention. In lean times, gadgets are all about useability - and portability.
The crowds are thinner, more subdued; the exhibitors have dwindled from booming hordes to a hardy few; and their mantra, suddenly, is "small." The emphasis is less on hype and techno bluster, more on lassoing the punch of wireless communications in tiny devices. And as high-tech hyperbole fades, industry leaders have a new zeitgeist: Get real.
It was a theme echoed by Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard. "The last things business customers need today are time machines or binoculars or more breathless hype about billion-dollar bets on the next big thing," she said. Sun Systems CEO Scott McNealy looked, improbably, to Thoreau in his speech, advising companies to "Simplify, simplify, simplify."
These days, small is beautiful. After two years of taking more blows than a punch-drunk club fighter, the tech industry is wary of promising the moon. Instead, everyone talks about practical steps - products that people can use now, not showy gizmos that are cool but relatively useless.