Windows Middle East electronic edition 24th May

Consumers are being offered more multifunctional gadgets than ever before - from photo viewers that can function as flash disks, to MP3 phones aimed at grabbing market share from standalone MP3 players. But while such goodies will likely attract ‘must-have-it-now’ geeks and monied show-offs, there isn’t a killer all-in-one available yet that will have ‘normal’ consumers flocking…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  May 23, 2005

The future in your hand?|~||~||~|Consumers are being offered more multifunctional gadgets than ever before - from photo viewers that can function as flash disks, to MP3 phones aimed at grabbing market share from standalone MP3 players. But while such goodies will likely attract ‘must-have-it-now’ geeks and monied show-offs, there isn’t a killer all-in-one available yet that will have ‘normal’ consumers flocking… In recent months a multitude of manufacturers have gone all tangential and rolled out a range of useful, slightly less useful, and downright bizarre all-in-one products. Epson for instance - seemingly not content with selling printers, scanners and projectors - has brought the Middle East its P-2000 photo viewer. Effectively a hard disk and LCD screen encased in smooth silver, this box of tricks can store everything a flash disk can - from files and folders to pictures, songs and more. Kodak is another firm that has added picture sharing functionality to some models in its digital camera range. Call me a cynic, but I’m not that sure how many people will find such products useful. If you just wanted a huge flash disk, you’d just buy one - wouldn’t you? Or at least one of the compact external hard drives now on the market (see our June issue round-up). Also, how many people do you really know who obsess about carrying around all their holiday snaps with them all the time? And following that, how many people is it morally acceptable to bore thanks to your holiday snaps being always to hand? Apple and its MP3 player cohorts have begun adding photo viewer functionality to their MP3 players, but this comes across as more of a value-add (and reason to buy Apple et al in the first place) than a feature that will attract those not previously interested in buying an MP3 player. Yet more media functions, including video playing and recording, are also now available through PMC (personal media centre) products, such as the Archos AV400 (see our January 2005 issue). At present, these are a great idea for users actually able to download movie content (in other words those with relatively cheap broadband fees, full - unblocked - access to all the glorious sites the web has to offer, and an affinity for legally questionable file sharing apps), but in this region such products currently offer little more than a glimpse of a distant future. Meanwhile, Samsung and Creative have shown us where digital imaging might be heading, by launching ‘mini DV’ or ‘mini digital video camera’ products (the MiniKet and DiVi-Cam respectively). These handhelds manage to not only cram in DVs and still cameras, but MP3 players, flash disks, web cameras and voice recording capabilities. In a recent interview with our sister publication, IT Weekly, HP IPG Middle East’s category manager, Thomas Valjak, suggested that there is “a trend from the market where customers want to integrate more and more functionalities into common devices.” But while in the printer and scanner world this means high quality, low priced devices that people actually want and use, in the handheld gadget space that’s not yet the case. What seems to be the case instead is that firms are developing such combined offerings and then offering them for sale largely because they can - almost to see what happens. I suggest this because I, for one, struggle to embrace the notion that there is real burgeoning consumer demand for a 6-in-1 video camera. As our WinLab team discovered when testing the Miniket recently, most all-in-one gadgets do pretty much everything but, at present, not particularly well. While interesting then, they offer fairly average-quality individual functions, just more of them than you might usually expect. ‘Killer kit’ - or individual ‘killer products’ - comes from combining the functions consumers truly demand (or can be persuaded to desire) – such as a mobile phone with a small quality camera built-in - and doing it well. Ideally, as with Apple's iPod, it also helps to incorporate such functions into a stunning design and tie that in turn to a strong, recognisable brand. We’re not quite there yet then, but here’s a thought: if carrying an MP3 player and a standard mobile phone is beginning to grate - maybe bulging pockets are ruining the symmetry of your new suit? - look out for Sony Ericsson’s forthcoming Walkman phone (the W800) and Motorola’s long-awaited iPod phone. Both are due later this year. A phone with not only a camera on-board but plenty of upgradeable memory and a decent sound system… that could well be the next big thing. ||**||

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