By Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA, CITP
InfoTech Partners North America, Inc. walked the floors of COMDEX and attended a variety of panel discussions to bring you first hand experience in regards to the tools and technologies slated to hit the market in the next year. Amongst the strongest trends were: tablet computing, security, wireless technology, and a changing of the PDA guard. In addition, we have featured some of the goofiest techs and tools to show you that the concept of “medicated creativity” may still be around. Below is our Gadget Summary for COMDEX 2002:
Tablet Computing: The strongest trend we witnessed was the buzz surrounding the Tablet PC, which comes in a variety of formats that allow users to write on the screen as well as type in commands. The “convertible” version is being supported by at least ten vendors and looks like a standard laptop, except that the screen can swivel around and lay down on the keyboard allowing the screen to face up. The user can use the device either as a traditional laptop or a writing tablet. The second version is primarily a tablet that you can use a stylus on (think giant Pocket PC) or attach a keyboard, as well as all your peripherals when you are at your office “workspace.” The third version is the smart monitor which is like a standard desktop computer except the monitor is a flat panel that can be separated and used anywhere within a 100-foot proximity, using a wireless connection to the desktop computer (and all its resources). We feel this third version will be ideal for home users that need a fully functional PC most of the time, but would like to work in other areas of the house for a couple of hours at a time by accessing the hard drive and resources at the workstation. While Dell and IBM have not committed to making Tablet PCs yet, you can read about the latest features and vendors at: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/tabletpc/default.asp
Today, we feel Tablet PCs are a “Version 2” technology for CPA firms, (plan on using it after next year), but we feel they have some features that show promise for our industry. The application that most intrigued us was Microsoft’s “OneNote” that is scheduled for release next summer. The product demonstration on a tablet PC showed users keeping a variety of notes on different tabs on the screen that could be moved, cut, pasted, and edited with complete freedom, bringing us the closest we have ever been to a true writing tablet. In addition, your handwritten notes could be searched like any other words, and converted to text if you wanted. In another year, we feel the size (thickness) and weight will come down, the processing capability and battery life will increase, and the software be stabilized, so they will be a possible candidate for accounting firms. Read more about the OneNote application at: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2002/nov02/11-17onenote.asp
Security: There were a variety of products that will help secure your firm and equipment. Amongst the more interesting were TrioVault (http://www.triosecurity.com) which turns your PDA into a Smart Card for logins. Also, Intego’s Net Barrier, which combine a Firewall with an Internet Filter (http://www.intego.com).
USB Fob/keys were also making inroads into the security arena. SecuriKey and SecureLock are examples of “token” fobs you place in the USB slot of your PC and then type in your password for access. If you have to leave your computer, you remove the fob and the system locks until you re-insert it, which also saves time on re-boots. Read more about these products at: http://www.securikey.com and http://www.securesoftware.com.
We also sat in on Verisign, which firms are using for digital certificates. They demonstrated their Secure Express product that allows CPA firms to send encrypted documents (tax returns/financial statements) for approximately $3 each (http://www.verisign.com). The advantage of this over free products (such as Hypersend) is the end user does not have to load an application locally.
Wireless technology: Wireless was everywhere with a large variety of vendors touting cards and base stations to connect in the home, office, or at your local coffee house. We are strong proponents of wireless (we have used it in our office for over a year), as long as your technology personnel ensure that WEP (wireless encryption protocol) is turned on to keep you free from wireless snoops. We didn't see any new or unusual products, but the buzz on wireless was definitely there.
PDAs (Palm vs. PocketPC): Palm continues to bring out innovations such as the $99 Zire, which would be a great stocking stuffer for High School and College age kids (http://www.palm.com/us/). They also displayed their latest wireless device the Tungsten/W, which is a good choice for the next year, if your firm has standardized on the Palm platform.
As you know, we have been strong proponents of the Palm operating system within CPA firms, because of their extended battery life and cost effectiveness, when compared to the various Pocket PCs running the Microsoft operating system. We have long predicted that the Pocket PC would be taking over in 2003 and a recent announcement from Dell seems to support that thought. Dell now is offering their version of the Pocket PC at $199 called the Axim. Read about its features at: http://www.dell.com/us/en/bsd/products/series_pda_snp.htm. At that price, it is competitive with the Palm OS devices.
For those of you looking for something that Microsoft can’t match yet, like a new watch with a built in organizer, Fossil now has a wrist unit that runs the Palm OS. The screen was surprisingly useful considering the small form factor and does allow you to take notes in your handwriting! http://www.fossil.com/tech/default.asp?Tier1=tech
And don’t forget to include security on your Palmtop. We saw some applications that add a password to your Palm PC: PDA Defense (http://www.pdadefense.com) and Trust Digital (http://www.trustdigital.com).
Other Techs; Definitely Other… Some of the most interesting products we saw may not be the most useful in a CPA firm environment, but they would qualify as “something to buy someone who has everything.” To view the product, make sure you have an Internet connection and click on the company name to hyperlink.
- For your friends that have a PDA and would like to speed input, there is the flexible keyboard from Flexis that can be thrown anywhere and is virtually auditor-proof!
- If you want to add some personality to inbound email, take a look at the Mitsumi Talking PC Mascot. They demonstrated a Parrot (with “titanium colored” feathers) that sits on your monitor and warns you with flashing eyes and a chirp. It reads new email as it arrives and tells jokes, tongue twisters, and other "registered messages."
- For those of you that would like to be able to input information with one hand (so you can drive with the other?) we saw the FrogPad, which is going to be helping our astronauts type data faster.
- There was also the "ultimate" computer desk from Personal Computing Environments, which for $7,800, will make sure that you are ergonomically comfortable.
- And finally, there is the Sumacke glare and dryness eye shield from Suma for $149, which personally wins our 2002 award for “Geekiest Fashion Accessory” for those people that REALLY don’t care what other people think! …who knows maybe you will see us wearing these on the road somewhere.