PDAs and Mobiles to push PCs aside at TechX

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Mobiles to push PCs aside at TechX
By John G. Spooner, ZDNet News

Even the name is changed. Reflecting the current PC slump, mobile devices will take center stage at this year’s PC Expo–err TechX.

As if anyone needed further evidence that the PC industry is on the skids, consider that it can’t even command its own trade show anymore.

The long-running PC Expo program is now TechX NY, opening Tuesday in New York.

The name change is more than symbolic, as desktop PCs will be a low-priority item at the show. Attention instead will go to a range of devices, from tiny USB hubs to home entertainment products, PDAs and notebook computers.

“I don’t see how slow sales is not going to affect people’s enthusiasm” at the show, said Stephen Baker, a research director with NPD Intelect (formerly PC Data). “It just seems like you’re going to see people being not as aggressive as they would have been” last year.

Coming during the worst year ever for desktop PC sales, the show is likely to reinforce that it’s an increasingly mobile world we live in, with personal digital assistants (PDAs), notebooks and wireless products stealing the spotlight from desktop PCs.

PC makers Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, for example, will all announce new notebooks at the show.

Compaq and Toshiba will announce a variety of systems based on Intel’s Pentium III chip, and HP will officially launch a new Pavilion notebook using Advanced Micro Devices’ 1GHz Athlon 4 notebook chip.

Palm, whose CEO, Carl Yankowski, will give the opening keynote address Tuesday morning, will announce new information about partnerships. Also on the PDA front, Sony is expected to announce a pair of new Clie devices at the show.

Analysts say the mobile focus might help wipe away the doom and gloom of the uncertain PC market.

“I think we’re going to see a whole slew of wireless products,” said IDC analyst Alan Promisel.

The show will bring “further integration as opposed to the option for wireless” offered by many PC makers now, he said. “They will be building it right into the box, whether you choose to use it or not.”

Promisel also predicted that a multitude of peripheral devices will dot the show floor, including 802.11 wireless LAN (local area network) cards, adapters for Wireless Data transfer via the Bluetooth standard, and combination 02.11/Bluetooth cards. He also predicted that portable hard drives will be popular.

“Momentum is definitely in the notebooks’ favor,” Promisel said. “Once the economy turns around, we anticipate a notebook explosion.”

IDC market numbers show U.S. desktop PC sales declining 10.4 percent for the first quarter of 2001 from the same period a year ago. Notebook sales rose 0.02 percent, however, showing that notebook PCs were able to hold the line even in a declining market.

Topping off the wave of mobile technology will be the introduction of a new Crusoe TM 8500 processor by Transmeta and the unveiling of Intel’s new “Tualatin” Pentium III chips.

Intel Executive Vice President Michael Splinter will take the podium Wednesday morning, delivering a keynote speech on Intel’s latest chip moves. The Tualatin chips will be faster, lower-power versions of Intel’s Pentium III, based on a new 0.13-micron manufacturing process. Transmeta’s new 5800 chip will run at speeds of up to 800MHz.

New desktop PCs should be sparse at the show. At least some PC makers appear to be waiting to introduce their fall “back-to-school” lineup of retail desktop PCs.

HP, for example, is not expected to show off new Pavilion models publicly at the show. Those models may be shown behind closed doors but will not be announced until a later date. Compaq, though, may preview its back-to-school PCs at the show.

The October introduction of Microsoft’s Windows XP (news – web sites) operating system may be another factor leading PC makers to hold back on back-to-school models, NPD’s Baker said. “It may be that everyone holds off and waits until later to do major upgrades,” he said.

Of the major PC makers, Dell Computer has cut back most on plans for the show. The company, which abandoned its booth in 1999, canceled plans for a press reception with founder Michael Dell and other top executives this year. Only a few Dell executives will be at the show for customer meetings.

Compaq will show off its Evo PC line and existing iPaq handhelds based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC software. Gateway’s booth will emphasize technology for wireless networks and services for small businesses.

Hewlett-Packard also will show off wireless networking products. The company plans to announce a new PC deployment and management service along with new desktop monitors and other accessories.

IBM will display its current PC product line in its booth but will also show off the products working with wireless technology. No major announcements are expected from the company.

As the PC industry holds its breath waiting for an economic turnaround, Baker is guardedly optimistic for the fall. “I think back-to-school will be OK,” he said, adding that the Oct. 25 release of Windows XP shouldn’t interfere with back-to-school sales.

But things will remain tense “until we start seeing stuff going out the door,” he said.

TechX NY’s organizer, CMP Media, expects about 80,000 attendees for the show, which runs Tuesday through Thursday. Technically, the company still refers to the trade-show portion of TechX as “PC Expo” but has added additional conferences and events, making the overall show the larger TechX NY.

Ian Fried and Richard Shim contributed to this report.

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