To say that it has been a downer lately for the NASDAQ is something of an understatement. After falling now for eight consecutive sessions, the tech-heavy index has gone beyond the proverbial woodshed beating.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that after being soundly pummeled behind the shed, the index has since been nuked. It’s been that bad.
Since hitting its highs on Halloween, the NASDAQ is down by over 15% to start the New Year. Scary stuff.
But although the tech sector has fallen on hard times, the show itself goes on. That’s the story at least from the Consumer Electronics Show, where the Tech Trends for 2008 and beyond are being unveiled this week. Nearly 3,000 electronics, Internet and software companies have invaded Las Vegas, showing off their latest innovations while conducting forums with industry insiders and government policymakers.
And as usual, it’s "transformation" that is on the lips of practically every presenter as a future filled with new technologies fills the halls.
"Second Digital Decade" Top Tech Trend
Among them, of course, was Bill Gates with his take on the coming "digital decade."
In his keynote speech on Sunday, Gates predicted the coming ten years will deliver great technological changes.
"The first digital decade has been a great success," Gates said. "This is just the beginning. There is nothing holding us back from going much faster and further in the second digital decade."
Now, Gates said, the goal will be providing people with tools to stay connected from wherever they are. That means deeper connectivity for the more than 40 percent of people on the planet who have mobile telephones, along with the more than a billion personal computers at use in the world.
Gates also said high-definition video experiences "will be everywhere," from televisions to wall projections and even built into desks or tables.
Echoing those sentiments was Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel. "The Internet is a disruptive force that is changing the consumer electronics industry," Otellini said in a speech on Monday, "I submit we are just getting started."
To make that point, Otellini demonstrated a prototype handheld device that combined satellite positioning technology with translation software, image recognition and mobile Internet connectivity. The gizmo can determine where it is, download the applicable maps and language information and essentially act as a personal tour guide, translator and local business reference guide.
In a demonstration, the device translated restaurant and street signs in a faux Chinese stage setting after being pointed towards them.
"Doing things like real-time translation and augmented reality will require exponentially more powerful processors that are also using exponentially less power," Otellini said.
"You may argue over when this will happen, but I believe it is inevitable," he continued. "More and more industries are going to be transformed."
The Show-Stealing Gadgets
Already transforming those industries are some of the gadgets that are on display at the show.
These gadgets and devices include:
- Matsushita Life Screen 150-inch plasma TV: This baby is nothing less than the Hummer of the TV world. It measures twelve feet diagonally and offers four times the resolution of a high-definition 1080 pixel screen. It has the screen size of nine 50 inch plasma TVs–practically a video wall. No price yet.
- Sony XEL-1 OLED TV: Sony’s first television for the U.S. to use organic light-emitting diode technology, which enables superior picture quality on super-thin displays. The XEL-1 offers a contrast ratio of 1 million to 1, because pixels can be turned off completely for a near-perfect black–more than 30 times sharper than a conventional flat-panel screen. Price: $2,500.00
- GM’s Driverless Car: It’s only a prototype and won’t actually hit the streets for another ten years, but it does give cruise control a whole new meaning. The system employs GPS, cameras, radar, and a set of preprogrammed "manners" to speed drivers along while they read the paper or more likely surf the net. Spooky.
- Take the Net for a Ride: Now I’m not really sure whether this is a good idea, but it does seem inevitable: Internet access in the car. Autonet Mobile Inc. offers a small box for car trunks that takes a mobile broadband signal and uses Wi-Fi to relay it to portable computers in the car, so people can browse the Internet in the vehicle. Price: $399.
- Motorola ROKR E8: Motorola’s answer to the iPhone. With its innovative design, music player, web browser, camera, and Bluetooth support, it’s quickly becoming the show’s best gadget. The new ROKR has an FM radio and a two-gigabyte internal memory card that can store up to 1,500 songs. Better yet, it has an airplane mode that allows you to take those tunes airborne. Price: to be determined.
The Biggest Tech Trend of Them All
But as cool and innovative as all of the technology at the show has been this year, the biggest tech trend of 2008 might actually be a weakening consumer market. That, of course, means fewer sales no matter how impressive the gadget may be.
Nonetheless, the Consumer Electronics Association forecasts U.S. sales this year will rise to $171 billion, up from an estimated $161 billion in 2007. That’s a 6.21% gain, down from last year when sales increased by 8.2%.
That predicted contraction has pushed the Standard and Poor’s Retail Index down seven percent this year and led to a host of downgrades within the industry. In fact, on Monday Bear Stearns downgraded Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) to "underperform" from "outperform."
"Given recent macro data, including worrisome trends in payroll reports, this sector is positioned poorly in such an environment," wrote Bear Stearns analyst Christopher Horvers in the note.
With all of the signs now pointing towards a recession this year, that could mean some more rough days ahead for the NASDAQ.
Wishing you happiness, health, and wealth,
Steve Christ, Editor