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Vegas showbiz: 200,000 descend on the desert.

LAS VEGAS -- They guzzled bottled water. They chomped on countless Dove bars. They waited hours for cabs.

They numbered in the hundreds of thousands -- and they were all at Comdex, one of the largest trade shows in the world.

This year's entry drew nearly a quarter of a million people to the middle of the desert to eyeball the fruits of the computer industry.

"The booths get bigger; the crowd gets larger, and the technology advances daily," said Andy Schaeffer, printer product manager for Brother International Corp.

According to Schaeffer and other executives, this year, for the first time, Comdex was heavily promoted overseas -- particularly in the Far East. "Maybe they feel they've tapped out the U.S. market," Schaeffer speculated.

According to a spokeswoman for Softbank, the group that runs Comdex, international participation was indeed much higher this year -- but not because the domestic market was exhausted.

"This has always been an international event," she said. "There was not an added focus. The show just expanded with the market."

According to Softbank, there were 405 exhibitors from outside the U.S., compared with 340 last year, an increase of about 30 percent.

Overall, the show drew a wide spectrum of observations.

Chiman Patel, president of industrial-computer manufacturer WIN Enterprises Inc., likened navigating the labyrinth of Comdex to "trying to cruise the Internet without Yahoo." Patel said it was very difficult to get where he wanted to go quickly, and that he probably won't attend next year. "The success of the show will kill it," he said.

Michael Collins, director of channel marketing for Io-mega, found the traffic engaging. "This is the biggest and best show they have ever had," he said. Collins said he had met with 85 percent of his "market-maker accounts," compared with previous Comdexes, at which he usually met with less than 50 percent.

Sharp Electronics' marketing director, Mary Repke, said of the show: "It has definitely gone to connectivity and communication. Device-to-device integration will drive a lot of software needs." She noted that handheld PCs were among the hot topics on the show floor.

Microsoft's Windows CE has helped throw a spotlight on the handheld category, which was not very successful when it first launched -- as the failure of Apple's Newton attests.

Windows CE is a scaled-down version of Windows 95 and several suppliers -- including Philips, Compaq and LG Electronics -- are offering handhelds that run on the platform.

At the show, Sharp unveiled the latest version of its own handheld device, the Zaurus, which does not run on Windows CE. It does, however, comes packaged with Windows 95 synchronization software.

Sharp welcomes the introduction of the Windows CE devices. "It heightens the awareness level and gives us a broader focus," said Repke.

For Mel Jackson, direct of product management for Number 9, a board and chip supplier, visual technology was the trend with the most sizzle. He was particularly wowed by 3-D games and DVD. "I saw how real those areas will be, how commercially viable -- 3-D certainly this year; DVD next year," he said.

Kicking off this year's Comdex was a keynote speech by Intel's chief executive, Andy Grove. Grove marked the 25th anniversary of the microprocessor, which Intel invented, by offering a brief overview at the accomplishments and innovations of the industry.

Grove predicted that a 10 gigahertz chip is on the horizon, as well as the industry's reaching a critical mass of users -- so long as it can steal people away from their televisions.

"We need this increase [in users] or else this marginal circle where development drives economics will break down," he said.

Microsoft co-founder and chief executive Bill Gates, the second-day keynoter, declared, "The PC platform has proven superior" to any other platform in the computer industry.

He celebrated the RAM price drop, calling it "wonderful" -- adding that "memory vendors may not think that way."

Still, said Gates, "The PC can be viewed as a glass half full." He speculated that in 10 to 20 years, the Internet "will be used on a daily basis."
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Comdex, computer and consumer electronics trade show
Author:Lieber, Ed
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Nov 25, 1996
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