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In the lingo of technology start-ups and venture capitalists, an “elevator pitch” is a short presentation made by entrepreneurs to persuade potential investors to back them.
The twice-yearly Demo conference, held last week in Huntingdon Beach, California, hosted 65 such pitches. They lasted three or six minutes and each was designed to capture the imagination, if not the wallets, of the assembled audience of VCs, analysts and bankers.
As one representative from a large US telecommunications company’s in-house venture group says: “Demo is also a chance to catch up with industry trends and do a ‘reality check’ on our own investments.” He was not disappointed.
Participants were treated to a rapid-fire barrage of demonstrations from some of the most innovative new technology companies that also highlighted interesting trends in the telecoms, information technology and media content sectors.
Among themes highlighted at the latest show by Chris Shipley, Demo’s executive producer, were products and services that aim to simplify access to technology, co-ordinate information and activities or make it easier to find information.
Among the companies with products aimed at simplifying an increasingly complex world for technology users A handful of companies stood out. ActiveWord Systems (www.activewords.com), a Florida-based start-up, was showing the latest version of its InkPad software that enables PC and tablet PC users to invoke application programs, go to websites or retrieve information simply by typing a user-defined keyword or using a tablet stylus to write it. For example, writing “excel” on the screen might open Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet or typing “weather” while holding down the Alt key could fire up a web browser to retrieve the local forecast.
Another company with a clever idea aimed at making life easier for home network users – and those who would like to set up a home network but lack the IT skills – is San Francisco-based Pie (www.pie-home.com). Pie has developed a desktop device that automatically discovers any devices plugged into a home wired or wireless network and then configures, repairs and updates machines when required. The company thinks the technology will appeal to internet service providers and others who face angry customer calls, complaints and costly service visits because of the complexity of home networking.
A third company with a device for making computing easier was United
Keys (www.unitedkeys.com). United was showing a new keyboard equipped with function keys with small LCDs on them that could be programmed to work with particular software applications. So, For example, when Microsoft Word is running they could show the most common functions, and then switch instantly when the user starts a web browser. United plans to ship the 205 Pro keyboard in the first quarter next year.
Two new applications on display, Airena’s Airset (www.airset.com) and EverEZ Systems’ Everdesk, set out respectively to make it easier to organise busy lives and to help PC users keep track of e-mail messages and files on their machines.
Airena’s service is interesting because it is one of the few designed specifically as a mobile personal information manager. It networks and co-ordinates contacts, calendar and appointments stored on mobile phones across a small business group, project team or family and friends.
Everdesk (www.everdesk.com), developed by Isle of Man-based EverEZ, integrates e-mail and file management allowing users to manage e-mail messages side-by-side with files stored in Windows folders.
Meanwhile, another company, EasyReach (www.easy reach.com) demonstrated what it claims is the first service to enable BlackBerry users to search, securely access and share documents back in the office – a service the California-based group says should allow business users and others to leave behind more often their bulky portable PCs when travelling.
Among the companies previewing Wi-Fi related technologies, Houston-based Always-On Wireless (www.alwaysonwireless.com) was showing its WiFlyer+v, a portable communications hub that provides wireless networking and VoIP (voice over internet protocol) services for both business travellers and home users. The device combines a wireless router, VoIP adapter and standard modem to enable wireless data and VoIP calls over an ordinary dial-up or broadband connection. In addition, users with Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones can send and receive calls over a traditional wired landline.
Another company reflecting the buzz and excitement around Wi-Fi and VoIP was TalkPlus (www.callerID.com). TalkPlus used the show to launch Mobile Call Manager, which it claims is the world’s first cellular VoIP service. For $10 a month, mobile phone users can make VoIP calls with existing phones without needing a broadband network.
The service works on selected Brew (Qualcomm) and Java-based mobile phones, allows on-the-move voice conferencing with up to 10 numbers, and includes low rates for international calls. It is expected to be available in trial form shortly.
Another of the show’s themes underlying several new services was the concept of offering consumers a “free” service in return for their willingness to accept targeted advertising.
For example, Jingle Networks (www.jinglenetworks.com) announced a free directory assistance service underwritten by advertisers. Users calling Jingle’s freephone number get the information they are seeking in return for listening to pre-recorded advertisements. Jingle’s software detects the location of the caller and serves up advertisements based on the location and the nature of the inquiry.
Similarly San Fancisco-based Feeva Technology (www.feeva.com) was showing technology that enables content companies and advertisers to deliver relevant location-based advertising to potential customers using the company’s free metropolitan Wi-Fi mesh networks.
Another group of companies at last week’s show fall into a category defined by Ms Shipley as “really big ideas”.
Among them, California-based U3 (www.u3.com) showed off its SmartDrive USB (Universal Serial Bus) technology and software development kit that transforms an ordinary flash memory key from a simple storage device into a smart drive. Flash drive manufacturers including Kensington, SANDisk, Verbatim and Memorex have already begun to roll out SmartDrive-enabled devices.
These allow users to download their favourite desktop applications such as e-mail, web browser and security software on to a tiny USB drive and then run them on any PC simply by plugging the drive into a USB port. Potentially the technology could enable everyone to walk around with a personalised PC in their pocket.
Overall, the conference showed that innovators in technology are trying to respond to users’ demands for more usability - whether in simply accessing technology or in finding and using information better.