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Final thoughts on a packed DemoFall

Despite a strong challenge from TechCrunch 50, the technology products showcase was packed, and several identifiable trends dominated.

For the 122 companies that were featured presenters at DemoFall and TechCrunch50 this week, the pressure of making their cases onstage to the audiences of press, venture capitalists, and analysts is now over.

To be sure, those companies now have to make good on the products they introduced, and the market will soon make it very clear who the winners and losers are.

But as the dust settles from DemoFall, where I and my colleague Elinor Mills spent Sunday through Tuesday watching dozens of companies' presentations and talking to many of the people behind those products, I have a few thoughts on the event to share.

First, despite TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington's obvious desire to kill Demo as an important place for many tech companies to launch their products, the fact that TC50 happened at the same time did not have any noticeable effect on Demo.

I say that as someone who spent Sunday evening trying to work the crowd at the traditional first-night cocktail party hosted by Demo lead organizer Chris Shipley and her team. If there was any less attendance at the event due to the timing of TC50, it certainly was belied by the crush of people standing around drinking and talking, making it nearly impossible to move around, and by the packed auditorium at the Sheraton San Diego, where DemoFall took place.

Arrington also told me last week that he expected most of the technology press to be at his event. And not being there--several CNET colleagues covered that show--I can't speak to how many were. But I can say that the press section at Demo was no less full than at any previous iteration of the event I've been to. And the press section on the Demo Web site on Wednesday has links to many dozens of stories written during the two days, which indicates to me that the companies presenting at Demo got a pretty significant amount of coverage.

And because I gather TC50 had a pretty healthy crowd as well, I conclude that despite the meager state of the economy today, there is ample interest in new technology products, especially those that are Internet-related, as nearly every one of the ones at Demo was and, I gather, at TC50 as well.

So, absent any "Demo is dying" story line, the focus fairly needs to be put squarely on the companies that presented and their products.

As with any such conference, there was a wide spectrum of quality among the 72 companies that took the stage for six minutes apiece Monday and Tuesday. I've been to four previous Demos, and this one felt very much like the others. Indeed, the structure is the same each time, with very little variance. And why not? If your formula works, why alter it?

There were certainly a few stand-out companies, and perhaps the most impressive of the 72 presentations was one by Plastic Logic, which showed off its ultra-thin e-Reader. I think we still have a long way to go before this kind of device is mainstream, but the one Plastic Logic showed Monday morning was the best I've yet seen. The prototype the company showed was light, supposedly has long battery life, and can display on its rather wide screen books, newspapers, magazines, PDFs, and many other documents.

There were also a few easy-to-identify trends, and fortunately, those trends were different than in previous years.

In the past, I had felt Demo put far too much emphasis on photo- and video-sharing services: Over the four previous times I'd attended, I'd seen so many different versions of the same basic business model that I wondered if any of the companies behind them had ever heard of YouTube or Flickr.

This time, to me, the most interesting trend, as I wrote Tuesday, was companies building either entire businesses or significant parts of their businesses on iPhone applications.

I didn't talk to every company that showed at Demo this week, but I identified at least 10 different iPhone app plays, and Shipley herself had told me informally at the Sunday night cocktail party that she expected around a couple of dozen iPhone apps to be shown during the two days, either on the stage during the companies' six-minute presentations or on the show floor when they have a little more time to explain themselves and what they're doing.

Mapflow's application designed to help drivers offset some of the cost of commuting by using their iPhones to find riders was just one of many products shown at DemoFall for Apple's hit mobile device. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

In addition to iPhone applications, Facebook was another target market for new product development at the show.

Among them: iWidgets, which launched a service that helps brands syndicate their content on Facebook member pages, and social sharing platform Kadoo, which allows people to share their Facebook data with anyone, whether or not they are on that network. SkyData lets people get their Facebook information on their mobile device; and FamilyBuilder is letting people link together family tree information from Facebook and other social networks.

Another area of concentration was search. Intelius launched iSearch, which offers comprehensive people search; Semanti offered up its semantic-based Web search SemantiFind; Infovell introduced a new way to mine the deep Web of unstructured data that is hidden from major search engines; and Rebus Technology's desktop search helps people find digital documents as well as paper documents that are faxed and scanned.

Other presentations were geared toward empowering consumers. RealNetworks introduced RealDVD for people who want to rip DVDs to their hard drive just like they do CDs. HeyCosmo helps automate party and event planning, even making phone calls for you . And Message Sling's new hands-free service lets people use voice commands to retrieve and send e-mails and text messages over their mobile phone, as well as send dictated text messages, use voice to reply to e-mail messages, and listen to text-based messages. And for the online news junkies among us, SpinSpotter debuted its new service that lets readers un-spin the news they read.

Some presenters also aimed to solve security problems that plague consumers and corporations. For instance, Usable Security Systems has come up with a way for people to remember only one password for every site they log into on the Web. Maverick Mobile introduced a service that helps people locate and disable lost or stolen phones. Unity Solutions introduced Lanxoma, software that will allow executives to keep an eye on IT workers in the hopes of reducing insider security threats. And CoreTrace's Bouncer software automatically creates a white list of safe applications and blocks applications that aren't on the list that could contain malicious software. And Fortressware offers protection against data leaks, allowing companies to block printing, copying, and forwarding of sensitive documents.

Probably the biggest company to present a new product was Best Buy, which launched a service dubbed Giftag that lets people create wish lists composed of items from anywhere on the Web.

All in all, Demo proved it was alive and well. It lured a large crowd, a significant number of press outlets, and even featured an onstage discussion between influential tech writers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

I wrote in April that the winner of the DemoFall/TC50 showdown would be the one that got Mossberg. But in the end, it wasn't at all about which event carried the day, since it seems both had packed houses and energized companies.

The winner, one hopes, will end up being the companies whose products end up making differences in real people's lives.

CNET News' Elinor Mills contributed to this report.