As two major tech conferences--CES and Macworld--compete for attention of gadget fans, Steve Jobs and iPhone steal the spotlight.
In one of the most anticipated gadget announcements in recent years, Jobs kicked off the Macworld Expo by introducing the "iPhone," a mobile device he promised will reinvent the cell phone. The Mac OS X-based iPhone is most akin to an iPod in design, but it enables users to listen to music, make phone calls, send text messages and e-mail, surf the Web, and take and upload photos--all using a wide touch screen and a single button.
Apple plans to make the device available in the United States in June, with a 4GB model going for $499 with a two-year service contract and an 8GB model with the same contract for $599.
Jobs also used his keynote to announce the Apple TV, a home-networking device he first mentioned at a product showcase in September 2006. The device lets users stream content from up to five computers and "autosync" content from iTunes to one computer.
Jobs said that through using iTunes and the iPod, people are already familiar with syncing data, and the Apple TV will be updated in much the same way. The $299 Intel chip-based device will have 720p high-definition video and a 40GB hard drive to store up to 50 hours of video. It will use 802.11n, the new draft Wi-Fi standard. Apple plans to begin taking orders Tuesday and start shipping the product in February.
While it's obvious that mobile-handset makers such as Sony Ericsson, Samsung Electronics, Motorola and LG Electronics, which all make music-playing cell phones, will see the iPhone as a threat, wireless operators such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, which have built their own virtual stores for downloading music, might also be threatened by the new product.
One company unhappy with at least one aspect of the iPhone announcement, Cisco Systems, filed a lawsuit. The networking-gear company accused Apple of infringing Cisco's iPhone trademark. The suit also accuses the iPod maker of using a front company to try to acquire rights to the name.
Cisco said in the complaint that Apple had attempted to get rights to the iPhone name several times, but after Cisco refused, Apple created a front company to try to acquire the rights another way, according to the lawsuit.
Cisco obtained the iPhone trademark in 2000 when it acquired Infogear, a small Redwood City, Calif., start-up that developed consumer devices enabling people to easily access the Internet without a PC.
The iPhone announcement lit up CNET News.com's TalkBack forum, with readers debating the value and innovation of some of the device's features. However, many readers seemed to agree that the new phone would make a big splash in the mobile market.
"The bar for making cell phones good enough to use has been raised," wrote one reader to the forum. "No other phone maker on any continent will be able to ignore what Apple has done."
More gadget madness
Meanwhile, Bill Gates got the ball rolling in Las Vegas with his customary keynote speech opening the Consumer Electronics Show, in which he showed off a new home server and a new crop of small entertainment PCs, as well as new software that will enable the Xbox 360 to serve as a gateway to Internet-based television.
In particular, Gates showed off a number of new PCs designed for the Vista operating system. One of the more striking designs is a round, white Vaio Media Center PC from Sony. Another is an all-in-one from Hewlett-Packard that features a flip-up touch screen.
On the home server front, Microsoft is touting a new crop of devices that consumers can use as a central place to back up and store videos, pictures and music. The devices, due out later this year, are set to use Windows Home Server software from Microsoft and be built by computer makers such as HP, which will offer the MediaSmart Server.
In the first of a two-part interview, Gates talked with CNET News.com about why the average person wants a server, why they won't need a degree in computer science to run it and what hurdles remain before consumers reach the true digital home.
Even before the show began, participants were making big announcements. One of the "biggest" came from Sharp Electronics, which took the wraps off a 108-inch LCD television, which it called the world's largest. The market for these behemoth liquid crystal displays is small, but Sharp executives noted that prices over time decline and that other large TVs have found customers despite early skepticism. The 108-incher comes out this summer for an as-yet-unspecified price.
Consumers will welcome news of LG's Super Multi Blue, the first high-definition DVD player that can play discs from the competing Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats. This combo player, and others touted at CES, could put to rest talk of a format war between the two camps. Both Blu-ray and HD DVD have lined up movie studios, as well as consumer electronics and IT companies, on their respective sides, but LG is the first to make a device that acommodates both.
On the Hill
A divisive proposal requiring all network operators to abide by strict Net neutrality principles resurfaced in the U.S. Senate. As expected, Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan teamed up again to introduce what appears to be an identical version of their bill, known as the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, which died in the Senate last year.
The Snowe-Dorgan legislation would bar network operators from blocking or degrading access to Internet content and services, and from preventing consumers from connecting external devices to the network, with exceptions for security and other consumer protection purposes.
Another legislative revival focuses on proposals aimed at stiffening regulations on stewards of personal data. A similar proposal died in Congress last year, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reintroduced a pair of bills that would attempt to set national requirements for consumer notification in the event of data security breaches and to restrict the sale, purchase and display of Social Security numbers.
Under one of Feinstein's proposals, any federal agency or business that "uses, accesses, transmits, stores, disposes of or collects sensitive personally identifiable information" would be required to notify any U.S. resident whose data may have been compromised by a security breach "without unreasonable delay."
More than a week after Democrats seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives, their main Web site has been offline for at least that long, and two other sites have been down for shorter periods. HouseDemocrats.gov, according to a home page cached by Google on December 22, once spelled out the party's "New Direction for America," a wide-ranging agenda spanning economic policy, retirement, health care, national security, education and the environment.
A representative for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office is responsible for the site, said it has been offline while its servers undergo "revamping." He assured CNET News.com that the venture would go live again by next week--though he later revised that projection to before President Bush's January 23 State of the Union address.
Also of note
Putting lingering questions about software update timing to rest, Microsoft has announced that the new version of Office for Mac will arrive in the second half of this year...A serious security flaw in Mac OS X leaves machines with Apple's Safari Web browser vulnerable to hijack by outsiders...The data broker charged with federal crimes for his role in the Hewlett-Packard news leak probe will testify against other defendants, according to sources close to the case.