Shoppers Flustered by Latest Wave of Internet Gizmos
From Scout Electromedia's now defunct Modo, a wireless gizmo aimed at helping city dwellers find something to do, to the hyped "Internet appliances," Web-based consumer devices seem stuck in a rut.
In what was to have been the era of third-generation mobile telephones and next-generation interactive TV, trying to browse the Web on a handset -- a feat hailed by telephone companies -- can be as awkward as handling chopsticks with boxing gloves.
So much for the perennially promised "convergence," when everyday appliances would meld seamlessly with the Net, unleashing amazing powers, such as a refrigerator that will order milk or eggs over the Internet when it is empty.
At least for this holiday shopping season, the search for the perfect gadget will have to wait another winter.
"How many times have you bought something 'plug and play' but it really wasn't?'' asked Simon Moore as he browsed for a low-tech compact disc case at J&R Computer World in New York, a mega-store of electronics. "They generally don't meet your expectations.''
And sometimes, even when the gadget does what it is supposed to do inexpensively, the start-up company goes bust. What seemed like the perfect hit of the season, the $99 wireless Modo device, turned out otherwise. It was small, it was shaped like a disk, it was hip. Carried anywhere in the city, it told you the hottest events and restaurants close by.
Too bad it didn't work. Just a few months after the device was released, hyped up in bus station ads and written about in the media, the company behind Modo, Scout Electromedia, went belly up. Now it's just a paperweight.
Audrey, Nomads and Waffle Irons
A few aisles down from Moore, 77-year-old Harvey Seifert was pecking away at the keyboard of an iPAQ, a small $599 device from Compaq Computer Corp. that, like several other Internet appliances available, can surf the Web and send e-mail without any software to load.
All Seifert wanted was something he could use to send e-mail to his granddaughter at college, but he seemed confused by the variety of products.
"These terms have no meaning to an average person,'' he said, surrounded by signs blaring words like megabyte and gigahertz.
Then there are some odd "everything'' devices, such as the Fuji FinePix 40i, which sells for about $600. As a camera and digital music player in one, it can take pictures and play Britney Spears' latest hit.
"Why do we need this? Why not a digital camera/waffle iron?" said a recent review of the product on CNET.com, the technology information site owned by CNET Networks Inc.
"The combination falls short of being a winner," the review adds, noting less-than-stellar picture quality and software that slowed a test PC to a crawl.
That's not to say every gadget category is filled with doozies. For music lovers who want all their music on one device, the $500 Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox holds about 1,000 songs and is the size of a portable CD player. Though perhaps the priciest, the jukebox has one of the largest capacity.
And 3Com Corp.'s Audrey, a $499 table-top Internet appliance similar to the iPAQ has been winning praise for its style and ease of use. Audrey will be available by Christmas.
Walking around J&R with a look of skepticism, Hanan Koren may have the right idea. He said he does not trust gadget makers to tell him why their products are worthwhile, and turns instead to independent reviews on the Internet.
Koren also said he does not purchase gadgets in stores because the best deals and the newest devices are on the Net. He prefers a sleek Palm V organizer and connects it with his home PC.
"The things I see in the shops are a little behind the things I know are in the market," he said