While a few eccentric products always grab the spotlight at CeBIT computing trade shows, the bread-and-butter devices of the upcoming expo in Germany will be personal computers and laptops for a networked society.
The CeBIT will show off the newest developments in computers, software and IT
The German organizers of the March 3-8 high-tech fair say today's World Wide Web society, which they shorten to "webciety," will be a key theme.
Netbooks will be all the rage at this year's CeBIT
They explain that the Internet -- like no other medium before it -- permeates every area of our lives, changing the rules of business, education and public administration. A networked society needs to stay online in every room and out on the road.
The nifty little netbooks which have been selling like hot cakes since making a splash at the last CeBIT are the devices that live this dream: permanently connected to the internet via embedded UMTS, the fastest mobile-phone signal currently available.
"They are also ultra-lightweight and have long battery life," explained a salesman for Asus, the Taiwanese manufacturer which scored a big success last year with its simple little Eee range.
A netbook's battery life should be long enough for "all-day computing," defined by Asus as an eight-hour day without a recharge.
Baby boomers like their TVs
While these tiny computers grab all the attention, vendors have never completely given up on the idea that older internet users might prefer to surf the web using enormous flat-panel televisions.
A key reason for this is the discovery that middle-aged people retain an almost obsessive affinity with their TV sets. Oddly, neither the old nor young people are quite as TV-centered.
California will be the first state to be the official partner of the CeBIT trade fair
Klaus Boehm of the US-based consultancy firm Deloitte quotes from a recent international survey by his company. Pollsters discovered for example 75 percent of German baby boomers (the 44-60 age group) thought the TV, not the computer, was the most important device in their homes for hearing about the world outside.
The survey, "The State of Media Democracy," was conducted in five nations including the United States, Japan and Brazil.
Curiously, both mature people (over 60) and the young put a higher value on computers as the best way to stay informed.
As if to meet the needs of boomers, Asus has announced the Eee Keyboard, a wireless computer that uses a TV screen, due for release at the end of this year's second quarter.
The product, first disclosed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this January in Las Vegas, has only a tiny 5-inch status display and is mainly a keyboard. Entertainment and web pages must be viewed on a television, connected to the device by wireless.
Exhibitor numbers plummet
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will open the CeBIT
The number of exhibitors at the world's biggest high-tech fair will be off by more than a quarter due to the impact of the global economic slump.
Some 4,300 firms from 69 countries will be displaying their latest gadgets, down from 5,845 companies last year, the fair's host Deutsche Messe said in a statement.
"Given the depth of the world economic crisis, this number represents a success," Deutsche Messe board member Ernst Raue said.
He said some companies were returning after a long absence from the event in the northern city of Hanover, including Nokia Siemens Networks and e-commerce specialist Intershop. Another 200 exhibitors are attending for the first time.
This year's CeBIT features California, the place where personal computing began, as special partner. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, the fair's guest of honor, will open the event.