Gadget envy? Just give in

Sometimes, around this time of year, it's good to set practicalities aside and remind yourself how fun technology can be. That's why we got into IT to begin with, right? Not because of budgets, audits, and Gantt charts.

I got a reminder of this last week watching the Wall Street Journals' Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher -- along with special guest Chad Hurley, cofounder of YouTube -- demo their favourite geek gadgets at a Churchill Club event in Silicon Valley. Mossberg opened by saying that 2006 was a weak year for new tech gadgets, dominated by incremental improvements rather than breakthrough devices. But he expects 2007 to be a great year, and he backed it up by showing a parade of cool and wacky toys:

For the office: a USB hamster wheel, with fake hamster, you can plug into your machine. The faster you type, the faster the hamster wheel spins.

For the airplane: a video headset the size of a wrap-around pair of sunglasses, which apparently simulates the quality of a 50-inch hi-def display (although as Mossberg joked, "People always exaggerate size").

For the family: a true high-def 1080i camcorder (I seem to recall Sony or Panasonic) that can record 7 minutes on a 4GB memory card, and will be introduced next month at a retail price of US$1,000 (AUD$1259). To which I can only say ... Wow!

For the bedroom: a furry alarm-clock size Linux-based device called a Chumby, which downloads widgets via your laptop and uses them to display weather, news headlines, sports scores, and so on.

For the disco floor: a 1970s-style belt buckle video display which also displays groovy psychedelic swirling patterns.

Mossberg and Co. also showed off the new $150 machine, cell phones with real-time GPS navigation, and 2-megapixel cameras, watches that record up to 12 hours of MP3 audio (watch what you say!), noise-canceling Bluetooth headsets that connect to your jawbone for greater accuracy, eBook devices that finally work, and a digital star gazer that talks to you in detail about the constellation you're looking at.

Video was a main theme, and the panelists agreed that storage needs will continue to skyrocket as millions of people start using these new gadgets. They also said the government needs to intervene to get America back on par with broadband in other countries, because U.S. telecom providers (which Mossberg called "the Soviet Ministries") lag way behind their foreign counterparts on feeds and speeds.

Mossberg recalled recently getting 30Mbps at a pub in a remote Irish town (vs. the sub-1Mbps he gets with his home DSL), and said many foreign technologists view the United States "as a Third World country" when it comes to broadband. The panelists also noted that wireless and home networking, particularly the self-discovery part, needs to get better and easier to use.

For IT this means that at a minimum, you should go out and buy yourself one or two of these toys just to enjoy them. You deserve it. It could also be that your internal customers will want some of these toys too -- so it's good to know what's out there before they start popping up on your network.

Finally, it could be that some of these wacky new toys, and even services (check out spark some creative thinking on how your enterprise can leverage consumer technology more effectively next year. Happy holidays!