The Tokyo version of Macworld Expo always comes off brighter, perkier, and quite different from the Macworld shows held in Boston and San Francisco. Booths are generally larger, have more staff, and the "booth babe" is a staple of nearly every venue. If one thing stands out, it's the diversity of products. In addition to items seen at the U.S. shows, Macworld Tokyo features an entire hemisphere's worth of products, ideas, and technologies. Our mission was to ferret out products that aren't generally available in the U.S. or aren't widely known by the Mac community in the States.
Digital Cameras -- Our first quest sent us on the rounds of the digital camera vendors. The roll-out of Apple's new QuickTake 200 camera begs comparison to some new products offered by Japanese companies. We tried to limit ourselves to notable cameras in the $250 to $1,500 range.
Fujifilm was demonstrating its new Fujix DS-300 camera. Although one of the more expensive offerings (educated guesses put it around $1,400), it packs a lot of capability into a package the size of a normal SLR 35 mm camera. In addition to RS-232 and NTSC interfaces, this camera boasts a PC Card slot and a SCSI interface. But the big surprise is a whopping 1280 by 1000 high-resolution mode. You can save 8 photos at this resolution in JPEG or TIFF format, 30 in "fine" resolution, 62 in the normal 640 by 480 mode, and 121 photos in "basic" mode, with reduced resolution. This camera takes normal 35 mm lenses, and the CCD will emulate film speeds from ISO 100 to ISO 400.
At the other end of the price spectrum was Panasonic's Cool Shot (KXL-600A-N). This pistol-grip camera is about the size of a 3" by 5" index card, less than an inch thick, and fits comfortably in your palm. It avoids the battery-sucking color LCD viewfinders of its competitors, opting for the simple point-and-shoot viewfinder lens found one-button film cameras. The Cool Shot accepts standard Type 2 PC Cards and stores either 24 640 by 480 images or 96 320 by 240 images on a 2 MB card. The major attraction of this camera is its small size and the one-hand operation allowed by its unique form factor. It has an optional external LCD viewer, a docking station for use with a desktop computer, and software for Macs and PCs. Prices range from $400 to $800.
New lines of cameras from Ricoh and Sharp also caught our attention. Sharp's new camera was a PC Card with a built-in digital camera. Designed to work with the Zaurus color PDA, the card could be popped from a portable power supply into a laptop where the images could be accessed immediately. Ricoh's DC-2 camera series has the unique ability to capture not only still images, but full-motion video and/or audio soundtracks and annotations. The basic stills-only model (DC-2E) starts around $650, with the 2L and 2V models including video and audio capabilities for about $800 and $950 respectively.
Pioneering Macs -- Though Apple's new hardware announcements were a big hit, Pioneer was showing a couple of new Macs that would be welcome on my desktop. The Pioneer clones packed serious horsepower in a mini tower package with features that are unavailable in the U.S. right now. The most exciting feature was CHRP (PPCP) compliance, with the MPC-GX2 model running the CHRP version of System 7.6. Powered by a 200 MHz 604e with 32 MB of memory and 512K of L2 cache, the box seemed very responsive. In addition to the usual Macintosh ports, this box sports four PCI slots, one ISA slot, two IDE channels, a 2 GB SCSI hard disk, and the usual set of mouse, serial, and parallel ports found on an Intel PC. Best of all, a DVD-ROM drive tops the tower. The demo was playing a full-screen version of the latest James Bond movie, Goldeneye, while running System 7 applications in the foreground. Most impressive. Retail prices weren't available but prices seemed to start around $3,500.
Read My Mind -- Other notable hardware included revised versions of the AtMark Pippin boxes and the IBVA brainwave hardware, which had the coolest demo of all, with direct brainwave-to-MIDI output allowing the user to "think" new music. The new software has an open plug-in architecture that allows you to hook the brainwave hardware and software to nearly any Mac application through the addition of scripts and so on. The possibilities seem novel and exciting, though the cost in Japan was around $1,000 for the wireless headset, base station, and associated software.
Englishbonics -- On the software front, one of the more useful products was an English language tutor called English Now! from Transparent Language, Inc. This product combines, written, spoken, and visual elements into a system that provides a comprehensive language learning environment. Features include the ability to see English text as each word is highlighted and spoken in a variety of synthesized voices, record your own voice and compare it to sonographs of correctly spoken words, and numerous lessons and games involving translating Japanese text to English and vice versa, spoken text into written words, etc. I was very impressed with the completeness of the package. English Now! costs approximately $100 on CD-ROM for both Mac and Windows.
Overall -- There was more to see than we were able to get to during our two days at the show. Apple's new hardware was nice, but incremental in its innovation. I give a big thumbs up to the Pioneer clones (and Pioneer's side-by-side demo of a 25-inch, flat panel LCD display - a mere two inches thick!) as the cool hardware for the show, followed closely by the IBVA package. Cool software definitely goes to English Now! Though I'm no expert in computer-aided language instruction, it seemed to me that you could succeed in learning English if you worked through its lessons.