DEMO 08 showcases ‘power of the individual’

When listening to the pitches of more than 75 companies at DEMO last week in Palm Desert, Calif., I focused on products and services that would enhance my life or make me more productive.

This year’s crop of companies and products did not disappoint, as there are several new things I want to get my hands on over the next few months. The latest batch of technology offerings are focusing on the "power of the individual" to accomplish things that previously required professional assistance. Whether it’s bridging the gap between multimedia Flash programming and regular business users, or providing services for individuals to plan for their retirement on their own or choose a new school for their child, the new offerings are giving unprecedented power to the individual. Here’s a small sampling of some of my favorites:

Lots of people were grumbling that they’ve seen the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen before (the pen itself was announced last year), but at DEMO the company announced that the pen is part of an overall platform that includes desktop software and a platform for developers to create new applications. The Pulse looks a lot like previous digital pens, which record handwriting samples on special paper that can be uploaded to a PC for handwriting transcription and archiving purposes. But unlike previous devices that attempted pen-based computing, the Pulse includes computing power on the pen itself. This allows for additional features unseen before, such as a digital audio recorder for use during note-taking activities, and a language-conversion feature that translates English words to Spanish, Mandarin or Arabic. Writing the word "one" or "please" on a piece of paper, and then hearing the pen say "uno" and "por favor" is pretty amazing. The pen is expected to ship by the end of the first quarter, with two models available – a 1GB model for $149 (about 100 hours of recording time), and a 2GB model for $199 (about 200 hours of recording time).

Livescribe’s Smartpen gets even smarter.

While I still have some time to start looking for schools for my kids (some would say I’m already behind), at least I’ll have Education.com’s new SchoolFinder Web site and service. The new application lets parents look for and evaluate schools (elementary through high school) to find "the best fit for their kids." The site aims to have a nationwide database (100,000 public, private and charter schools) combined with community reviews and advanced search features, giving parents the tools to select a school that’s most appropriate for their children. A cool feature includes maps and demographic information that let parents see the boundaries of school districts for those considering moving to a new area. The Web site is expected to launch next month.

Like looking for a new school, financial planning for couples and individuals has been left in the hands of professional planners or large firms. Voyant’s new Voyant@Home aims to put the power of financial-planning tools in the hands of the individual. Its graphical Web-based tool can forecast financial status for years to come, and show the impact of retirement planning, buying new homes, paying for college, etc. A community of other users and experts is also available for users who might have specific questions about their financial-planning goals.

That’s just a small sample of the new stuff at DEMO 08. Be sure to head to NetworkWorld.com for more podcasts, videos and blog items from the show.

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