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Five Big Tech Trends to Watch in 2004

Big screen sets could drop to $2,000 by next Christmas, according to market researchers Envisioneering Group. All this is bad news for companies such as Sony (SNE) that still insist on making the guts that go into their own consumer electronics. But it's great news for companies such as Dell Computer (DELL) that have mastered the art of using what I call other people's components to drive down the costs of their own finished goods. Dell already sells a 30-inch liquid crystal display TV for $3,000. I can't wait to see what the company can do once it gets really serious about this business. To ride this next big thing, I'd pick Intel and Dell Computer.

Do You Speak RFID?

Get used to it. This is the tech acronym most likely to get big media play in 2004. It stands for Radio Frequency Identification Tracking, and with Wal-Mart (WMT), the Pentagon, Visa and American Express (AXP) behind it, the technology will generate a lot of excitement in 2004.

The idea is simple: A tiny radio transmitter embedded in a tag printed on a product (much like today's bar code) or in a credit card or a cell phone transmits a radio signal that allows a retailer to charge your credit card without a swipe, to track the location of any product as it makes its way from plant to store to consumer, to keep even more detailed records on who buys what and where and when.

The Pentagon has said that its top 100 suppliers -- that's out of 43,000, mind you -- will have to implement RFID by January 2005. Wal-Mart is rolling out its program at about the same pace. Visa and American Express have pilot programs going to test the technology. Private companies such as Alien Technology of Morgan Hill, Calif., and Matrics, Inc. of Columbia, Md., both working with the Pentagon, are hot among venture capitalists.

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