LAS VEGAS (
) -- Could 2010 be the year of the small-business gadget?
Yes, the buzz at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is mostly big announcements by, and for, big companies.
and its Android OS are taking on
and the rest of the mobile-device market. A new generation of e-readers is gunning for the
Kindle and the Nook from
Barnes & Noble
. And ESPN jump-started the 3-D TV space with a new network and flock of 3-D TVs from everybody from
But behind these mega trends, the Planet Small Biz is getting some tech love. I am finding a surprising number of cheap, effective and directly useful small-business tools here in the high desert. None of these will score points with tech fashionistas.
But for those of us who count on technology to help us make our living, these are the tools to look for in the coming year:
1. An office life for your laptop -- HP USB 2.0 Docking Station ($99):
This boring-looking $99 black box might, in fact, be the SMB wonder tool for 2010. The HP USB 2.0 Docking Station enables full-motion video to be carried via any USB connection between a laptop and a PC or display. Better yet, the system requires no tricky software to install: Simply connect that beaten-up road warrior laptop of yours to the docking station. Then connect whatever monitor or monitors you have. And poof! Your laptop's screen is rendered across all your screens. No clicking. No applications to run. Just plug in the your computer, your monitors. Turn 'em all on and they are done. How cool is that?
2. A truly low-cost PC -- Compulab Fit PC 2 (starts at $245):
We live in the age of the digital office. Everything from office phones to office data now is hosted on computers. The thing is, for these PCs to work, they have to stay on day and night. And there's the rub: Most cheap desktop PCs are basically SUVs of power consumption -- they gobble up voltage. And burn money. Enter Isreali-based Compulab. The company has developed a super-cheap, super-small PC that runs on a fraction of the juice of a full-sized computer. If you even have a few ancient Windows 2000 computers that are dedicated to, say, your computerized phone system or document server, these units will pay for themselves almost immediately.
3. Killer sales tools -- 3M MPro 150 Pico Projector ($385):
Meet the ultimate pocket-pitch tool: the
MPro 150 Pico Projector. The MPro is part of a growing family of palm-sized projectors. It throw a respectable 12-inch image on any wall. The units can be driven by any portable digital device, from an
iPhone to a
BlackBerry. And as a business owner myself, I've been a big fan of Pico projectors as a way to drive a sales message since they hit the market last year. But not many others have: Sales have been soft. 3M is betting that more robust cell phones, a more mobile and sales-conscious workforce, and improved design will push this product deeper into the market. The company has loaded the 150 with more connectivity and brighter imaging. If you're looking for a gadget that will get a client's attention, try this little sucker. I dug it.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.