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Most Promising Launches at Demo

I always look forward to the twice-yearly Demo conference, where new products, from (mostly) new companies are introduced to an audience of investors and press.

This is the conference where the original Palm Pilot was introduced, as well as the Tivo. Some big launches haven't faired as well, though: The Pleo robotic pet comes to mind.

Before the latest DemoFall 09 conference kicked off, I wrote a "What to watch" story covering what I thought would be the hot products at the show.

As usual, I identified a few of the interesting companies, missed some others, and misidentified some that I thought would be hot but weren't.

Now that the show is over and I've spent time with almost all the products introduced there, I've picked out my top winning products, companies and concepts. I paid no attention to the wisdom of the crowds nor to the official Demo God Awards handed out at the show.

In my mind, perhaps uniquely, these were the five most interesting Demo launches:

Emo Labs has invented a way to send high-quality sound through a clear, flat panel that can be placed on top of a flat-screen TV or a computer monitor. The demo rocked and the business is straightforward: Sell technology licenses to Sony, Panasonic, Apple, etc. Great demo, great tech, great business.

Emo Labs: Audio speakers

The most disruptive business was Cortera, which I called "dullest of Demo" in my write-up on Tuesday. This company does credit ratings for business. Stay awake, though: It's a $42 billion global business dominated in the U.S. by Dun & Bradstreet.

Cortera's system is cheaper to run and makes for much less expensive reports for users. It could expand the market for credit reporting to more businesses and win a financially significant portion of the market, too.

Tiny Cortera Swings for Dun & Bradstreet

(CNET/ Rafe Needleman)
Another financial player, Point of Wealth, makes a "reverse ATM" that lets people who are paid in cash deposit their money to cover bills, pay into retirement funds, and top-up prepaid credit cards. It's a good service for the "unbanked," as they say, and a solid business. It will take a small fee (in the $1 to $2 range) for each transaction.

(Left: Some machines eat your money, but Point of Wealth's "reverse ATM" is supposed to.)

Point of Wealth: The Reverse ATM

More television viewing is moving to the Web, and Twirl TV adds a social layer to that activity. A compelling and simple viewer for streaming TV shows available online, it also makes it easy to start conversations on Facebook about those shows. You can also see what your friends are watching and if they haven't watched the latest show you like, and give them a hard time about it either way. It's the selection of content combined with a user experience that's no more complicated than it needs to be that makes it work.

Venture Beat: Twirl TV

Zorap was one of several video chat services introduced at Demo, but it looks like the easiest and most of the bunch. While the demo showed the product being used as a fun family chat room, it also showed how very easy it was to share pictures, videos and files with participants - which is valuable for people in business as well. The product lacks sufficient security layers for the workplace at the moment, but otherwise you've got a fun, easy, and capable tool for real-time sharing and conversation.

TechCrunch: Zorap

Booby Prizes:

Some of the most popular products at Demo are not in my list. I left out Datecheck, for example. This was a very fun demo of a free public records look-up service from Intelius. From a marketing perspective it's a hit, but technologically it's just a coat of paint on the Intelius system - and, if you want deeper data than Datecheck provides, you have to pay for it. Other clever products seemed more like features than standalone companies; TrafficTalk comes to mind.

DemoFall 09 was a strong conference with a wide range of clever ideas. Despite my criticism of the Demo conference itself, it is always great fun to see the innovation that gathers at this show twice a year.
By Rafe Needleman