My cab is flying along the East River Drive at about 80 miles an hour. I tighten my seat belt and pull out my Palm. I click on Citysearch.com and proceed to the entertainment section, hoping to buy a ticket to Annie Get Your Gun at the Marquis Theatre. After I choose the type of seat I want, a message pops onto my screen: "The requested content contained an unsupported content type. Note the error and contact the developer of this query." I picture a lonely developer sitting in a windowless office in a Manhattan startup. I imagine storming up to his desk. "I want to see Annie Get Your Gun. Why aren't you supporting my content type?" I demand. The developer bursts into tears.
I am getting tired and cranky. Time to make a coffee stop. The Starbucks locator app comes through again.
Recaffeinated, I enter the Wall Street offices of Mobilocity.net, an IT consultancy that specializes in mobile and wireless technology. Engineers in the company's "mobility lab" are testing gadgets and technologies such as wireless application protocol (WAP), i-Mode wireless Internet service from Japan's NTT DoCoMo and Voice XML, many of which are not quite ready for mass use in the United States. Goran Arbanas, the lab's chief, demonstrates a PocketPC with a streaming video clip from a new sci-fi movie called Red Planet. Arbanas and his colleagues acknowledge that finding the wireless applications that will lead to easy use and mass adoption is so far elusive. "It's a question of finding the compelling applications versus those that are just for show," says Justin Weiss, who was the company's business development manager at the time. Weiss adds that easy transactions such as retail purchases will come later. Mobilocity.net isn't alone. Engineers at several other nearby "labs," including Ericsson's research and development CyberLab NY, are in a race to find the most compelling services. Watching Red Planet will not be one of them.
A crowd of about 300 nattily dressed entrepreneurs and business executives sit like well-behaved schoolchildren before a panel of wireless experts at a midtown gathering titled "The Wireless Revolution: Science Fiction, Reality, or a Little of Both?"