Hands full of information

Computer World –

Inspector Gadget would be envious. To combine voice, data and a small television screen, for optimum communication at all times with Chief, the cartoon hero needed a gizmo the size of a grown man -- his own body. Soon, road warriors will be able to keep tabs on home base with a machine that fits in their hands.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc. has a device expected to come out of carrier-grade testing in Europe by the end of this week and to be available soon thereafter. The same model is slated for release in the U.S. in the first quarter of next year.

The Accompli 009 is supposed to give users General Packet Radio Service access for the first time to voice communications, the Web on a color screen, messaging and some personal digital assistant (PDA) functions. And all this will come on a wireless device approximately the size of a PDA, such as Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc.'s Palm Pilot.

There are messaging devices that do everything but run on wireless phone access, and there are wireless phones that are partially Web-enabled but can't really be used for messaging, because just typing a message with a telephone keypad can be a nightmare.

At a meeting in September of the Arlington, Va.-based Electronic Messaging Association, e-mail administrators considered the possibilities of wireless communications somewhat bemusedly: They were surrounded by a panoply of wireless devices, but the 11,000-foot peaks at Snowbird Utah, gave them varying connective ability.

The administrators talked about a future in which they would be able to call into a unified messaging mailbox to get e-mail, voice and fax messages and calendar reminders. Then, with the flip of a clamshell, they could whisk off replies with the same wireless device.

The need for new wireless devices is clear, says the "Ferris Analyzer," published by Ferris Research in San Francisco. There's a "lot of action right now among service providers to enable wireless mobile connectivity," according to Ferris.

The Next Step

Combining these technologies is the next step. The hardest part of creating an all-in-one device has been maintaining good radio frequency transmissions while being able to transfer data quickly over the wireless system, says Lloyd Webber, a senior project manager at Motorola.

"Being able to push information through more cheaply" is the goal, says Webber. Data like e-mail, calendar information and voice transmission will be "cost-effective for the operator and [that would be] turned over to the end user," he says.

The Accompli has a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) Internet browser, e-mail and a personal information manager with PC synchronization. It can run on the Global System for Mobile Communications triband wireless frequency; that is, it can send and receive voice and data at 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz or 1,900 MHz. It supports WAP, the de facto standard in Europe and Asia, and will eventually support the Web content-tagging language HTML, says Motorola.

The device will also support Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standards when they are implemented during the next few years, Webber says. That should allow users to travel while coonnected to the Internet through a wireless device without loss of connection between carriers, he says.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., says similar devices expected from Nokia Corp. in Espoo, Finland; Psion Inc. in Concord, Mass.; and LM Ericsson Telephone Co. in Stockholm will tempt gadget hunters, though none may be the complete solution they promise. "They'll be one of about 11," Dulaney says, "I definitely see an uptick in the interest in messaging. . . . Last month, there were 1 billion [short message service] messages in Europe."

"I think this will have some success," Dulaney says, but "there's a number of gotchas here. . . . WAP is not WAP is not WAP. . . . I don't happen to think there's one single device" that will solve the messaging needs for all people.

"The problem with putting a phone in [devices like the Accompli] is it doesn't have the convenience that someone who wants a phone will get," Dulaney says. Phone users want the device to be small, and anything with a clamshell keyboard will have to be relatively large. The converse is also true: "Bigger screens are better for messaging," he says.

And while it may seem great to be able to book a meeting with a colleague while running to catch a plane, "people aren't ready -- at least the systems aren't ready -- for them to start booking that calendar without [the other] people knowing about it," Dulaney says.

He says he sees the solutions in a combination of two devices. "They're going to want a really tiny phone and a messaging device that will connect through Bluetooth," he says. "Every scenario is possible. Each vendor has to have lots of different styles."

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