On-The-Go Technologies That Will Change Your Life - InformationWeek

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8/18/2006
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On-The-Go Technologies That Will Change Your Life

Six emerging technologies will change the world of communications by letting mobile professionals stay online and in touch

A century ago, communicating in a hurry meant sending a telegram. If you needed to go yourself, you went by train.

Flash forward to today's world of E-mail-ready smart phones and 3G wireless access. If you think those are handy, then get ready: Emerging technology will significantly change how we stay in touch when we're mobile--nearly as much as telephones and airplanes have changed lives over the last 100 years.

We asked several futurists and industry experts to describe these mobile technologies and their impact on our lives. They aren't talking about maybe-someday technologies, but applications that will be here in the next couple of years. Some of them are even available now.

It's a good time to be mobile.

Pay By Phone
The idea of using your phone to make payments has been around for several years. Now it's finally gaining serious traction. In Japan, NTT DoCoMo, that country's largest cellular carrier, launched its mobile wallet program in 2004. There are almost 12 million handsets that support the company's mobile payment system in the hands of DoCoMo users, says Karen Lurker, NTT DoCoMo's U.S. communications manager.

These phones--and ones expected to be introduced soon in the United States--use a wireless technology called Near Field Communications. You wave the phone near a point-of-sale terminal that supports the technology, and it automatically pays for the item.

How? DoCoMo handles payment two ways, Lurker says. The first is its Osaifu-Keitai service, which lets customers download as much as 10,000 yen, or about $95, a month in credits to a phone via the company's i-mode data service. When you wave the phone in front of the terminal, the amount of the purchase is deducted from the credit carried on your phone. The amount you actually spend appears on your monthly cell phone bill, Lurker says.

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With the second method, the phone works like a credit card, with the bill sent to you by the credit card company. Ultimately, you'll be able to download your spending information to software on your PC.

A limiting factor is that merchants must buy new point-of-sale terminals. However, that's starting to happen quickly in Japan. There are about 78,000 stores with terminals that support Osaifu-Keitai and about 25,000 that work with the credit card service. DoCoMo projects a rapid ramp-up.

While U.S. credit card companies say they're working on supporting similar systems, Near Field technology has had a few minor successes here. In particular, Exxon Mobil's Speedpass.

Thirsty? Grab your phone.

Thirsty? Grab your phone.
Commanding Presence
If you use instant messaging, you already know about presence technology, the mechanism that tells you if someone on your IM buddy list is online, offline, busy, or away from the desk. Soon phones and other mobile devices will have supercharged presence capabilities that not only provide details about your availability but also help make you and those you connect with far more efficient and productive.

At a simple level, you'll be able to program presence capabilities so that the phone rings when specified people call while others are automatically routed to voice mail, says Chris Isaac, a partner in the PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory's wireless practice. Your presence rules will be tied to your location, which will be pinpointed by global positioning system capabilities in your mobile device and will change automatically as you arrive, leave, or are en route to specific locations.

"The system will know, for example, if I'm traveling between my primary work location and a client," Isaac says. "I will be able to set it so that if some people call at certain times, they'll go to voice E-mail, but if my wife calls, she'll get put through."

Microsoft, IBM, and others have joined the move to presence. Microsoft has presence capabilities in its Live Communications Server 2005 to assist with collaboration on documents. IBM's Lotus Sametime is basically an enterprise-class IM system with extensive presence capabilities. Early examples of mobile presence-based services use your cell phone to pinpoint your location and send you relevant traffic information while you drive--Google, for instance, is testing Google Mobile Maps, a system that provides real-time traffic information to your cell phone. (For more on Mobile Maps, see p. 60.)

But presence will go far beyond that, says Scott Smith, a futurist for Social Technologies, a research and consulting company. "Some companies are already using presence to know if somebody's free and what their conditions are--can they receive a file [via E-mail], for instance. But presence applications open the door for all types of other things. If I'm a field service person traveling to a client site, what conditions can I expect when I arrive? The system will know where I'm going, what I'll be working on, and can check to see if my car has the right parts in it."

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