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The Gadget I Didn't Get for Christmas

February 2007

I wanted one of those. But Santa didn’t listen. I wanted one of those cool, new all-in-one PDA phones — and a year of free service. But not this year. Maybe if I’m good . . .

What’s the appeal? These new devices are amazing. Some of them have everything: phone, PDA/computer, Internet, camera, GPS, WiFi wireless, Bluetooth wireless, thumb keyboard for typing, and the kitchen sink.

What I want most is to always be connected to the Internet, no matter where I am. After all, I’m the original Internet guy. The latest phones have something called 3G capabilities for high-speed Internet access. The 3G stands for “third generation.” The earlier 2G networks had the familiar pain of a dialup connection, topping out at a snail’s pace of 14 kbps.

The 3G that’s starting to be offered by the carriers can be as fast as the broadband connection that you may be using at home. These networks include EV-DO and HSDPA. In December Verizon announced that it is starting to offer EV-DO in eastern Iowa, with speeds in the range of 400-700 kbps. Cingular offers EDGE, with speeds in the range of 200-300 kbps. But it’s rapidly rolling out HSDPA, which allows for data speeds up to 10 mbps.

Now you might be wondering, why would you want to access the Internet using a device with such a small screen? Wouldn’t it be impossible on most web sites? You’d be wrong. In fact, there are thousands of web sites now designed for the small screen of a mobile phone. These are generically referred to as mobile sites. Most of the major web sites now have a mobile version, including, for example, Yahoo, Google, Time magazine, and the New York Times.

All of the fun things now available on desktop web sites are also available on mobile sites. There are social networking sites like MySpace, user-generated video sites like YouTube. You can shop, check the weather forecast, look up stock quotes, watch full-length movies, and more. Basically, just about all the functionality of the Internet is now available to mobile devices.

In addition, there are now mobile web sites, like Skweezer, that let you access web sites designed for desktop computers. These sites act as middlemen, taking the content and reconfiguring it “on the fly” so that it fits the small screen of your device. You just enter the URL of the web site, and it serves up a mobile version.

If you have any interest in accessing the mobile Internet, a good place to start is a mobile web page that I maintain. It has a listing of portals and directories of mobile sites. Go to www.pocketpcmag.com/mobile and click on “Directory of Mobile Sites.”

The whole area of mobile content is exploding, as is the mobile phone market itself. Companies realize that this is the next big audience, and they’re scrambling to provide entertainment and services to people whose phones connect to the Internet.

Some of the neatest phones these days have it all. In addition to 3G, they have a built-in camera for photos and video, local wireless capability such as WiFi, and even GPS.

The latter is really cool, especially if you have broadband data capability. You can use your phone to tell you where you are and to give you turn-by-turn directions wherever you want to go. In addition, your phone can give you information about nearby facilities.

For example, a free service called Earthcomber uses your GPS location to give you information in these categories: auto needs, business, essentials, fun times, let’s eat, my day off, night life, outdoors, personal & pet care, public places, shopping, and touring. If you don’t have broadband access, it’s possible to buy software that lets you download travel information to your device for specific cities of interest. Broadband makes it easier because you simply access the information via the Internet.

These new devices come in various flavors. The ones that use Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software seem to have eclipsed the earlier Palm platform. There are versions that have the form factor more like a PDA (which is what I wanted from Santa), including a touch screen, and also there are those that have the form factor and screen of a cell phone. Some of the hottest models are the Motorola Q, the Cingular Blackjack, and the T-Mobile Dash.

© 2007 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen