Cell Phones, GPS and Wi-Fi Take Center Stage at DemoMobile

By Jim Louderback  |  Posted 2004-09-10 Print this article Print

Reporter's Notebook: Jim Louderback liked what he saw in a number of the mobile devices displayed at DemoMobile.

LA JOLLA, Calif.—DemoMobile producer Chris Shipley opened up the annual show Thursday by backtracking on last years pronouncement of the age of "device computing," instead saying that it is time to focus on the services and software architectures that enable the mobile platform. The show is full of services, yes, most lacking distribution and many requiring that consumers adopt a bevy of monthly fees to take advantage of them. And even with Shipley putting services front and center, in the end it was the devices that got the most attention, including RIMs new Blackberry 7100t phone and a range of other devices. Heres a look at what caught my eye, as examples of how mobility is changing business:
  • Xora GPS Time Track: Many phones today include GPS, but very few applications actually use them. Thats because GPS is mostly passive, available only for 911 calls. Only Nextel really makes use of the GPS hardware in its cell phones. That functionality has allowed service provider Xora to roll out some interesting functionality for field-based service organizations—an ability to track field workers and to create a time sheet electronically. It also lets you locate the nearest worker to a particular address, which is handy when you want to divert someone to handle an emergency.
    Its a pretty nifty solution for small businesses, but it doesnt appear to scale well above 30 or 40 field workers. The company rolled out a Version 2.0 Thursday, which lets administrators create digital fences, so they can be alerted when an employee either leaves a work area as defined by a "fence" or enters a restricted area. Of course, the system can be circumvented if the user leaves the phone in the building, but its a neat feature. In addition, the new "data shuttle" lets the system work with more traditional scheduling applications. Thats definitely necessary, as the system itself will not let you enter in a number of jobs and then auto-assign them based on priority and optimal route. My take: Xoras a neat use of GPS, but it would be better off as a feature of a broader offering. Its not too expensive though—just $12 per month per employee, and $25 to set up. Hey, you could even give it to your kids so you can track them as they move around town! Of course, theyd be forced to use one of those uncool Nextel phones, but thats the way it goes.
  • WiFlyer: Everything old is new again! When Apple released its first Airport, it included both an Ethernet and a dial-up port. Back then, broadband was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, and many early users used the hub to wirelessly bridge AOL or Earthlink. Today its almost impossible to find a Wi-Fi router with a phone port. Thats not a big deal for most home users, but for business travelers looking to add wireless to their hotel rooms, a pocket-sized router with both connections offers the best of both worlds. Thats what startup Always On Wireless is bringing to market. Its WiFlyer hub makes dial-up connectivity easy, allowing users to save log-in and passwords inside the unit. The unit also includes a current list of AOL, Earthlink and MSN dial-up numbers—but oddly, for a business-oriented product, no iPass. Alas, that list does not auto-update. You have to force an updated number list to the unit when things change. The device itself is small and simple—even the power adapter is svelte. Its perfect for the constant business traveler who may not always be lucky enough to stay in a broadband-enabled hotel. At $150, its a bit expensive, but for many the convenience will outweigh the cost.
  • XDA3: Good Technology spent a few minutes on stage updating the audience on its service, rolling out support for new phones, including Motorolas new sexy—but flawed—MPC. My eye was drawn, however, to the XDA3, a new Pocket PC phone from Taiwanese manufacturer HTC. The XDA3 is due in the United States soon, on both CDMA and GSM networks. It includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS and other data networks, and will cost around $500. It supports the Goodlink technology as well, and according to Goods representative, the battery life is actually good enough to last an entire day of heavy use. I was most impressed with the slide-down keyboard and the big, bright screen. Maybe this will be the PDA/phone Ill finally adopt. For pictures of this ultra-cool device, check out my DemoMobile photo gallery. Next Page: Solar-powered network technology.

    With more than 20 years experience in consulting, technology, computers and media, Jim Louderback has pioneered many significant new innovations.

    While building computer systems for Fortune 100 companies in the '80s, Jim developed innovative client-server computing models, implementing some of the first successful LAN-based client-server systems. He also created a highly successful iterative development methodology uniquely suited to this new systems architecture.

    As Lab Director at PC Week, Jim developed and refined the product review as an essential news story. He expanded the lab to California, and created significant competitive advantage for the leading IT weekly.

    When he became editor-in-chief of Windows Sources in 1995, he inherited a magazine teetering on the brink of failure. In six short months, he turned the publication into a money-maker, by refocusing it entirely on the new Windows 95. Newsstand sales tripled, and his magazine won industry awards for excellence of design and content.

    In 1997, Jim launched TechTV's content, creating and nurturing a highly successful mix of help, product information, news and entertainment. He appeared in numerous segments on the network, and hosted the enormously popular Fresh Gear show for three years.

    In 1999, he developed the 'Best of CES' awards program in partnership with CEA, the parent company of the CES trade show. This innovative program, where new products were judged directly on the trade show floor, was a resounding success, and continues today.

    In 2000, Jim began developing, a daily, live, 8 hour TechTV news program called TechLive. Called 'the CNBC of Technology,' TechLive delivered a daily day-long dose of market news, product information, technology reporting and CEO interviews. After its highly successful launch in April of 2001, Jim managed the entire organization, along with setting editorial direction for the balance of TechTV.

    In the summer or 2002, Jim joined Ziff Davis Media to be Editor-In-Chief and Vice President of Media Properties, including ExtremeTech.com, Microsoft Watch, and the websites for PC Magazine, eWeek and ZDM's gaming publications.


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