The way companies access information on the Net is also about to change. In the near future, you won't necessarily need a desktop or laptop computer to log on--you'll be able to surf the Net in ways never before possible.
That's because the majority of information appliances will give users the ability to send and retrieve information via the Internet. New Internet devices will offer timely updates to specialized content, including news, stock quotes and business-related information. Some will even allow you to wirelessly access content directly from the Internet. All the information will be customizable according to users' specific needs and preferences as well.
Information appliances that perform these functions will take a number of forms, including cell phones, pagers and Internet-specific devices. Integrated into simple units, reliability and ease-of-use will remain their strong points.
A prime example of this kind of information appliance is 3Com's Palm VII, due out later this year. The first handheld device to offer wireless Internet access, the Palm VII (expected to have a street price under $800; http://www.3com.com) will be able to access Web content from partner sites, as well as receive short e-mail messages. Its ability to collect personalized information from the Internet will make it a true information appliance, in addition to its already useful business productivity and organizational features.
One basic problem with all small devices designed as information appliances, however, is their limited ability to retrieve, store and display content. But there are ways around that. The Palm VII, for instance, will utilize a new model for accessing Internet information called "Web clipping." Web clipping is a means of extracting specific information from a Web site, thus eliminating extraneous information and graphics that often bog these products down. Several providers are making their Web content available for Web clipping via the Palm VII; ABCNews.com, E*TRADE, The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition and Yahoo! already plan to do so.
To access content and send e-mail, the Palm VII comes with a built-in two-way radio, integrated antenna and wireless Internet service called Palm.Net. Users simply raise the antenna, which calls up a screen containing a list of applications. By tapping on one of the listed items with a stylus, users can call up another screen known as a Palm query application.
The query application allows users to define the desired information--stock quotes, flight schedules, movie tickets--and then send the query to the Internet. Within seconds, a Web clipping is returned on the Palm VII screen. Special formatting prevents the consumption of large amounts of Internet bandwidth between the device and the Internet, ensuring fast delivery of information. And because the wireless radio isn't activated until a query is sent by a user, the process of accessing the Internet is done with minimum power requirements.
The Palm VII organizer will include a new iMessenger application for instantly sending and receiving Internet messages wirelessly as well. It will give users the ability to instantly send notes to any standard e-mail address from virtually anywhere in the United States via the internal wireless radio (rather than having to synchronize the device with a PC as in current models).
All this means faster delivery and receipt of information via a small, handheld device. It's also a sure signal many new information appliances will be hitting the market soon. Expect to be able to get stock quotes, news feeds and Internet-based information from Web phones and pagers as well. Qualcomm's pdQ smartphone (pricing not yet available; ), due out this month, offers users the ability to wirelessly send e-mail and access information on the Internet directly from the unit. (For more information, see "Bytes," April.) Wireless paging services also include Internet access much like you get with a Web browser, except without the graphics. For instance, WolfeTech's PocketGenie services (pricing varies; http://www.wolfetech.com), available for select two-way pagers, gather financial, news, weather and additional content directly from the Internet; just specify what information you want via a query entered into the pager, and it brings it back to you.