From the June 2000 issue of Startups

I have held the future of the Web in my hand, and I'll tell you it's an exciting-even amazing-thing, and before long, none of us will be able to remember how we got along without it. Oh, I was skeptical about the wireless Internet: Who'd want to surf with a cell phone, I snorted, and that brusque dismissal is where matters rested until CoolEmail forced me to eat my negativity.

When the company first approached me, I politely but firmly told the representative to go away, and I added that maybe some people might want to look at e-mail on a cell phone but I couldn't because I didn't have a phone that would do it. A few days later a box showed up at my door and inside was a wireless Web-ready Sprint digital phone. An attached note told me to punch a couple of buttons and, bingo, I'd be surfing the wireless Web.

Put that way, how could I decline? I still thought this was the dumbest idea I'd heard in a long while-using a phone with a 2-inch-by-1½-inch screen to surf? But I pushed the buttons, logged into CoolEmail, and, wow, was I blown away! Right onscreen were e-mails and I could read them pretty easily.

I tried more and found that just a few button-pushes delivered me to Yahoo!, where I could also read my e-mail and check headlines. At Amazon, I could buy books; I could trade stocks at Ameritrade; and I could even go to my own favorite sites. Who'd want to do any of that? You will and here's why: You're in the midst of a full day of outside meetings. You sit down to lunch-and you fire up your cell phone and check the morning e-mail.

Of course you won't want to write long replies-using a cell phone keypad to write is a gymnastic challenge-but it's an easy, quick way to skim through your incoming messages. If an important message demands an urgent response, use the phone as a phone and call the person. That's what I do.

The beauty of this is that you do and will carry a cell phone. You don't necessarily want to fire up a laptop while chomping a Big Mac at McDonald's (and into which phone jack will you plug it?), and you probably aren't carrying a laptop anyway. But we all carry cell phones and that's why wireless Web is so brilliantly useful.

News Flash
Wireless e-mail just went big time. On June 16, AOL and Sprint announced a deal that puts AOL e-mail onto wireless Web-ready phones in the Sprint network. Getting mail is simpl: An AOL option appears right on the Sprint wireless Web sign-up screen. What could be cooler than sipping a latte at Seattle Best's Coffee while doing AOL e-mail on your cell phone?

Let's be honest: Only a technological nut would want to use a phone to actually Web surf, and truth is, only a tiny percentage of sites have made the tweaks needed to be viewable via the wireless Web (sites have to be rewritten in streamlined WML code). It's even hard for me to envision being in such a frenzy to buy a book that I'd log on to Amazon, or in such a rush to buy or sell stock that I'd go to Ameritrade.

Which brings me back to why CoolEmail is so useful: e-mail. The CoolEmail-By-Phone Plus program ($9.95 for 30 minutes per month; additional increments of 30 minutes are $5.95) provides the tools that gather your e-mail from various addresses (including AOL, an ISP and a CoolEmail address you're provided). How do you read that mail? Log on to the Web site at your computer, dial in via wireless Web, or call a toll-free number and have the incoming e-mail read aloud to you. Nifty, huh?

Other toggles let you create an online address book, calendar and to-do list, all accessible via the Web or the wireless Web. Import tools-where data can be transferred from a desktop Personal Information Manager (PIM) such as Microsoft Outlook-aren't yet ready, however. So these services might qualify as "gee whiz," but few people will actually use them because who needs the bother of creating yet another PIM database?

No matter, though, because e-mail on a cell phone is both the sizzle and the steak. Wherever you go, if you have a cell phone in your hands, your e-mail is there to read. Are there any disadvantages? You bet, and the big one is price. Sprint PCS, really the only provider right now, offers a plan that whacks customers $10 per month on top of a voice service plan and extra Web minutes cost a quarter each. Trouble is, the wireless Web is real slow and doing anything chews up time. And these charges are in addition to the monthly fee CoolEmail charges. The good news: As more providers rush to offer wireless Web services, prices will tumble, just as they did for landline Internet access. Experts expect affordable, flat rate, all-you-can-eat wireless Web access to hit the market by year-end.

Do you need this wireless Web at today's prices? That's for you to say, but don't think any longer that the wireless Web doesn't work. It does and that means it's got to be the coolest techie thing around.

Wireless Web Resouces

  • CoolEmail: Read your e-mail from your computer and wireless Web, or have it read to you over the phone.
  • Yahoo! Mobile: Access your Yahoo! e-mail, get driving directions, search online Yellow Pages, read news and weather, and more.
  • OneBox: Consolidate and access voicemail, e-mail and fax messages from your wireless Web for free.
  • OracleMobile: A wireless portal featuring entertainment, finance, news and weather, shopping, travel and reference sections.
  • WirelessWeek: An extensive listing of wireless-capable Web sites.

Robert McGarvey covers the Web-and plays with the latest cool gadgets-from his home office in Santa Rosa, California. Visit his Web page at www.mcgarvey.net.