E-mail. "People definitely want to be able to get their e-mail on wireless devices," says Robert Newman, chief technology officer at CoolEmail, a Glencoe, Illinois, unified-messaging provider. "Once people know they can do this, they'll want it because it's so convenient." Traffic is growing fast, says Newman, whose service delivers e-mail-collected from accounts specified by users-to wireless Web phones where, with a couple keystrokes, it's easy to scroll through incoming mail and even compose responses. The market looks promising: Not long after its launch, CoolEmail already had one million users. Newman's prediction: "As the technology becomes more widely available, people will be doing more e-mail on phones."
PIMs. Lots of opportunities center around personal information manager services that will make users' calendars, to-do lists and address books all accessible via cell phones. Insiders say this niche could be among the richest, but nobody's staked out a lead yet. Perhaps that's because today's products tend to be either too costly to attract users or too complex. ("Every time a user has to press another button, you lose 50 percent of your audience," says Rifredi.) Early product entries have targeted sales to megacorporations, but big deals involving large numbers of users have proven elusive-other than landing deals to beta test. The good news: This niche is wide open to new competitors, and it's also open to entrepreneurs with visions for creating new revenue streams (like advertising-supported calendars).
Portals. Some of the biggest hits on the traditional Web have been the portals-such information-rich di-rectories as Yahoo! and Lycos-and now there's a rush to create a gateway site that will triumph on the wireless Web. Of course, the dominant traditional Web sites aren't sleeping-Yahoo!, for one, has already established a large presence on the Sprint PCS wireless Web, where users can send and read Yahoo! e-mail, read headlines and even check movie listings for their neighborhoods.
But start-ups are eyeing this market, too. Web2PCS, a San Jose, California, company that provides a directory of wireless-enabled sites, allows visitors to submit their Web site addresses to its directory and even offers a simulation that lets anybody see what wireless Web sites look like on their PCs. "Our aim is to be the Yahoo! for wireless," says Raza Kamran, vice president for strategic development. That's a lofty ambition, but Kamran projects that Web2PCS will have one million registered users by the end of 2000. With so many users flocking to this space, Kamran may be on the mark.
But many applications and services that will become tomorrow's hits on the wireless Web are nearly impossible to predict, because they couldn't have existed before the wireless Web (meaning the services that wireless technology itself makes possible). A vivid for-instance is the software developed by NearSpace Inc., a start-up in Petaluma, California, with fewer than 10 employees but dreams of making it big. Its program enables users to download customized maps to wireless devices. A trade show organizer, for example, might use NearSpace to make maps of the booth locations, while an airport employee might make a map of the terminals. The upside, say company executives, is just about unlimited.
The bottom line: Wireless technology is putting dramatically more information into our hands. Expect entrepreneurs in the coming years to score huge successes with products that sort and put this information to use. Then there's the fact that the more you use it, the more you need it. Says Fridman, "A few months ago, wireless was for me a novelty. Now I couldn't live without it."