It was the sort of moment any businessperson dreads. Walking through an airport to catch a flight, entrepreneur Brad Beckstrom glimpsed an important client-and realized he'd forgotten the client's name, although he recalled the name of the client's company.
Dreading a faux pas, Beckstrom grabbed his mobile phone. With his thumbs, he began typing the company's name into his contact application, which contains roughly 1,000 entries. Seconds later, the mystery person's identity popped up, and Beckstrom walked over to say hello. "It rekindled the relationship," he recalls. "He remembered my name, so I was really glad I remembered his."
It's just one more reason the 42-year-old co-founder and COO of Momentum Marketing Services, a $15 million creative and marketing services firm in Alexandria, Virginia, swears by his PalmOne Treo 600, one of a new generation of smartphones. A bona fide road warrior who spends at least one to two days out of the office every week, Beckstrom also uses the Treo 600's built-in camera with his Sprint voice and data service plan to send snapshots home to his family while he's traveling, a feature he thinks could become the basis of new Momentum promotional campaigns in the future.
Beckstrom is not alone. The Treo 600 is widely considered a breakthrough for the smartphone, and almost a year into its life, the product is consistently back-ordered. It's probably a good time for me to disclose that I am a Treo 600 owner and have also used two previous generations of the device. I'm hooked. Still, at $450 to $699 (depending on whether you need a service plan), the Treo 600 isn't for everyone. Nor is it the answer to every mobile computing need. Even Beckstrom also relies heavily on his wireless-equipped Apple G4 PowerBook laptop to do his job on the go.
That's why Entrepreneur has dedicated this year's special report to exploring the latest trends in mobile computing. From smartphones to notebooks to wireless hot spots, this guide provides a map to what you should look for-or expect-from your next mobile gadget and how you can make managing them and keeping them secure just a bit easier.
Talk to Me
It seems like everybody's out to get mobile phone users-from restaurants and fitness centers that have banned their use for privacy reasons to the myriad municipalities that have made it downright criminal to use them while driving.
But the buying (and talking) public has been snapping up the devices in record numbers. At least two leading market research firms project unit sales of close to 600 million worldwide this year, and year-over-year sales growth rates ranged from 30 to 34 percent for the first and second quarters of 2003 and 2004. Nokia remains the market leader, although Motorola and Samsung have been steadily eating into its share. What's more, the smartphone category, combining voice communications features with data-centric functions such as e-mail and personal information managers, has come into its own with upwards of 50 models to choose from.
"There aren't that many basic phones left that are limited to 2G capabilities," says Todd Kort, principal analyst for PDAs and smartphones for technology research and consulting firm Gartner Inc. in San Jose, California.
Consider that more than 100,000 units of the Treo 600 were sold in the first month of its release in fall 2003, with the company projecting sales of more than 1 million units by early 2005. A next-generation edition is set to ship late this year.
But that's only a tiny fraction of the 17.7 million smartphones that Gartner and IT and telecom research firm IDC expect will ship this year. About half of those units will use the Symbian operating system favored by Nokia.
Indeed, Nokia is moving aggressively into smartphones. Although it recently pared down the number of models it will offer, the ultra- high-end Nokia 9500 Communicator is due in the fourth quarter of 2004. With its feet more in the land of data communications than voice, this handset looks like a traditional cellular phone, but it unfolds clamshell-style to reveal a qwerty keyboard and a color screen. The Nokia 9500 Communicator will support three communications technologies, including EDGE, GSM and wireless LANs. It supports Bluetooth for short-range wireless communications, an increasingly common feature for mobile phones that allows them to connect to other devices such as handheld computers or printers. The Nokia 9500 Communicator comes with the requisite digital camera, support for spreadsheets and presentation files, and a whopping 80MB of built-in memory. No price had been set at press time, but some smartphones push $800, which is considered one of several downsides to the category.
"One of the probems with smartphones is that they're expensive phones, even though they are great as a business tool. There are issues, though, when the weekend comes around," says Kevin Burden, program manager for mobile devices at IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. "Do you really want to bring a $500 phone out on a boat with you? This market has always been about preferences."
That's why analysts are eagerly awaiting this fall's release of the next-generation Motorola MPx, which will probably be priced closer to the $300 mark. The device will act as a GSM/GPRS phone and run Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which means the display can be switched between landscape and portrait modes. Other features include built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless support, a 2.8-inch 16-bit color display, up to 1GB of expanded memory, and a 1.2 megapixel digital camera with flash.
What else is out there? The recently released Motorola i710, for instance, offers GPS features and includes speakerphone and walkie-talkie functions for about $125 (all prices street) before rebate. Of course, if you don't have a hankering for e-mail and all that other stuff, you could spend as little as $50 for just a basic handset.
PDAs and Mobile PCs
Assistant to Go
There's been a lot written about the certain demise of PDAs, speculation fueled by Sony's decision to forego any additional launches of its innovative CliÃ© model. But the category actually began to turn around in 2004, with some projections calling for modest growth of about 2 percent after more than two years of declines. Ironically, although Sony shipped enough units earlier this year to become the third-largest provider in the U.S. market, it is focusing future R&D efforts instead on its joint smartphone venture with Ericsson.
"Although I believe that the smartphone will become the dominant handheld, there will always be a market for nonconnected PDAs," says Gerry Purdy, principal analyst with Cupertino, California-based MobileTrax, which advises clients on mobile and wireless computing. "It's just that the PDA will be relegated to the shelf next to the low-cost calculator in the supermarket."
Kort estimates that roughly 11.9 million PDAs will ship by the end of 2004, with units based on Palm operating systems accounting for about half that number. The BlackBerry device from Research in Motion is becoming a contender for the No. 2 spot, with estimated shipments of 2.2 million units in 2004, about triple what it shipped the previous year. But Hewlett-Packard has been posting the strongest increases among the top five handheld vendors. Analysts have said Dell hasn't made as many waves as expected; however, its new Axim x30, priced at $249 and with integrated support for Wi-Fi, is seen as a step forward in innovation for the vendor.
Features that have become basic checklist items for PDAs include color screens, preferably with transflective qualities that make them easier to use in outdoor lighting, and faster chips that let users easily access more than one application at once. GPS is also available for PalmOne and Pocket PC devices. What all this enables is the other big trend that will shape the PDA market: specialization. Says Burden, "People want a device that is appropriate for the task, not excessive for the task."
If wireless was the word for notebooks for 2004, then ruggedness is an emerging theme for 2005. As the category matures-by some estimates, mobile PCs will account for 1 in 3 of all PCs sold by 2006-design innovation has moved inside the box. Buyers can expect 15-inch screens to become fairly standard in coming months, and the pricing threshold will continue to hover around $1,300 for entry-level products, although fully loaded models can easily cost double that. The decision by some larger notebook makers to use chips from AMD instead of Intel for some models should keep prices in check. AMD delivered a series of mobile processors in July, including a speedy 64-bit edition being incorporated into notebooks from Alienware and Epson America, not to mention the C3500 ultraportable convertible tablet/notebook models from Averatec, priced starting at $1,300. The AMD processors have been optimized for extended battery life and are compatible with many widely used wireless technologies.
"There isn't much difference between mainstream notebooks," says Ranjit Atwal, senior analyst with Gartner in London. "The innovation is further down into the PC rather than in terms of features missing."
IBM, for example, has introduced a feature that senses if the notebook is being moved and locks down the hard drive, thus reducing the chance of failures. If you do have a problem on the road, IBM introduced a feature this year called Rescue and Recovery that's embedded into some of its ThinkPad models, including the ThinkPad X40, its 2.7-pound ultraportable. The service lets you restore your system quickly if you are hit by a virus or encounter corrupted software drivers.
It used to be that you had to skimp on weight and functionality if you wanted a rugged notebook-and pay about a 20 percent markup over mainstream prices. But Panasonic's Toughbook W2, for example, is a 2.8-pound ultraportable outfitted with all the latest technologies, such as the Intel Centrino wireless architecture supporting 802.11b+g, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, a shock-mounted hard drive that can be removed to protect sensitive information, rubber-gasket-sealed ports to keep foreign matter out of the notebook's innards, and a 12.1-inch active-matrix display.
"It all comes back to usage," Atwal says. "We can't generalize usage of the notebook; there will be vendors who will specialize in particular niches of the market."
Protecting Tech on the Road
Who among us doesn't hate lugging a notebook around the airport in the post-9/11 era? You could speed up your trip by registering with the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) new Registered Travel Pilot Program, which kicked off in airports in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Washington, DC, last summer. The idea is that preapproved frequent fliers can use a designated checkpoint lane where they submit to finger or iris scans to confirm their identities. Of course, you need to give up all sorts of personal information and submit to a security assessment by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to participate. The pilot program is supposed to end late this year, and the TSA will evaluate its success at that time.
Speaking of security, several mobile experts interviewed for this piece recommend considering mobile management technology from Senforce Technologies if you've got a fleet of salespeople or other mobile workers out on the road. The relatively high-end software, which requires that you invest in some sort of server, locks down the computer in both wired and wireless settings by sensing what location it's in. This software is priced starting at $89.99 per user. Credant Technologies provides an offering, Mobile Guardian Group Edition, that includes a personal firewall. Starting at $49 per user, this software promises secure wireless access, policy management capabilities and device control profiles. It works across a company's notebooks, smartphones, PDAs and tablet PCs.
Unfortunately, many mobile entrepreneurs neglect to secure their smartphones, plug-in cards and other devices-not realizing they need the same kind of protection typically extended to laptops and desktops. No matter the device, if it stores intellectual property or other confidential data, you need to protect it.
One extreme measure would be to invest in a notebook with a fingerprint sensor that lets only the authorized user sign on, such as the new 3.27-pound LifeBook P7000, which starts at $1,799, or one with a swappable hard drive, such as the aforementioned Panasonic Toughbook, which lets you leave sensitive data back in your office.
When it comes to form factors, analysts expect notebooks sporting 17-inch screens to gain ground as replacements for desktop PCs, although they are still heavy to lug around and eat up plenty of battery life. Tablet PCs could build in popularity, for a couple of reasons: The new edition of the Microsoft operating system on which most are designed now allows them to be built in a wider variety of sizes, and the $400 to $500 price differential that currently exists between tablets and traditional notebooks will begin to ease.
The ultraportable category could be stimulated by the much-anticipated arrival of the OQO Model 01, slated for release in late 2004. The early versions being shown off by OQO's executive team, comprised of former designers associated with Apple's nifty PowerBook and iBook lines, are less than 5 inches long, weigh 14 ounces, and come with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. They can be docked for connections to a broader array of peripherals. Says Atwal, "As we get more types of form factors, they will appeal to a segmented audience."
If portability is your main concern, those of you with bad backs may appreciate the APC TravelPower Backpack, which comes with an integrated power system that lets you simultaneously charge your mobile phone and handheld computer. At an estimated retail price of about $120, the backpack also contains connectors for most notebook models and adapters for airline power receptacles and cars. For the fashionably hip, the folks at ScotteVest, a company that makes clothing designed to carry electronic accessories, plan to ship $130 cargo pants this fall with 14 hidden pockets for all your smaller electronic devices. They may be more stylish than a computer bag, but emptying those pockets for an airport security checkpoint might not be all that much fun.
The Wireless Way
In some corners of the world, it's easier to find a wireless hot spot than it is to find a public telephone. Devices like the new $29.95 Wi-Fi Seeker from PCTel can help you locate them and determine their signal strength.
"Wi-Fi won't ever become pervasive enough to be used when traveling about, but Wi-Fi access will become as convenient as finding a gas station for your car," says MobileTrax's Purdy.
There is perhaps no better illustration than Wayport's deal this year with SBC Communications to outfit more than 6,000 McDonald's locations with FreedomLink hot spots, which can also be found in UPS Stores throughout SBC's regional territory. The IT consulting company is reportedly booked into 2005 for wireless network installations. Although this year saw the exit of the high-profile hot spot provider Cometa Networks, funded by the likes of AT&T, IBM and Intel, Gartner predicts that by 2007, more than 35 million users will use more than 160 million hot spots worldwide. The firm also predicts that by year-end 2005, 10 percent of broadband internet connections will be made through wireless means.
For obvious reasons, many new hot spots are cropping up in major travel centers, with airports and airline clubs offering them as perks for frequent fliers. Depending on your location, Wi-Fi access is charged by the minute, by the day, or as an add-on option for existing wireless services accounts-so it can get expensive quickly if you aren't using the payment option that's best for your particular traveling habits. And if you're in a heavily trafficked airline club, for example, service can be spotty since crowds of users can slow down the network. Costs vary, too: T-Mobile charges $19.99 per month for a 1-year contract if you're adding hot-spot access to an existing account, or $29.99 per month for new accounts; Boingo Wireless has plans starting at $21.95 per month or $7.95 for two connect days; and Wayport charges $9.95 per day for access from a hotel or $6.95 from an airport. You can also buy prepaid connection cards from Wayport starting at $25 for three connections.
Some current experiments will see Wi-Fi introduced over the next 12 months in places where it is less common today. Amtrak and AT&T Wireless just began offering Wi-Fi access in six train stations along the Northeast corridor, for $9.99 per day. Existing AT&T Wireless Wi-Fi customers can use their existing accounts.
But what about wireless on the move, given that each Wi-Fi hot spot technically only covers an area of 300 square feet? In Washington state, federal grants are paying for the deployment of wireless internet service onboard three major ferry routes. Among other things, the test being run by IT services firm Mobilisa will study the unique challenges of using Wi-Fi over water. Similar projects in North America and Europe are being engineered by service providers along with PointShot Wireless.
And if several airlines have their way, Wi-Fi won't be earthbound for long. Lufthansa has installed a Wi-Fi system called FlyNet on five of its planes, which offers passengers the ability to send e-mail or surf the internet in flight. The service includes a metered option costing $10 per half-hour and 25 cents per minute after that, and a flat-rate option costing $19.95 for flights 3 to 6 hours or $30 for flights longer than 6 hours. The download speed is 5Mbps, which is shared among users. Lufthansa says it plans to upgrade all 80 of its planes by the end of 2006. The ISP service, Connexion by Boeing, was tested by air-traffic authorities, which have authorized its use at cruising altitudes only. The company also has definitive contracts with Japan Airlines and Scandinavian Airline System.
Connexion by Boeing can expect future competition from Airbus, SITA Inc. and Tenzing, which announced plans in mid-July to form a new company offering in-flight connectivity services for mobile phones, PDAs and notebooks. (That plan is subject to regulatory approval.) Tenzing already offers e-mail and text-messaging service aboard flights on Cathay Pacific Airways, Continental Airlines, Iberia, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.
Getting Connected in Hotels
If you're like me, one of the first things you do when you check in to a hotel is look to see what sort of connectivity you have in your room. The prospect of downloading presentations or spreadsheets via a dial-up connection is downright horrifying for anyone who has experienced the other side.
Clearly, major chains believe providing in-room high-speed internet access is becoming de rigueur. Marriott International has pledged to offer high-speed access at all of its Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Marriott, Renaissance, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites hotels by the end of this year. For some parts of its chain, the access is free. For the Marriott and Renaissance properties, the company charges $9.95 per day for access, plus unlimited local and long-distance calls, which can add up quickly otherwise. Elsewhere, Westin Hotels & Resorts has begun offering a similar package for $16 per day, throwing a complimentary "technology" concierge into the price in case you have trouble configuring your computer to work with the service.
If you're not sure whether your hotel has what you need in terms of connectivity, the GeekTools website may be of assistance. You may also be able to find a hotel with the services you need on your travel route by checking the hotel locator provided by STSN. STSN is the high-speed access service provider for approximately 1,900 hotels in North America, Asia-Pacific and Western Europe-with more than 265,000 guest and business-meeting rooms. Marriott is one of STSN's clients, as are the Hilton and La Quinta chains. Lately, STSN has been adding wireless services to the mix and now maintains these services for about 850 properties-another trend expected to accelerate in 2005.
If your hotel room makes you stir crazy, and your travel finds you spending lots of time in a certain region, like Boston, New York City or Orange County, California, you might consider looking into a service such as TechSpace, which offers drop-in space and connectivity space to telecommuters and business travelers. Its membership plans include VirtualSpace, priced at $150 per month per person, and then $15 per hour; or FlexSpace8, which lets you work two days per week in its facility for $350 per month per person. Both plans require a one-time setup fee of $75.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The wireless dialogue will dominate the mobile computing world over the next 12 months, according to Atwal. One of the biggest trends for road warriors to watch will be an ability to transmit data, and possibly voice, between Wi-Fi hot spots and the cellular carriers' much wider-area services. In theory, your notebook, cell phone or handheld will be able to send and receive transmissions that hop from Wi-Fi network to cellular connection transparently, depending on which provides the best signal strength, security or fees.
After all, personal preference is what mobile computing is all about. "The people who travel the most get the latest technology. Then we migrate them down," says Beckstrom of Momentum Marketing, describing his company's technology investment policy.
Because of his advance research on the road with Wi-Fi, his company now uses wireless networks extensively. But for every entrepreneur like Beckstrom, who believes the digital cameras in today's handhelds could yield a killer application, there's another who hasn't figured out how to use his yet. If you're one of the latter, it's time to join the mobile revolution and discover what you're missing.
Experts believe one big factor that will inspire adoption in 2005 is broader interest in VoIP, which lets you make telephone calls over a broadband connection. "As companies move toward IP technology, web conferencing becomes an easy add-on from a user perspective," says Melanie Turek, principal research analyst with New York City-based Nemertes Research, which quantifies the business impact of technology. "People will use it more often when it becomes part of their daily work life."
Research shows that web conferencing is used most frequently for hosting a company's internal meetings among multiple locations, Turek says. Only 1 in 5 web conference calls is focused on product demonstration or sales.
Meanwhile, several ongoing developments are worth noting. First, AOL now lets you launch conference calls or web conferences from within an IM session. The idea is that an IM session might escalate into a discussion leading to a better solution. Lightbridge, a transaction processing company, and web conferencing market leader WebEx Communications are working with AOL on the new service.
The telephone call service will cost about 5 cents per person per minute, while the web conferencing feature will be priced at 33 cents per person per minute on weekdays. Microsoft-which got into the market with its acquisition of PlaceWare a year ago-has inked similar deals with AOL, MSN and Yahoo! that link their IM technologies to the next version of Live Communication Server, which won't be a factor until early next year.
Finally, FaceTime Communications intends this fall to deliver RTShield, which extends AOL's IM technology with secure real-time communications options. The software includes an option specifically for companies with fewer than 50 employees, although pricing hadn't been set at press time.
Tech Gadgets & Goodies
From utilities to security, the right software helps enable your mobile lifestyle.
Xten X-PRO SoftPhone: Take your Vonage VoIP service with you on the road with this software on a laptop. Price: $9.99 per month (in addition to your regular Vonage plan)
GoToMyPC Personal: You'll always have access to your office computer with this web-based application that lets you use your PC remotely through a web browser. Price: $19.95 per month (basic plan)
LapLink Everywhere 3.0: LapLink is a budget-friendly web-based application that lets you remotely access your office PC's Outlook or Outlook Express and files. Price: $89.95 annual subscription
JP Mobile SureWave Mobile Defense: Secure your Palm or Pocket PC PDA with this software suite that includes password protection, data encryption and reset protection. Price: $29.95
Mobility Electronics iGo Quickoffice Premier: Work with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on your Palm handheld. Also available for some Nokia and Symbian devices. Price: $39.95
Salesforce.com (800-NO-SOFTWARE): This web-based CRM application is easy to access and use when you or your salespeople are on the road. Price: starts at $995 per year for five users
Just for Fun
These items aren't essentials, but they can sure spice up a road trip.
Corex Technologies CardScan Executive: Manage all those business cards you collect with this compact scanner that lets you deal with them on your computer later. Price: $200
Smart ID Technology WFS-1 WiFi Detector: This small, battery-powered device from Singapore will locate Wi-Fi hot spots for you on the go. Price: $28
Apple iPod mini: This tiny 3.6-ounce, 4GB version of the popular iPod MP3 player will keep you company during your downtime. Available for Mac and Windows. Price: $249
Powerhouse Technologies Migo 256MB USB 2.0: Get advanced synchronization and data management with this USB flash device, including access to your Outlook e-mail and Explorer favorites. Price: $200
FrogPad Bluetooth iFrog: This one-handed device is a compact way to take your keyboard with you, wirelessly. Available in left- or right-handed versions. Price: $175
BenQ M310 Optical Wireless Mouse: Portability, super-easy setup and a clever design make this a handy mouse for laptop users. Price: $40
Take the bumps out of your ride with these handy hardware accessories.
SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive: This crush-resistant USB 2.0 drive comes with 512 MB of storage, password protection and backup utilities. Price: $130
Jabra FreeSpeak BT200 Bluetooth Mobile Phone Headset: Keep your hands free while driving or working with this wireless headset for Bluetooth-enabled phones. Price: $149
Electrovaya PowerPad 120: Extend your notebook battery life for those long trips with this lightweight (under 2 pounds) power pack. Price: $299
Targus Port 3.1 Commuter Case: More like a mobile desk, this case gives your laptop full protection and zips down into a portable workstation. Price: $99.99
Kensington MicroSaver Notebook Cable: For the price tag, you get a security cable to lock down your notebook and guaranteed notebook replacement if the lock is forced. Price: $54.99
Netgear WG511 802.11g Wireless Adapter: Get your older laptop up-to-date with this Wi-Fi notebook adapter. Now you can take advantage of hot spots on the road or at the office. Price: $45
Best of the Best
Check out our best picks for mobile gadgets sure to keep you on track.
Samsung SPH-i500: This smartphone integrates a Palm PDA into a compact clamshell design with lots of features. Price: $399 (varies with service plan)
Toshiba Portege M205 TabletPC: This well-stocked convertible takes the best features of a laptop and combines them with the flexibility of a tablet. Price: $2,299
IBM ThinkPad X40: At a svelte 2.7 pounds, this 12.1-inch-display ultraportable packs a wallop with 256MB RAM, built-in 802.11b and a mobile Pentium processor. Price: starts at $1,499
Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security: Security is as important on the road as in the office. This software suite covers spam, spyware, firewall and anti-virus. Price: $49.95
Canon i80: A portable printer is one thing, but throw in an optional Bluetooth interface and a car adapter, and you get the ultimate in mobile printing. Price: $250
Hewlett-Packard iPAQ hx4705: Integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are nice extras onboard this Pocket PC. Enhanced security features, lots of memory and a relatively spacious 4-inch VGA screen make this a wise choice for business use. Price: $650
Motorola V600: Don't need all the bells and whistles of a smartphone? You can still enjoy the speakerphone, camera and Bluetooth features of this mobile. Price: $200 to $299 (depending on service provider) -Amanda C. Kooser
Heather Clancy is editor of CRN, a weekly high-tech business newspaper.