Experienced road warriors know the drill: Dash to the airport, call important customers, board the plane, send e-mails, draft that proposal, get a rental car, check in to your hotel, log on to the Net, sync your PDA, prepare for your 8 a.m. presentation...it's going to be a long night-scratch that, a long week. But as long as you've got the right technology, it seems anything's possible.
You may be jet-lagged, but that doesn't mean the work stops coming. At least when you've got the right tools, you can stay in touch and handle every priority. It doesn't matter if you're out of the office on a sales call or on an extended overnight trip. As long as you've got a working cell phone, a PDA, a laptop, and the other pieces of your mobile arsenal, you won't miss a beat.
Or will you? Some entrepreneurs are so busy jetting around that they forget how important it is to update their tech solutions-leaving them less productive than they'd like. With that thought in mind, Entrepreneur has taken a closer look at the latest trends in tools for mobile professionals. You may not need or want everything here, but at least we can help you evaluate where you are in terms of productivity-and where you need to be.
Worldwide cellular phone handset sales have run at record rates this year, driven largely by catchy new features like color screens, cameras and wireless gaming capabilities. While these characteristics have limited utility for most businesspeople, they help build the phone population and underwrite the increasing reliability and quality, as well as decreasing cost and size, of cell phones. These devices are fast becoming standard equipment for entrepreneurs who want to-or rather, need to-make and receive calls no matter where they are.
|What to Buy and Why|
|Check out the latest cell phones here.|
"You can never underestimate the value of voice communications for the mobile worker," says Fritz Jordan, an analyst with wireless consulting firm MobileTrax in Emeryville, California.
Actually, many of the newer-or, at least, the more widely available-phone features are of considerable value to the business-minded mobile user. "We are seeing a whole lot more functionality moving down-market," says Michael King, principal analyst with research firm Gartner Inc. in San Diego. "A basic phone from a year ago had a little voice functionality, and that was it. Now a basic phone has a 100- to 200-entry phone book and Internet browsing capability."
Some new phones offer a familiar face: Microsoft Windows. Models such as the new Motorola MPx200 run Windows Mobile software and allow you to synchronize Microsoft Outlook calendars and contacts on your PC using a built-in miniature USB connection. Other newly released models are marvels of hardware miniaturization. The Nokia 6800 looks like a cell phone until you unfold it to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. The 6800, priced at $150 (all prices street) and lower with a service plan, lets you compose, send and receive standard e-mail. Soon, Nokia promises, it will also use the same e-mail protocol as the popular RIM terminals, such as the recently released $450 BlackBerry 7210, which sports a high-resolution color screen.
Handhelds & Wireless
This was a watershed year for the handheld computing business. Not only did a sales slump continue, but pioneer and longtime sector leader Palm saw its edge against Microsoft begin to seriously slip away. For the first time, the dollar value of handhelds running Microsoft's Windows CE operating system has exceeded Palm OS-powered device sales.
Palm OS-based systems still represent 49 percent of units shipped worldwide. But a large number of those are low-end consumer models like the Zire. Meanwhile, Windows-based PDAs dominated the category of powerful-and costly-business-oriented devices with features like built-in wireless networking and the ability to operate as full-featured cell phones.
As yet, however, the success of pricey PDA/cell phones using the new Windows Smartphone operating system is not assured. "We're seeing a lot of people rolling things out," says King. "Not a whole lot of people are buying $500 and $600 phones."
Palm's newest Tungsten T3 could suffer the same fate. It's aimed squarely at mobile entrepreneurs, with features such as a dazzling high-resolution screen, but requires you to have a compatible cell phone equipped for Bluetooth short-range wireless networking to get wireless Internet and e-mail access. At $429, it's about twice as expensive as the new Palm Tungsten E ($199), which has a lower-resolution screen and dispenses with Bluetooth connectivity.
Toshiba's latest Windows-based PDAs are pricey and sophisticated but don't try to be cell phones as well. The $449 Pocket PC e750/e755 series has a 400MHz processor and a spacious 96MB of memory as well as built-in Wi-Fi and Microsoft's latest handheld operating system, Windows Mobile, with enhanced wireless networking features. The $249 to $299 Pocket PC
e350/e355 series skips Wi-Fi and has a 300MHz chip, 64MB of memory, and the older Microsoft Pocket PC software.
Dell entered the PDA market last year with a splash and recently introduced its second handheld. The Axim X3 is a Windows Mobile-based, 400MHz, 64MB model with built-in Wi-Fi networking that's slimmer and lighter than the original Axim X5 and priced at $349.
Mobile Wireless Networks
All the memory and processing power in the world won't do a mobile entrepreneur much good unless he or she is connected to other sources of business information while on the go. For most of them, that means being able to hook into the computer system back at the office.
|What to Buy and Why|
|Check out the newest in wireless hardware here.|
"For an entrepreneur, there is only one killer app," says Charles Golvin, a senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in San Francisco. "That's getting back to your corporate network." Only by connecting to their company's computers can mobile entrepreneurs get sales figures, check customer orders, collaborate on presentations with colleagues, and perform other jobs that are essential.
For entrepreneurs to be able to reliably, conveniently and speedily connect to their corporate data from anywhere, mobile wireless networks are the answer. With the spread of higher-speed wide-area networks built by cellular phone companies and localized Wi-Fi hot spots, those networks are beginning to take shape. After all, Wi-Fi hot spots-found in public places like Starbucks and airport lounges, where you can get high-speed wireless connections to the Internet-grew from fewer than 15,000 nationwide locations last year to more than 70,000 this year, says Gartner. And according to leading hot-spot provider Wayport Inc. of Austin, Texas, the number of people using its public Wi-Fi installations is growing at a similarly explosive 20 percent per month.
"Realistically, we're starting to be able to use wireless connectivity," says King. Packet data adjuncts to digital cell phone networks, going by acronyms such as GPRS and CDMA 1XRTT, offer effective data transmission speeds of 40 to 60Kbps for laptop- and PDA-toting mobile workers.
That's fast enough for e-mail-even with attachments. And packet data networks are pervasive enough in major metropolitan areas and along America's major highways that entrepreneurs are reasonably assured of being able to hook into a wireless network wherever they may roam.
Packet data use is pricey but continues to tumble along with the rest of the cost of mobile information technology. Today, you can get unlimited use of a network such as Verizon Wireless' Express Network wireless Internet plan for $80 per month in some service areas. Analysts say flat-rate pricing may be the lever that springs loose heavy wireless Internet demand for many business users.
Even the best-case data transmission speeds of 144Kbps by wireless Internet services such as Verizon's are still just a fraction of the throughput delivered by land-line connections such as cable, DSL and T1. For heavier lifting-Internet browsing, running mobile applications and transmitting large file attachments-mobile entrepreneurs should turn to Wi-Fi hot spots. Public Wi-Fi network sites offer more reliable transmission rates 50 to 100 times the speed of wireless packet data networks.
Public hot spots are limited to airport lounges and hotels, coffee shops and restaurants for the most part, with active zones up to 300 feet from the transceivers. But the current 70,000 or so Wi-Fi hot spots are expected to double in 2004 and keep growing from there, suggesting that Wi-Fi public access will be, if not ubiquitous, at least widely available in urban locales. T-Mobile alone, which partnered with Starbucks and Borders to put hot spots in coffeehouses and bookstores, has nearly 2,800 sites in 33 states, from Hawaii to Maine.
Mobile businesspeople are embracing existing hot spots at impressive rates. "We have over 200,000 people using our service," says Dan Lowden, vice president of marketing for Wayport, which operates approximately 700 hot spots. "And it's growing on average about 20 percent a month."
Pricing remains an issue for hot-spot users. Many hotels charge $10 each time a user connects to the Internet via a wireless hot spot. Airports charge about $7. Fees for a subscription that lets you roam among a network like Wayport's can range from $30 to $50 per month. Until prices slide, many cost-conscious entrepreneurs are likely to limit connections to those occasions when they have urgent and important information needs. Naturally, when it's a matter of closing a sale or not, those rates are not serious obstacles, notes Golvin. "This equation can work for a lot of people," he says.
Another obstacle is usability. The field of mobile data access is populated by many vendors and standards. When it works, it can work well. When problems arise in using or configuring mobile networking, untangling them can be difficult. "One thing you still don't have is real simplicity and ease of use," says Golvin. "We're not at the point where your average Joe can make things work out of the box."
For that reason, in addition to pricing, customer service is seen as key to not only boosting the use of mobile networking, but also to deciding which of the many providers will survive and prosper. About 20,000 people call Wayport's help desk each month. "It's very easy if you're set up right from the get-go," says Lowden. "But about 10 percent of the people who connect to our service have to call in."
High-Tech Watches & Laptops
While pockets, briefcases, laptops and carry-ons have been comprehensively invaded by mobile information technology, the wrists of mobile entrepreneurs have so far been left vacant. No longer. Architects of miniature electronics are staking out that real estate as a place for tiny schedule- and contact-keepers, and even bulk information storage and transport devices.
Fossil Inc., the Richardson, Texas-based fashion watchmaker, is the unlikely pioneer of wrist-based Palm devices with its $275 Sport Wrist PDA. Running version 4.1 of the Palm OS in a package about twice the size of a normal digital watch, the Wrist PDA tracks contacts and stores appointments and to-dos in 2MB of memory.
Users can jot memos into the 160-by-160-pixel screen using a tiny stylus, much like a full-size Palm handheld. It communicates with other Wrist PDAs or larger handhelds via an infrared port. It also tells time, allowing wearers to select from a variety of analog or digital clock displays.
Several European manufacturers have begun selling watches that incorporate portable USB memory storage. The watches work like the popular key chain-style memory devices. You plug into any computer's USB port, using a short USB cable that dangles from the watch. Then you can use the watch as if it were a disk drive-handy for transporting large files and documents.
The Laks USB Memory watch from Austria comes with 32MB to 256MB of memory and costs $42 to $149. London-based Memixdirect.com sells a 128MB USB MeMIX Memory Watch, which has the USB cable incorporated into the wristband, for about $110.
Fossil is one of a handful of watchmakers to have announced a still more advanced wrist gadget-developed with Microsoft-that will receive personalized data from the Web, such as news, weather, stock quotes and IMs, via a radio broadcast signal. It will be one of the first devices using Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT). Fossil has promised a fall 2003 release but hasn't released specific price or ship dates for its SPOT watch, called the Wrist MSN Direct Watch.
Laptops and Notebooks
This year, sales of personal computers will reverse the negative growth trend of 2002-but only because sales of portable laptop and notebook computers are growing strongly while desktop sales stagnate, according to Gartner. The lopsided growth in laptop sales has spurred manufacturers to focus marketing and technology resources on the sector, resulting in a surge of powerful, imaginatively configured and attractively priced models. Today, there's a laptop for every taste-from tiny ultraportables and the familiar 6-pound thin-and-lights to relatively hefty luggables that have just about every feature you can find on a desktop PC.
|What to Buy and Why|
|Check out the latest laptops here.|
One of the most striking trends has been how quickly wireless networking has become a standard feature of portables of every size. A year ago, 1 in 4 notebooks had some kind of wireless networking. Today, 3 out of 4 do-usually, the 802.11b Wi-Fi flavor used in Intel's Centrino mobile chip package, capable of wireless data transfers as fast as 11Mbps.
When it comes to ultraportables, or ultralights-the less than 4-pound category with the most appeal for executives and other frequent fliers-there's a host of new entries from leading vendors. Toshiba, which virtually invented the category, has an interesting new Centrino ultraportable, the Portégé R100, that's less than an inch thick and a feather-light 2.4 pounds. You can get a 1GHz Low Voltage Pentium M processor and 256MB of fast main memory (expandable to 1GB) for $2,299.
The new HP Compaq Notebook nc4000 ultraportable is a bit thicker, at 1.1 inches, and a little heavier, at 3.5 pounds. It's equipped not only with the ubiquitous .11b Wi-Fi flavor, but also with 54Mbps .11a wireless networking with an easy software upgrade for the .11g Wi-Fi type as well. Offering a little more oomph than the Portégé, you can get an nc4000 with a 1.4GHz Pentium processor and 256MB of memory for $1,650.
Dell's new Latitude X300 is another ultralight with a popular brand name that combines a variety of wireless networking options with extreme portability. The 2.9-pound X300 comes standard with 802.11b/g networking and an inexpensive option for .11a. You can get an X300 that's less than an inch thick with a 1.2GHz Low Voltage Pentium M and 256MB of memory for $1,450.
Same-size tablet PCs, which were introduced with much fanfare a year ago and use the same processors as ultralights, have yet to catch on.
Mobile Printing & What's to Come
Carrying all your info around in digital form has many advantages, but there are times when only hard copies will do-like when you want to give your audience handouts of your presentation. When you need printing on the road and you're far from your 15-pound laser printer, your options are often to fax or e-mail your documents to your hotel or a nearby Kinko's. Neither solution offers quite the convenience and quality you'd really like. "Printing is a pain point for a lot of people," confirms Golvin. "Even though most people do presentations using laptops and overhead projectors, they still like to have paper."
Fortunately, portable printers can please most paper-loving mobile entrepreneurs while offering fewer compromises than other mobile printing options. Canon's i70 $250 Color Bubble Jet inkjet printer weighs in at less than 4 pounds and is a little over a foot long, less than 7 inches wide and 2 inches deep. It prints up to 13 ppm in black and white, 9 ppm in color, and takes 60 seconds to print a 4-by-6-inch photo at up to 4,800 x 1,200 dpi resolution. It prints on paper up to legal size and has a standard 30-sheet feeder that can also handle envelopes.
The $299 Brother MPrint MW-100 microthermal printer is still more petite, weighing less than 10 ounces and measuring 4 by 6.4 by 0.7 inches. A lithium ion battery powers printing up to 100 sheets of A7-size, or 2.91 by 4.13 inch, thermal paper. The 50-sheet paper cassette also handles self-adhesive labels, and special carbon-copy stock allows you to make an original and duplicate in one pass. It communicates with laptops and PDAs via an infrared or USB port.
While business travel may be down, business mobility isn't. Technology is providing solutions for entrepreneurs who work from home or who just wander down the hall. IP Office, an office telephone system from Avaya, provides growing companies with all-in-one data and voice communications for around $375 per station. It offers tools like a "follow me" feature that allows absent workers to forward calls invisibly to home, a meeting room, the hotel or wherever they may be. "Then people can be contacted 24 hours a day," says London-based IP Office product manager Jayne McLachlan. "That makes them much more productive and efficient."
Other mobile-friendly features of IP Office let growing companies inexpensively host their own teleconferences and provide remote access to homebased workers and distant offices. In the future, systems like IP Office will automatically switch cell phone calls from the cellular network-where per-minute charges apply-to the in-house network as a caller walks from the parking lot into the building, McLachlan says.
Seamless integration of wide-area packet data networks and more localized Wi-Fi hot spots is one of the next big objectives for mobile computing and communications. Opinions vary on when that will occur.
Other trends that may help mobile entrepreneurs include increasing standardization and linking of mobile networks, more emphasis on customer care and expanding network coverage, and improvements to that old bugaboo-battery life. Heightened competition among network operators may help the progress of standardization and innovation. Powerful new lithium ion batteries, more sophisticated power management, and experiments with different fuel cells raise hopes that short battery life may soon be a worry of the past.
Meanwhile, no matter what limitations or possibilities are created by the technologies available to mobile entrepreneurs, the business reason for employing them remains compelling. "To provide good service, you have to have instant answers," says Chander Dhawan, mobile IT consultant for MobileInfo.com, a Thornhill, Ontario-based computing information site. "Those who will grow and carry on are those [who] will invest in this type of technology."
All the Tech Goodies
Goodies for the travelers on your list:
Panasonic GU87 (800-414-4408): This less than 4-ounce flip-style phone features a built-in camera and a color screen in an elegant silver package. Price: $319
LG VC6000 (800-793-8896): The rounded clamshell design lends a sleek professional look to this camera-phone with more than three hours of talk time. Price: $149
Kyocera S14 (800-349-4188): Part of the Opal series, the S14 features a straightforward flip-style design and Internet access tools. Price: $149 to $175, depending on the carrier
Sony Ericsson T226: This 2.6-ounce marvel won't weigh your pocket down and has an optional camera accessory available. Price: $50
Sanyo SCP-8100 (818-998-7322): Camera-phones are everywhere, and the SCP-8100 is no exception. It's also fully compatible with the Sprint PCS Vision network. Price: $229
It's the little things in life that make business easier.
NEC LCD1565 (888-NEC-MITS): This is no ordinary 15-inch flat-panel monitor. The 1565 has a collapsible base that folds up for easy portability. Price: $349
Belkin Projector Trolly Case (800-2-BELKIN): Keep both your projector and laptop and safe and sound with this padded and wheeled case. Price: $89
CMS Peripherals 30GB ABSPlus (800-327-5773): This little device provides you with 30GB of room to back up your desktop and notebook data through USB 2.0. Price: $349
TeleAdapt InFlight Power Inverter (877-835-3232): For those long flights, plug this inverter into the power socket on your airplane seat and work or watch DVDs without batter worries. Price: $99
Plantronics M1000 (800-544-4660): For Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, the nifty M1000 lets you use a headset without the headache of dealing with wires. Price: $119
Actiontec USB Bluetooth Adapter (800-797-7001): Add Bluetooth power to your laptop with this small USB device, good for connecting in or out of the office. Price: $40
Proxim ORiNOCO 802.11a/b/g Silver Combo-Card (800-229-1630): You'll have all your Wi-Fi wireless networking bases covered when you plug this PCMCIA card into your notebook. Price: $85
Toshiba TLP-T720u Wireless Projector (800-316-0920): Integrated 802.11b Wi-Fi frees you from being tethered to this 7.5-pound , 2,400 ANSI lumens projector. Price: $3,199
Socket Digital Phone Card (510-744-2700): Use your mobile phone as a modem. Available for Pocket PC and Palm devices. Price: $49 to $109, depending on phone model
Targus Universal IR Wirelesss Keyboard (877-482-7487): This foldable, full-size infrared keyboard makes typing easier on most PDAs and smartphones. Price: $80
Apple PowerBook G4 (800-MY-APPLE): With a 15-inch display and combo drive, this Mac laptop is all business for less than $2,000. Price: $1,999
eMachines M5310 (800-362-2446): This affordable notebook comes with a 40GB hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive and a 15.4-inch screen in a 6.5-pound package. Price: $1,200
Averatec 3120V (949-462-2381): Super-inexpensive 4.3-pound lightweight laptop with a 1.33GHz Intel Mobile Celeron processor. Price: $699
Sharp Actius UM 32W (800-237-4277): Built for business, this notebook comes with a 1GHz Intel Pentium III mobile processor and 256MB RAM to get the job done. Price: $1,499
Fujitsu LifeBook P5010 (877-FPC-DIRECT): Stocked with an Ultra Low Voltage Intel Pentium M 900MHz processor and built-in Intel PRO/Wireless LAN, it weighs in at less than 4 pounds. Price: $1,599
Just for Fun
These items aren't mandatory, but they're sure nice to have along for the ride.
GoOffice AutoExec AE-01 (800-373-9635): This mobile desk fits in the passenger side of your car to keep you organized and working wherever you must drive. Price: $160
Bose QuietComfort Headphones (800-WWW-BOSE): Sure, $300 is a lot for a set of headphones, but these special noise-cancelling headphones keep you soundly comfortable in the loudest of travel situations. Price: $249
Fisher Space Pen (702-293-3011): Tested by NASA, this pen writes upside down and in extreme temperatures, so you know it can withstand the rigors of business travel. Price: $3 to $195, depending on model
Dockers Mobile Pants (800-DOCKERS): These high-tech pants come with a myriad of pockets to store all your electronic devices and a special stain defender coating so you'll always look good at your meetings. Price: $52
Sirius Satellite Radio (888-539-SIRIUS): For entrepreneurs who spend lots of time in the car, Sirius offers commercial-free programming. Price: Hardware varies; service $12.95 per month or $399 for a lifetime subscription.-Amanda C. Kooser
Mark Henricks is Entrepreneur's "Smart Moves" columnist.