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The Future Is Now

'Star Trek' tech leaps out of sci-fi flicks--and into the palm of your hand.

This story appears in the January 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

A nother year is upon us, bringing with it a new wave of hot technologies and trends that hold great potential to change the way we live and how we do business. While some, like e-commerce, have been around awhile, recent innovations have breathed new life into old ideas. Others, like information appliances, are untested and still await mainstream acceptance.

  • Smart cards: A familiar sight in Europe and, more recently, on U.S. college campuses and military bases, smart cards are poised to make their debut with consumers nationwide. Unlike magnetic-strip cards, smart cards use tamper-resistant microchips that can store bank balances as well as ID information and customer histories, and can be debited by a card reader without calling a central bank for authorization. Eager to sell merchants and consumers on the idea of the smart card, American Express and Visa International have taken another step toward an international interoperability standard by investing in Proton World International, a smart card distributor that has already provided 30 million cards to fifteen countries outside the United States.
  • Convergence: Combining pre-existing technologies into a single product is not a new idea. But 1999 will see the introduction of "information appliances," devices which meld the features of cellular phones with handheld PCs like 3Com's immensely popular PalmPilot. Aside from eliminating the need for a briefcase brimming with cell phones, pagers, notebook computers and the like, information appliances will allow mobile users to synchronize and update information via a digital cellular link with networks and databases back at the office. While this technology is still in the early stages of development, information appliances from Nokia and Philips are already on the market, and a number of software companies, including Starfish, are planning to release operating systems for these devices.

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