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

By David Doran

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

  • Smart cards: A familiar sight in Europe and, morerecently, on U.S. college campuses and military bases, smart cardsare poised to make their debut with consumers nationwide. Unlikemagnetic-strip cards, smart cards use tamper-resistant microchipsthat can store bank balances as well as ID information and customerhistories, and can be debited by a card reader without calling acentral bank for authorization. Eager to sell merchants andconsumers on the idea of the smart card, American Express and VisaInternational have taken another step toward an internationalinteroperability standard by investing in Proton WorldInternational, a smart card distributor that has already provided30 million cards to fifteen countries outside the UnitedStates.
  • Convergence: Combining pre-existing technologies into asingle product is not a new idea. But 1999 will see theintroduction of "information appliances," devices whichmeld the features of cellular phones with handheld PCs like3Com's immensely popular PalmPilot. Aside from eliminating theneed for a briefcase brimming with cell phones, pagers, notebookcomputers and the like, information appliances will allow mobileusers to synchronize and update information via a digital cellularlink with networks and databases back at the office. While thistechnology is still in the early stages of development, informationappliances from Nokia and Philips are already on the market, and anumber of software companies, including Starfish, are planning torelease operating systems for these devices.

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