This appeared in
WestJet Inflight Magazine
August 2001



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Walking the wireless walk; talking the tireless talk.
What's happening in the wonderful world of wireless?
Toronto, July 11-13.

Mobile phone companies report they are being swamped by demand. Let's face it, everyone has one, or is getting one, or is upgrading to a newer model. You sign up at a store in the mall that last year sold kids' accessories. Now it's occupied by a bunch of grade 10 drop-outs who speak in grunts, wear black pants and white shirts too large for their scrawny frames, and answer every question with "Like, I'll have Randy get back to you, like, on that."

Welcome to the wonderful world of wireless. Some of you will remember the early 80s, when the computer world was exploding too. Predictions were that, within a decade, every home would have several. Mom would keep all her recipes on one in the kitchen. Not. Dad would use one to control the alarm, lights, heating and air-conditioning. Not. And the kids were going to learn from those floppy disks just crammed with useful knowledge (like, what's the capital of Kazakhstan?). Three strikes, and you're out.

So much for predicting future tech.

Now here it's the new millennium, and where's wireless headed? Remember those ads just a few years ago with the woman in a stalled car at the side of the road, calling for help? Forget it. That's not where cellular is going. Why should it? Given a choice between using something new for profit or pleasure, you can bet pleasure will win every time.

The latest fad out of Japan, and coming to a zone near you, is the staggering growth in on-line game playing, using your cell phone. UK-based Strategy Analytics estimates over 100 million people will be active within four years. I know it's only a prediction, and we should all be very careful about predictions, but brace yourselves, folks, the game's the thing. Wireless Dungeons & Dragons is coming to an ear near you.

This has put pressure on the creators of games to deliver a new generation of products. Keith Bates is CEO of Ontario-based Plazmic Inc., a company developing a JavaTM-based platform for mobile phone games. They recently inked a deal with Japan's Softbank Mobile and CA-based Walt Disney Co. to take the technology to the next level. Bates talks about "rich wireless content", which sounds like chocolate, and is probably about as addictive.

Let's move from a sweet tooth to Bluetooth, a new wireless standard developed by Scandinavia-based Ericsson, and named for Denmark's legendary king Harald Bluetooth of the Middle Ages. What makes this standard attractive, according to Idris Mootee, director of Organic Inc. in San Francisco, is that a lot of technology fails because, instead of making things easier, it adds complexity. (We've all been there.) Bluetooth doesn't.

Nearly 2,000 wireless companies world-wide are developing Bluetooth applications. One of the neat things about it is when two units (phones, PDAs or computers) come close to each other, they set up their own wireless network. Others can join too. It's like humans talking, only at very high data rates. "Rich wireless content" takes on a whole new meaning.

Naturally, there's pressure on the phone designers such as Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc. to come up with smarter phones and better screens. One of the biggest challenges is to improve tactile input. There's only so much real estate on a cell phone, and it keeps shrinking. Plus, there's a finite size they can reduce your fingers down to. A BC-based company, Tactex Controls Inc. has a patented '"digital skin" that senses multiple touches and positions simultaneously. You don't even have to do things in sequence (like dialling), you can do them all in parallel. Think of the possibilities. While it's not a better button array, it offers a new way of communicating with graphics rich platforms.

Whatever happens in the next two years, third generation (3G) phones are going to be something else. When 3G actually arrives, however, is a topic for another column.

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