Web Informant #195, 10 April 2000: http://www.strom.com/awards/195.html
Evaluating the new wireless web applications
As many of you know, I have forsaken a laptop for the use of
borrowed computers and the local Kinkos. I am not completely
without technology, however: for the past year or so I have
been using a Sprint PCS phone with its wireless web
capabilities. Lately this has become more useful with several
new applications available on the phone coupled with an offer
of six months' free data usage by Sprint. (www.sprintpcs.com)
Let's see what you can do with your phone besides make voice
I tested several services, all of which (with one exception)
are freely available once you register. The trick with most
of these services is to setup an account with one of the
application providers on your existing Internet-connected PC,
and then have your phone nearby so you can follow on your PC
the instructions to setup what you need on the phone. It
isn't very simple, to be sure, and sometimes I had to go
through the entire sequence of steps more than once.
Most of these services allow you to access your email from
your phone – either your existing POP Internet mail server or
a special email account that is associated with the service
provider. Some had additional features, such as access to
your appointment calendar or address book, both of which you
would need to enter the data from your PC's browser if you
want to retain your sanity. And a few applications had some
other nifty features that I'll get to in a moment.
After you set up your application, you'll want to make a
bookmark on the phone's menu system so you can easily bring
it up. One of the things you quickly learn with these phones
is that every keystroke is precious and time-consuming, so
the fewer keys to get to your applications, the better. On my
Denso Touchpoint phone, this is found under the Help menu
option – not as obvious as I'd like. And some of the
applications have so many menu branches that it will drive
you nuts pressing the buttons and scrolling around on the
tiny screens available on most phones. If this is an issue,
you might consider that many of these service offerings are
also available on Palm VIIs or Palms with wireless Internet
connections, but I haven't gotten around to trying these out.
This is just a small sampling of service offerings available.
There are probably dozens more, and hundreds to come. Let me
know if I have missed some of your favorites.
- Infinite Technologies.
This is still the one service I use the most, including their
web-based email system when I am traveling and using a
borrowed machine. It is just for downloading your existing
email account. Since you work directly with your own POP
server, you can delete messages from the phone directly,
unlike some of the other services that just collect the email
and leave copies. The phone-based screens aren't too
cluttered, and sometimes their service is down but the
messages are maddening obscure. On Infinite's web site are
great instructions on how to setup the service.
This is a very extensive web-based service that can connect
to hundreds of various web sites, including financial, news,
and entertainment. The implementation on the phone is less
satisfying, mainly because the tiny screens make it hard to
scroll through more than miniscule collections of
information. And while their email service is extensive, I
had trouble reading one of my POP providers, in addition to
reading folders in My Yahoo email. The setup instructions are
very helpful, almost to the fault of being too detailed. I'm
not sure I would want to trust Yodlee to automatically login
to my bank accounts and other financial data, though.
- Yahoo Mobile.
My Yahoo is the one personalized portal that I use the most
on the home PC: it contains a page that everyone in the
family uses to check the weather, find directions, and lookup
the latest movie times. Yahoo already comes as one of the
menu choices for the Sprint PCS phones, but you'll need to
bookmark it if you want to do an autologin to your own
personalized My Yahoo page and collect your Yahoo email. From
the phone you can access most of My Yahoo's services, such as
stocks, sports scores, weather, and so forth. And like MSN
Mobile, you can set up a number of alerts to notify you when
your stock price drops or when the weather changes. There is
a bug in the address book that prevents dialing of phone
numbers from your entry on the first try.
Visto, like Yahoo and Yodlee, has the ability to collect
external POP email and also to synchronize its email with
your own desktop (something I didn't test). It has the same
address book bug like Yahoo that prevents dialing of phone
numbers on the first try.
- Mobile MSN.
Microsoft has beefed up its MSN service and it now comes
close to My Yahoo in terms of customized features and
information displays. Of course, you'll need a Hotmail
account to use the email features, and while you are at you
might as well sign up for Microsoft Passport too. You can
setup customized notification services, such as for when your
stock price changes or when you receive email, although they
are not very simple to setup. Microsoft is working on better
MyDocsOnline is one of the first services to support web
folders, meaning that you can browse a directory on the web
of your files in the same fashion as you would browse the
files on your own hard disk. You can set up this service to
send files from a common web-based storage area to others via
email, using commands on your phone. You first have to upload
the files via your PC and once they are in your storage area
you can't view their contents via the phone. Still, for users
who do lots of traveling and can't take all their files with
them, this could be handy.
The only fee-based service here, eFax has long been one of my
favorite ways to receive faxes in my email account. Now you
can use your phone as a fax router and direct your inbound
faxes to a real fax machine to view them, perhaps while you
are standing nearby for delivery of sensitive documents. Fax
forwarding requires a paid account, while notification of
faxes is accomplished on the free accounts.
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