Sticking a wireless modem into your lap top system is probably the easiest single way to get into mobile computing. If you already are, or are a wannabe, Mad Max Road Warrior, then you have a large number of available choices. You can purchase a highly flexible modem like Sierra Wireless's PocketPlus, and its corresponding Windows-based Watcher software. This product combination yields three TCP/IP communications options: CDPD, Circuit Switched Cellular (CSC), and regular wireline.
During a 19.2 Kbs CDPD data exchange, the connection from your modem to the host is always up, so response and transmission times are fairly fast. Pacific Coast Sciences (San Diego, CA) also offers its Ubiquity modem products that support CDPD and CSC in the same unit. Circuit Switched Cellular (your basic cellular phone call) can cost somewhat less for large data transfers than RAM or ARDIS. The only problem with this type of 9600 baud channel is that it can take up to 30 seconds to establish a CSC connection before transmitting data. CSC data calls are billed just your like ordinary cellular voice call.
But if its RAM Mobitex services you want, then you can buy the IBM/Ericsson M2190 PCMCIA (Type III) wireless modem with integrated modem, battery, and antenna. For an ARDIS connection, another PCMCIA (Type II) slot possibility is Motorola's Personal Messenger 100D, which also integrates an intelligent two way wireless modem with battery and antenna. The PM 100D also continues to download data into its memory even if it's not plugged into your computer.
For those LAN-based PC users who want to go wireless, but who also want to continue to use LAN standard transfer agents, like Novell's MHS (Message Handling System), Motorola offers its AirMobile client software. Over 150 applications are compatible with MHS. Via Motorola's AirMobile Communication Servers, you can quickly integrate and wirelessly enable your mission critical LAN applications. For a complete line of wireless, wide area networking integration products, also check out TEKnique (Schaumberg, IL). This company's goods also cover wireless TCP/IP gateways through Mobitex, CDPD, ARDIS, and CSC.
Finally, if you are a mail order catalog junkie, then by all means call Totally Wireless (1-800-96-WIRELESS). This catalog offers a dizzying array of wireless products, from pagers, to e mail, to cellular modems, to PDAs, to wireless communications, to GPS location receivers, and even Direct Broadcast Satellite products.
Wireless-Enabled Personal Digital Assistants
The PDA wireless game really boils down to a handful of players. Apple's Newton, and General Magic's Magic Cap systems (like Motorola's Envoy) are probably the most well known. Microsoft, of course, had its WinPad PDA disaster, shelved due to cost and performance problems. But in true Microsoft we-never-give-up style, it keeps plugging away at it. The latest MS PDA attempt
is code-named Pegasus, due out sometime in the first half of
1996. Little is known about Pegasus, except that it appears to be a 2 - 4 MB version of Win95, and will support a PDA 320 x 240 pixel screen with four levels of gray.
Supposedly smaller than a Newton, Pegasus PDAs will nonetheless include a keyboard, and also include some support for pen input. What provisions are being made in Pegasus for wireless connections are not known at this time. But if any of these PDAs are to fulfill their market mission, all of them will need big improvements in their battery life; have to become more robust; get much smaller; offer high quality voice recognition; and seamlessly support wireless paging/PCS/CSC services.
Microsoft, of course, was not the only PDA supplier to hit a snag or two on the way to market. The first Apple Newtons were less than a stellar success. But the latest Newton variants seem to have fixed many of the most glaring problems; including much needed fixes to its handwriting recognition system.
General Magic also had its PDA problems in 1995, undergoing a major shift in key personnel, as well as in market strategy. General Magic (GM) decided to dump its all-or-nothing, all-in-one, Magic Cap interface/Telescript strategy; and instead moved its Telescript language into the market as a stand-alone product, with the Internet being an especially attractive market target. In addition, GM has plans to support its Magic Cap desktop metaphor on other operating systems, notably Win95. To what extent GM can break free of the AT&T Personal Link services and Magic Cap restrictions remains to be seen.
According to GM, to create intelligent agent-based applications, Telescript would need to be designed into a Web site. Telescript is server driven, unlike Java, which is client-oriented. Telescript need not be designed into Web browsers. However, GM says such incorporation may enable enhanced capabilities. GM thus intends to pursue an 'open' Internet strategy.
But if the new GM business focus is Telescript agents on the Internet, then it faces formidable competition in Sun's new Java language. Java can also be used for creating agents, is free, and is garnering wide support on the Internet. Java is already a standard feature of Netscape Navigator 2.x , for example.
[A potential market spoiler for both GM's Telescript and Sun's Java is Eolas Technologies. In 1995, Eolas announced a licensing agreement with the University of California for the exclusive rights to a pending patent covering the use of embedded program objects. This patent technology area also includes 'applets' within Web documents. Applets are Java's home turf. If its patent is granted, Eolas could demand monetary compensation from Sun, and by extension Netscape, thus changing the no cost market dynamics of Java completely. Eolas might also be in a position to put a financial bite into GM's Telescript agents; as well as any other company who seeks to make the Web intelligently interactive via agents, or applets. Eolas stands for Embedded Objects Linked Across Systems. It is also the Gaelic word for knowledge. But if Eolas win its patent, it may also be eligible for another great Gaelic expression: "putting the fiddle on someone", as in getting something of value for nothing.]
The Next Wireless Step: Ubiquitous Computing
is not roaming mobile laptops, intelligent agents, PDA's, pagers, nor PCS/Cellular
telephony. Xerox perhaps states it best: "Ubiquitous Computing is the idea of invisible computation everywhere enhancing life in the real world. This idea is also sometimes called 'Ubicomp' and 'Embodied Virtuality." Ubicomp
helped kick off the recent boom in mobile computing research, although it is
not the same thing as mobile computing, nor a superset nor a subset. Ubicomp
theory predicts that the number of computers you interact with on a daily basis
will soon amazingly multiply, like so many digital gerbils.
Ubiquitous Computing, in its current form, was first articulated by Mark Weiser in 1988 at the Computer Science Lab at Xerox PARC, who said:
"We believe that people live through their practices and tacit knowledge so that the most powerful things are those that are effectively invisible in use. This is a challenge that affects all of computer science. Our preliminary approach: Activate the world. Provide hundreds of wireless computing devices per person per office, of all scales (from 1" displays to wall sized). This has required new work in operating systems, user interfaces, networks, wireless, displays, and many other areas. We call our work "ubiquitous computing". This is different from PDA's, dynabooks, or information at your fingertips. It is invisible, everywhere computing that does not live on a personal device of any sort, but is in the woodwork, everywhere."
Peter Drucker once pointed out that a new technology cannot displace an old one unless it is proven to be at least ten times better. Otherwise, the inertia of the massive capital investment in the installed base, as well as the engineers responsible for supporting the old system, will prevail, and thus block the new system's adoption.
Be that as it may, history has also shown time and time again that even a ten X improvement may not be necessary to displace another technology. For example, do you really think the first version of IBM/Microsoft PC DOS was ten times better than the C/PM system it displaced? When a market is ready to move en masse, it just goes, and not much can stop it. The same thing may be about to happen.
So watch carefully. History may once more be in the making.
Copyright 1996, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved
21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com