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The difficulties of using a typical cell phone as a window to the world, difficulties like laborious text entry and slow bandwidth, have been widely reported. Next-generation phones may help to minimize these obstacles. Just look at what you can do today with the very latest devices. But are features like Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) micro-browsers and two-way text messaging worth the price of admission? PREVIEW ON THE WEB WAP is a way of squeezing Web pages into small mobile telephone screens. You can learn more at www.wapforum.org. There are far fewer WAP-capable phones in the United States than in Europe or Asia. A good way to try WAP is to visit the free WAP emulator sites on the Internet. One of the best is at www.gelon.net. A WAP emulator can show you how well (or poorly) the Web content will actually be displayed on a particular cell phone. Other emulator sites are www.yospace.comand www.wirelessdevnet.com. In order to find the various WAP services available, you need a WAP directory. Several good WAP site directories are Yahoo! Mobile ( mobile.yahoo.com) and LookSmart Wireless ( www.wapls.com). It is still too soon to tell how useful WAP and other “wireless Internet” services will be. There have been rumblings overseas that WAP has not met expectations. But at these emulation sites, at least you can test the waters before jumping in. Cell phone text messaging is already popular in Europe and Asia but just catching on here. It comes in several variations and is known by many names: short messaging service, interactive paging and so on. Basically, these all refer to sending and receiving text messages on your cell phone. On many of these systems you just type the message, then dial the recipient’s cell phone number to send a message. Of course, the catch is typing letters on numeric keys, although some newer phones have smarter text input. Wireless text messaging is the next logical extension of desktop instant messaging platforms like America Online and Yahoo! services. But just as the desktop-based IM programs currently cannot talk with one another, neither can the cell phones. Wireless text messaging generally only works when both parties are on the same network. E-MAIL BY PHONE If WAP and wireless messaging still sound a bit bothersome, you can get some of the same information just by talking into your cell phone. Yes, talking. You can now check e-mail through a toll-free U.S. number. Yahoo! recently added the free “Yahoo! by Phone” service at phone.yahoo.com, and it lets you check your Yahoo! e-mail and voice messages. You just sign up, assign a 10-digit number to your e-mail account (your phone number), and a password. Then call 1-800-MY-YAHOO, and listen to your messages. “Tellme” is another free service that offers features you might see in a WAP micro-browser menu, such as news, travel, restaurants, movies, stock quotes and even driving directions. Simply call 1-800-555-TELL when you need information. Account signup is at www.tellme.com. You respond to a list of keywords such as “Weather,” and follow prompts to home in on your specific request. You can say “Stop” at any time, and “TellMeMenu” to return to the home menu. It is fast and easy to use from any phone, including your cell phone. NOTHING BUT THE NUMBER The best part is that you do not have to enter anything other than the phone number, since it is completely voice-driven. And if you have some time to kill, you can also play an entertaining game of blackjack with Sean Connery (impersonated but still fun). One last development: Cell phone speech recognition may improve sooner than expected. Voice Signal Technologies ( www.voicesignal.com), a three-year old Boston start-up, recently claimed that it can squeeze a functional speech recognition system into a cell phone’s regular main processor. The technology is already being used in interactive toys and GE microwave ovens. The company hopes to have a deal with one of the major cell phone manufacturers next year. Imagine composing a text message by simply speaking into your phone. So while there is a lot you can do besides talking on your cell phone, would you want to? With these free call-in voice services and mobile speech recognition now looming, will cell phone owners want to deal with keypad entry when they can simply talk? Being a lawyer myself, I may already know the answer. Jeffrey Beard is a legal technologist with Milwaukee, Wis.-based Quarles & Brady. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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