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The cell phone is the most popular form of mobile technology among lawyers. It is about to become more useful, too, with a whole series of new features on the way. You’ve probably already seen the IBM commercial in which a woman orders a soda from a vending machine by pressing a few keys on her cell phone. That’s just the start of what technology companies want to offer by phone. There are a few problems, however, with a telephone as a window to the world. Let’s start with the keypad. It was made to punch in numbers, not letters. Just entering a simple message — say, “Will call you later” — takes more than 40 key strokes. Why not just make the call instead? Phone makers need to change how we enter data. Perhaps they will incorporate two useful features from the hand-held computing market: a keyboard, such as that for the RIM Blackberry, and stylus-based handwriting recognition. In fact, the NeoPoint 2000 series ( www.neopoint.com) will add a slide-on, Blackberry-like thumb pad. Longer term, voice recognition may be the best input technology. But voice recognition still has a way to go. Current phone models recognize only the most basic commands, such as “Phone home.” As an interim step, newer phones are using Tegic’s T9 text input system ( www.tegic.com). This streamlines data entry to one key press per letter. It guesses your word from the combinations of the letters on the various keys. Phone makers are trying to make their models more like the Palm and Handspring hand-held computers. Several new phones are incorporating “organizer” features such as calendars, huge address books, memos and to-do lists. These models include the $179 NeoPoint 1600, the soon-to-be-released LG InfoComm LGI-3000W ( www.lgjoyphone. Com) priced at $250-$350 (estimated) and the Kyocera QCP 3035 ( www.kyocera-wireless.com), also coming soon, at under $200. Naturally, prices vary widely when bundled with service. There’s a problem with these phones, however. They won’t be powered by the Palm operating system and thus will be unable to run thousands of add-on programs available for that platform. Furthermore, there is a brewing slugfest among Palm, Symbian and Microsoft over which of those companies will supply the operating software for smart phones. The $799 Qualcomm pdQ phone was the first phone to incorporate Palm technology, but it was too expensive, too large and too clunky. Ericsson is the second phone maker to try to incorporate a robust hand-held operating system. Its upcoming R380 model ( www.ericsson.com) runs on Symbian’s EPOC operating system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is working on the “Stinger” Pocket PC smart phone. Samsung will likely be the first vendor to release it. Undaunted by the failure of the pdQ phone, Palm has an ongoing relationship with both Nokia and Motorola, but neither vendor has announced a Palm phone yet. And let’s not forget the newly released $299 Handspring VisorPhone, a cell phone plug-in module for the Visor hand-helds. The Visors run on the Palm operating system, so the VisorPhone should provide seamless phone/hand-held service ( www.handspring.com). Making the Web accessible on tiny screens is the final frontier for phones. That’s where WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and i-Mode come in. These are two new wireless data systems geared to delivering Web content to mobile units. WAP is more prevalent in Europe and is about to take off in the United States. I-Mode is strongest in Japan, where it was developed, and is offered by Japan’s largest telecommunications company, DoCoMo. Today’s phones are small and slow, so people are unlikely to surf the Web in traditional ways. Both of these new protocols minimize or strip out the graphics-heavy portions of Web pages. They also ease navigation by relying less on typing, turning the Web into a series of menus. Moving around is as simple as using the cell phone’s up and down arrow keys and selecting an item or page view. The new Nokia 7100 series WAP-enabled phone even adds a handy NaviRoller — a thumbwheel that lets you make selections by pressing down. The 7100 is already available in Europe and Asia, and, according to early reports, it should be hitting the United States shortly. It’s estimated to cost $200 to $300, before service bundling discounts. Farther down the road, 3G (third generation) broadband wireless is coming. As Japan moves toward its initial 3G wireless rollout next year (at speeds initially more than 20 times faster than what is available in the United States), there’s already talk of receiving video commercials and even person-to-person videoconferencing. With features like that, Dick Tracy would be proud.

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