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Brave New (Wireless) World
Brave New (Wireless) World

I've always been an adventurous spirit. In some circles that translates to brave; in others the definition leans more toward brainless. This thought crossed my mind most recently while discussing the expanse of wireless Web services with a friend. There had been a recent flurry of activity to provide content and services available via wireless devices, and a thought experiment quickly ensued. How extensive is the state of the wireless world? How successfully could a person rely solely on the content and services provided by the wireless Net? Where could we find a sorry sucker who'd give it a try?

Post-PC Man?

I must admit I'm addicted to my PC. Nothing short of the center of my cosmos, as a developer it is my livelihood. As a citizen of a modern society, it is my gateway to the world at large. Living without the vast amounts of information would be a struggle, to say the least, more like catastrophic in a worst-case scenario. But, like
a brave (brainless?) guinea pig, I unplugged my PC.

"What are you doing, Dave?"
"Braving the wireless world, HAL."
"I'm sorry, Dave, but I can't allow you to do that" **zap**

Armed with a Palm VII and a WAP-enabled phone, I was free to leave my desk and explore the "outdoors world," often a topic of legend and lore in my younger, pre-Internet addiction days. First things first, though. As much as I could do without a computer, I wasn't ready to face my even darker demon, e-mail. I had ThinAir installed on my Palm Pilot, a nice application that provides POP3 access to any mail server. I was wireless - but not isolated. The best part of this experiment was actually identifying my own usage patterns on the computer. I use it most extensively at work, mostly for sending e-mails, writing up specifications, and programming. Minus the occasional Napster download or a few day trades here and there, nothing without which I would shrivel up and die. I sought out ways to make sure I didn't suffer - nothing about martyrdom is appealing.

FusionOne provides Web-based storage as a centralized location for synchronization of all your files (Word documents, in case your boss asks; MP3s, if she doesn't). There was no way that I could figure out to browse to a Web site, download an MP3, then ask it to be saved to FusionOne absent developing an interface myself, most likely CGI scripts and Web clipping applications.

Watching stocks and making trades, however, was far easier than expected. Despite my inherent hatred of the Palm Pilot's shorthand system, which I compare to cursive hieroglyphic Sanskrit, I was able to make a few trades combining E*Trade's Palm Pilot application and my cell phone to actually make the purchase.

WAP vs Palm

Other typical online activities were pretty easily available on the Palm Pilot. I found it far more useful for anything interactive than my WAP phone. My WAP phone is set up to send me the weather for the day and my daily horoscope every day at a specified time. It's much better suited for one-way "pushes." The Palm Pilot had a bigger display and (as much as I hate to admit it) an easier input mechanism. There's nothing good to be said about pressing 9 three times for a Y.

My curiosity was piqued by AOL's latest nosedive into the wireless world with their large deal with Sprint PCS, my phone carrier. The Sprint Wireless Web "portal" listed AOL auspiciously as the third option in their main menu. My attempt to send an e-mail from my AOL account failed miserably and, tired of typing with one finger, I gave up in frustration. I found myself longing for a stylus, the lesser of two evils.

I must say that in terms of real-time access to news stories, the wireless Web is really the way to go. I had no problems keeping up to date, browsing to stories of interest and "clicking" through to get a more detailed story. I was concerned about the length of some of the stories on the Palm Pilot - anything over 150KB a month from Palm.net and they have dibs on my first-born child. I had the foresight to switch my phone plan to include free wireless Web for the duration of my experiment.

Frustrations aside, I opted to go to a movie, listings for which were conveniently available by both cell phone and Palm Pilot. I opted for the Palm Pilot, for time's sake. I also installed Amazon.com Anywhere, Amazon's PQA for wireless shopping. Mission Impossible 2 wasn't all that great, but I was sure the soundtrack would be. I was slightly apprehensive about transmitting credit card information over a wireless connection. (Later I would do some additional research into the security built into the Palm VII and be much reassured.) The transaction went off without a hitch. It was slow compared to what I could have done with a desktop, I thought to myself, still not forgetting what it felt like to be shackled to a desk in order to enjoy the Internet.

No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

Experiment over. A day in the life of a man free from wires had given me a different vision. The freedom to wander came at a price, namely speed and usability. I was reminded of the  Internet's earlier days. Access to your information from any computer was a convenience but came at a price - ironically, speed and usability. The parallel was clear. And there's my outlook. Welcome to the second revolution (or was that continued evolution?) of the Internet.

About Jeremy Hill
Jeremy Hill, WBT's Generation Y editor, has a heavy interest in WAP development and wireless Internet access. He has served as senior Webmaster for large hospital chains as well as government agencies where he helped implement large-scale wireless Internet projects. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan. He resides in the Los Angeles area, where he is currently pursuing a
graduate degree in computer science.

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