Magazine article Management Today Offensive

Magazine article Management Today Offensive

Article excerpt

As a harbinger of the age of connectivity, the WAP phone was disappointing. But the communications industry insists that the internet's future is mobile and to prove it is turning e-commerce into me-commerce -- personalised data and services delivered fast to users on the hoof.

Imagine the scene. You're in a strange town a few years hence, on your way to meet a client for the first time. Leaving the hotel, you confidently head off in the right direction, although you've never been there before and haven't asked the way. How come you're so sure you know where you're going? Because your glasses are wirelessly connected via Bluetooth to a net-enabled smart phone in your pocket, and they are projecting downloaded instructions directly on to your field of vision -- like a fighter pilot's head-up display. If that's not enough to keep you on the straight and narrow, the phone also tracks your exact location and movements (by means of its built-in Global Positioning System chip) and flashes up corrections if you still manage to take a wrong turning.

OK, so a taxi or a decent map could achieve the same result, but this technology has other uses. On the flight over, you had a virtual meeting with the MD (prospects for business in the new United Republic of Korea) and visited ToysRStillUs to buy a birthday present for your four-year-old. Then the interactive city guide function found a restaurant with an interesting menu near your hotel and booked you a table as a post-meeting treat. And yes, the glasses also correct the short-sightedness you developed from peering too hard at your monitor back in the days when you still had a desk and the PC was king.

It may sound like something out of The Matrix, but this is me-commerce -- e-commerce on the go, personalised to your exact location and requirements. And we will be able to do it a lot sooner than you might think. Even the kind of gadgetry described above is as much science fact as science fiction. Bluetooth (a so-called 'personal area network' that allows devices within 10 metres of each other to communicate without cables) has already found a market in hands-free telephone headsets, with more applications to come.

First-generation smart phones (the much-discussed WAR mobiles) have been around for a year or more, and even early versions of the high-tech specs can be bought more or less off the shelf. But at about [pound]4,500 for something that makes you look like an extra from Star Trek -- The Next Generation, you are unlikely to spot many pairs on the high street yet.

'Mobile commerce really is about to take off,' says Rama Aysola, founder of me-commerce software specialist AirFlash, which is working with the Orange network to provide 'location-dependant services' such as directions and hotel information on its forthcoming mobile internet portal.

It is already possible for some users (customers of Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile service, for example) to buy COs, wine and even TV sets via their phones, and Aysola predicts that these simple financial transactions will become more common as other operators follow suit. 'You'll be able to book things like cinema tickets using a WAP phone, and the cost will simply be added to your bill,' he says.

Of course, if you don't want to wait that long, you could just call the box office on your old-world mobile, but those who would dismiss me-commerce as just another techno-turkey should take note: the communications industry expects a mobile future and is prepared to invest heavily in making it happen. It is predicted that by 2005 there will be half a billion devices (ranging from smart mobile phones to internet-enabled electronic organisers) capable of conducting me-commerce, and that the revenues generated this way will top $200 billion worldwide -- growth that makes the take-up of the PC-based internet to date look pedestrian.

'Mobile will be the biggest market ever, no question of that,' says Larry Sellin, director of mobile e-services at Hewlett-Packard, a company that is best known for thing-making and is already energetically positioning itself as a provider of me-commerce infrastructure. …

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