A look at some mobile tools for the long road ahead

Our columnist Tim Scannell has seen everything from AP-sniffing dogs to software that scans corporate documents for "bull." Here is his take on a few mobile gadgets.





Maybe it's our attractive e-mail address, or perhaps the fact we often fail to activate the filters on our Web site, but we get a lot of tips from our subscribers about interesting products and technologies. For example, last August one of our readers forwarded information about a robotic dog that was developed by security experts to sniff out rogue wireless access points and identify network vulnerabilities. A prototype of this device was reportedly demonstrated at a hacker convention, where it was able to hunt down POP passwords over the existing Wi-Fi network. (We wonder what you would feed such an animal. Maybe "Kibbles & Bytes"!).

Another interesting tip came from a friend of ours at Intel Corp., who informed us of a new software program that

is designed to eliminate the jargon and excess hype from business documents. Essentially, the BullFighter software -- which works with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint applications -- promises to "cut the bull" from verbose and confusing company documents by tracking hundreds of so-called "bull-words." For example, the program would flag the use of "extensible repository" for expandable disk storage.

The software was developed somewhat tongue in cheek by Deloitte Consulting, and is available for free download from the company's Web site at http://www.dc.com/insights/bullfighter/. Consultants there claim its use can help clients better dig through the layers of corporate rhetoric and doublespeak to get to the real investment meat of the matter. We'll let you be the judge, but only if you promise not to run the Shoreline Update through this verbal meat grinder.

Obviously we also take note of some interesting and more useful mobile products during the course of our relentless observance of the industry. Here are a few that caught our attention over the past few months:

1. Mobility Electronics Juice and Ice notebook and cell phone power adapters. Let's face it, even the fanciest of notebooks is as good as the battery inside, and most offer a very limited lifespan. These adapters, which are a part of the company's Peripheral Powering System line, let you plug your laptop into a nearby AC outlet, cigarette lighter or airline charging unit to inject a little life into your flagging system. The Ice unit offers a series of swappable tips that can accommodate different notebooks and other mobile devices (cell phones, handhelds, etc.), while Juice allows your notebook to plug into virtually anything that offers a quick power charge. Both are priced pretty reasonably as well. More information at www.mobilityelectronics.com.

2. The Ximeta NetDisk from NDAS Technology offers a whopping 160 GB of mobile storage in a sleek and compact enclosure. However, what is unique about this product is that it is designed to be connected to your local area network (LAN) and shared among users on that network. This makes it ideal for small-office home-office situations, or for departmental networks within corporations. It can also be economically used in distributed retail applications, where there are hundreds or even thousands of autonomous small networks thirsty for shared storage. The NetDisk is fast (offer speeds up to 7,200 RPM); expandable (you can daisy-chain NetDisks to increase total storage capacities); hot-swappable; and has a simultaneous mirroring feature that is important when using multiple drives.

Best of all, we like the price: Roughly $200 after rebates for a 160 GB model. We also like the fact that products like this are well-positioned to take advantage of increasing multimedia storage demands in the office, and can also be used by consumers as a storage alternative for digital broadcast applications and shared multimedia applications. More information at www.ximeta.com.

3. We are still struggling to find any concrete business reasons for capturing images with cell phones and then transmitting them to other cell phone users. Sure, there are people in real estate who will argue that it is a great way to send low-quality and annoying images to prospective clients, and sales people who swear they use such devices to build a visual data base of their contacts. In reality, such technologies primarily target consumer uses and have a way to go before they are entirely absorbed into the business mainstream. Despite this skepticism we do think there is still a need for melding digital images with other technologies to serve a real and actual need.

This is why we like the Olympus America's W-10 digital recorder. We have long been a fan of digital recording, starting with the now discontinued Olympus D-1000 model. This latest gem is much lighter than this earlier system, and provides 16M bytes of internal memory for up to three hours of recording time in its Long Play Mode. It can also be easily connected to a PC via the USB port for downloading and uploading audio files and notes. These files can also be sent via e-mail to associates for those times when written messages just don't convey the passion that you feel.

The best feature of the W-10, however, is that it has a built-in .3 mega pixel CMOS chip and digital camera capability, which can be used to capture the subject of your audio file or can be used to augment your digital diary. For example, you can use the device to capture comments made on the exhibit floor of a trade show (the system offer two voice folders to manage your files, with each folder capable of storing up to 100 messages), and then snap images of new products or the business contacts made on the show floor (the W-10 offers one image folder for visual indexes, which can hold up to 250 images). Once audio and video are captured, everything can be easily downloaded onto your host PC using the included 'voice album' software.

Olympus has more capable and powerful digital recorders in its line, including those that like our earlier D-1000 (still in service after more than a decade of use!) offer removable and expandable storage options. But, this small system is a standout because of its converged audio and video capabilities. Check it out at www.olympus.com.

4. We haven't had the chance to check this product out yet, but thought it worth mentioning since it will be demonstrated later this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas as part of the Consumer Electronics Associations' Best of Innovations Awards presentation. It is the Personal Voice Assistant (PVA) from Z-Tel Communications, Inc., which is actually a voice-activated communication service that allows users to send voice e-mail or voice dial their contacts, which are stored in a virtual address book and can be accessed anywhere from a conventional telephone. The PVA offers conference calling, broadcast voicemail, an automatic contact updater, directory assistance and the ability to compile and tap into 'communities' of networked PVA address books. The service is particularly attractive to cell phone users, who can rely on it to send e-mail messages to associates and friends nationwide.

Z-Tel Communications claims to be the first national local telephone service provider in the U.S., following the Telecommunications Act of 1996. So, it is no surprise that PVA is offered free to the company's telephone subscribers. But, we also think there is a huge market for voice-enabled e-mail and communications applications, and those like PVA which are available via a subscription model. Granted, Z-Tel's offering is far from being a true electronic assistant, like the products developed by the now defunct WildFire Communications. But, it does serve a simple mobile purpose, which is really what it is al about when you are out there on the road. More info at www.z-tel.com.

Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to http://www.shorelineresearch.com.


This was first published in January 2004

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