The automobile used to be called the “horseless carriage.” When silent movies added sound, people called them “talkies.”

Soon, the term “cellular phone” will be outdated. Instead, your former cell phone will contain so many applications, it will need a new name. Perhaps you’ll call it an information management device or, more simply, a handheld device.

The explosion in wireless technology will do more than change our vocabulary—it will likely have a big impact on our daily personal and professional lives. If you want to remain competitive in the business world, you’ll be using a variety of multipurpose wireless devices, according to several IT experts attending the GartnerGroup Spring Symposium/ ITxpo in San Diego.

Cell phone functions
A panel from the wireless industry discussed a wide variety of functions your cell phone will perform:

  • You’ll use it as a credit card to dial in payments—even for small purchases such as paying for parking.
  • With location-based technology, it will give you directions while you’re driving and alert you to leave for your destination early if there’s a traffic problem.
  • Along with access to the Internet, it will provide voice-enabled e-mail.
  • You’ll eventually use it as a video camera.

Jay Highley, vice president of customer unit Sprint PCS, shared his thoughts about the future of wireless during the panel discussion. “You will see video. Initially you’ll probably see ‘still’ video—which, from a business standpoint, I can think of a lot of applications [for]…I can get rid of my digital camera. This will be my digital camera.”

The new intelligence
Panel member Robert O’Hara, leader of the design team for Microsoft’s microbrowser technology for cellular telephones, said the instant messaging now available on the Internet would be extended to the handset device. Offline, you’ll know whether your “buddy” is nearby. While you’re visiting a shopping mall, your handheld device will alert you that your friend is visiting a store inside.

Paul Chellgren, vice president of business development and product management Americas region for Nokia Mobile Phones, also took part in the Gartner symposium panel. He explained that huge resources in virtually every IT company worldwide all have the same goal—enabling their applications to work with the wireless phone.

“The energy going at this in the industry is mind-boggling,” Chellgren said.

Assorted devices
Panel members agreed that the cell phone isn’t the only device that will undergo a profound evolution during this shift to wireless. It’s likely consumers and business people will have a variety of devices used for different purposes.

“We’re working with Outlook and server teams to make your Outlook data—say your e-mail and your calendar…[able to] be rendered on a variety of small handsets or pagers,” said Microsoft’s O’Hara. Microsoft is developing ways to adapt its applications to small screens and make the information useful to the user in a mobile environment.

While panel members didn’t predict any new applications for the mobile business user, they emphasized that the wireless explosion would increase productivity by giving workers greater access to existing apps.

For example, the handheld device will connect other tools to the Internet. If you are using a laptop in the airport, you won’t need to find a telephone jack. Your handheld device will communicate with the laptop and then communicate to the cell tower and the Internet.

O’Hara said Bluetooth technology will make this possible. He expects by 2003, Bluetooth will be well deployed, and it will enable a variety of wireless innovations.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Gartner vice president and research director Bob Egan reminded business clients to prepare their budgets and their strategic plans for the profound changes wireless technology is expected to bring to the enterprise.