ISSUE 573: Comment- Oct 17 2000
The high-tech office
phone Internet useis not much
to look at
Predictions have been made that within a
couple of years, more than half of the devices going online won't be
traditional personal computers. Most of those devices won't be handheld
computers. Many digital cell phones already have the capability of
getting Internet information, and WAP -- the Wireless Application
Protocol -- gives service providers a standardized way to provide
Clearnet Communications Inc. claims that half
of its customer base has Internet-capable phones and that all of its
current lineup is Internet-ready. In August, Clearnet launched Internet
services on its Pay & Talk prepaid service, free until the end of
the year. They have more recently offered $10 and $15 Wireless Web
Services plans to Mike and Clearnet PCS monthly customers.
I tried out the Pay & Talk services, using a
tiny dual-mode Sanyo 4000 phone. It takes some getting used to.
As with the Web-clipping services we looked at for the Palm and
Visor, you can't simply browse any Web site.
A standard Web page, viewed on a cell phone's tiny
screen, would be virtually unreadable. So Web clipping services offer
information from an Internet source, reformatted to be better read on
the small screen. Better readability is traded for a dramatically
limited range of information. You're limited to what your service
provider wants you to have.
Currently, Pay & Talk clients can choose from:
- Online directories. Search for business and
personal phone numbers and addresses and Yellow Pages listings.
A potentially nice "map" feature promises driving directions from your
current location to the business that you've looked up.
- Games from Playdium. Poker, Word Quest,
Tic Tac Toe and Trivia online.
- Fun Sites. Funniest.com offers
"BrainPoop," "unHistory 101" and more short jokes. City sites are
currently limited to Toronto.com and MontrealPlus,
offering cinema, restaurant, transit, events and other information for
those locations (Montreal in French). I'm not sure that emergency
information for Toronto counts as my idea of fun. HMV.com
offers a top-10 list and store information.
- Finally, there's a Demo Zone offering samples of
services available on the pay services such as messaging, banking and
brokerage services, news, weather, sports and traffic information,
access to specific "hot sites" (currently, only Canada.com
rates such a listing) and, of course, shopping (Indigo and HMV).
Frankly, it's not much. It is, however, more a
demonstration of the concept than an actual, up and running, currently
useful service. That, I suppose, is why it's free. Clearnet is
promising that more content will be continually added.
However, there are more basic problems that leave me
doubtful about using a cell phone on the Net.
While handheld computers such as the Palm are
clearly limited compared to a standard personal computer, they have a
user interface and way to enter information. Their screens, tiny
compared to desktop or notebook computers, are huge compared to a cell
On the cell phone, navigating through layers of menu
choices is slow and tedious. The potentially useful directory
information is made painful to the point of being almost unusable, by
requiring entry of a business or personal name by slowly pecking on the
phone keys: Twice on the "6" key for a letter "N," four times on the
"7" key for a letter "S." Try typing in Business in Vancouver
Internet usability expert Jakob Nielsen
suggests the mobile Internet is still not ready for real use.
Despite Clearnet's (and others') good intentions and hard work, I'm
forced to concur. He suggests that studies have shown that what he
calls "the deck-of-cards form factor" of handheld computers "offer
immensely superior usability to anything based on a telephone."
Still, Canadians use seven million wireless phones.
Expect many more efforts at packaging the Internet for cell