Bells and whistles Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

There were countless products all making the same promises: Get driving directions, check e-mail and make travel reservations on the way to the airport. The novelty was gripping, but Tom Sincharge needed to figure out whether any of these products was worth buying.

“Sure, I’d liked to check sports scores on the fly, but that’s not a big perk when looking for a way to increase employee productivity,” says Sincharge, president of Yesterday Corp. “I really questioned whether any of these products could offer the solid Internet connection we needed.”

After weeding through countless Web pages and promotional brochures, Sincharge plucked some of the more popular candidates out of the pack for a closer look. Here’s what he found.

Motorola i700

The compact Motorola i700plus hit the United States market during the last quarter of 1999, but Sincharge was quick to check out whether the compact multi-functional communication device would be a good investment for Yesterday. The unit is outfitted with a microbrowser, like many of its competitors, offering stock quotes, sports scores and travel directions at the touch of a button.

But the biggest perk Sincharge found in the i700 was that when connected to a laptop computer, the handset functioned as a wireless modem to send and receive faxes and two-way e-mail and access Yesterday’s computer network. Peter Aloumanis, director of U.S. market operations for Motorola’s iDEN subscriber group, says that access to company information is one of the strongest benefits of the product.

“It enables mobile workers to make more informed decisions,” he says. “(It) can increase productivity, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.”

Palm VII

Sincharge was no stranger to 3Com’s Palm line of products — he’d bitten the bullet in June and bought a Palm IIIx to help him organize his busy schedule and contact file. So when the Palm VII hit the shelves in October with a $500 price tag, he couldn’t help but check out whether it might be the right mobile Internet connection for Yesterday’s sales force.

Like Motorola, 3Com had struck some crucial affiliations, pulling Amazon.com and Fidelity Investments on board with text-only versions of their Web sites for Palm VII users. The Web clipping technology, which blocks graphics, made for quick downloading, but Sincharge’s main question was whether an employee on the road could connect with Yesterday’s network using the Palm VII.

Since the product was created using standard Internet and data center technologies familiar to most Web and IT managers, Sincharge learned his IS department could, without much trouble, set up a server outside Yesterday’s firewall that would give Palm VII users access to the company’s intranet.

Sprint PCS Wireless Web

Similar to 3Com’s Palm Products, Sprint PCS struck some high-profile deals with Yahoo and CNN to provide content easily viewed on the telephone’s miniature Internet browser. But much like the Motorola i700plus, the Sprint PCS Wireless Web option also can be used as a wireless modem when hooked to a laptop computer.

Although the content available on the telephones imbedded browser is useful, Claire List, field operations district director for Sprint PCS, says the real power from the product is its ability to allow sales people to browse inventory and even place a customer order from their laptop computers, no matter where they physically are.

“If you’re a sales person on the road making sales calls, one of your customers may say, ‘I’m happy to see you, but I need to be sure you can get me this order,’” says List. “You can log on quickly, to first of all make sure the warehouse has the product, then you can enter the order while you’re at the clients office.”

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN