Intelligent talk Featured

9:51am EDT July 22, 2002

In this age of instant information, every industry is vying to become your supplier of news, e-mail and Internet access. Even your wireless phone is becoming a multipurpose business tool.

Smart phones are the telecommunication industry’s answer to always keeping you in contact with the office.

“Smart phones is a loose reference to a variety of phones and features,” says Jeffrey Kagan, a telecommunications industry analyst. “It’s not one particular phone, but any of those that have intelligence either on the phone or the network. For the first 15 years, everything was just a plain old cell phone, but in the last couple years, that’s really changed.

“Phones now come with loads of features, some of which people never use. My phone comes loaded with games, datebooks and organizers. My son plays games on my phone, but I never will.”

As the industry matures, manufacturers will learn what consumers like and weed out functions that aren’t being used. Internet access and e-mail capabilities are available. Some phone makers are attempting to roll your beeper, PDA, and to some extent, your notebook computer, into one handy device — and oh yeah, it can also be used to call home.

Does anyone really need to surf the Internet on their wireless phone?

“I do believe there is a segment of the marketplace that needs constant access to e-mail to find information,” says Kagan. “We are a mobile and information needy society. Information is the oil of the ’90s. The free flow of information is important to the new economy.

“It won’t be that way to everyone, but that’s the way everything starts. We are evolving into a culture of urgency. We want everything now.”

E-mail provides instant answers, Web sites provide instant brochures and product ordering. Wireless devices that tap into these capabilities help give a company a competitive edge.

“You have to think about smart phones as a competitive advantage, not a gadget,” says Kagan. “They bring value to your customers by empowering your sales reps. The competitive advantage of the future is customer care. All the competitors will look alike, and everything will boil down to customer care — care is the only thing that will differentiate businesses.”

Kagan predicts that phones will change so much in the next few years that comparing them to today’s phones will be like comparing the voice mail and feature laden devices on your desk to the old black rotary model your parents had.

There may not be a demand for Internet access right now, but that’s what makes technology so difficult to analyze — the ability to have a phone surf the Web was just developed, so how do companies know whether there is a demand for it?

“Did anyone really want a fax or a notebook computer when they first came out?” says Kagan. “Once they came out, they created a demand and now we can’t live without them.”

How to reach: Jeffrey Kagan www.jeffkagan.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.