Tomorrow's mobile phone will act as PC
Mobile phones with keyboards have been around for a while, but the phone users of tomorrow are likely to find a host of other desirable computer features built in when their cell phone comes out of the carton.
For a start, how about a tiny hard drive like that inside an Apple I-Pod! On a tabletop, the Advantage from HTC looks like a miniature laptop, but can be folded up and held to the ear as a phone.
German wireless-phone company T-Mobile, which is marketing the novel device under the name "Ameo" in Germany, put the pocket-sized phone with a 13-cm screen and 8-gigabyte drive on sale this month just before the Cebit computer show.
Communications companies are bringing out a slew of new products to coincide with Cebit, which takes place between March 15-21 in Hanover.
The Advantage or Ameo runs Microsoft's operating system Windows Mobile 5.0 and costs 500 euros to T-Mobile customers, if they sign up for two years of phone service.
It comes with High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), Europe's fastest wireless data standard at 3.6 megabits per second.
With all that storage capacity on the phone, a handset becomes the ideal medium to carry stock catalogues and sales presentations.
Electronics group NEC of Japan points out that security-conscious companies often prohibit visiting sales reps from bringing laptops onto corporate campuses for fear they will break into Wi-Fi networks, so a phone is often the next-best data device.
NEC has just launched a pocket projector to display presentations, which can first be designed on a computer, then stored in the phone.
When speaking to a customer, the salesperson can transmit the presentation to the 210-gram pocket projector using Bluetooth, a wireless technology built into both devices and then blow it up onto any convenient white wall, an NEC Germany spokesman said.
Mobile phones which can pick up TV broadcasts are already available, but are only worth buying if a broadcaster near you is actually putting suitable digital signals on air. Such services are still rare.
Though not yet available as a packaged product, cardiac monitoring software from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Software and System Technology could be a life-saver for fast-living phone owners.
Users don a special shirt containing sensors, which monitor the heart. The instruments transmit an electrocardiogram, the pulse rate and inferred blood pressure during light exercise such as bicycle riding to the phone, which then assesses how the heart is coping.
The phone display offers simple advice about whether to keep going or slow down. Fraunhofer says the readings can also be transmitted to one's cardiologist who can advise whether or not activity is risky.
Wireless companies say that phones with navigation modules using global position satellite (GPS) data are hot buys today. They are coming down in price too, so that they may soon be as ubiquitous as camera-phones.
A German company, Con Terra, says the next step will be to obtain other earth information such as weather forecasts or aerial photographs linked to positioning data. Its My SDI software can help the phone automatically obtain this data from the Internet.
With phones doing the jobs of computers and cameras, what is left for the handset to take over? Other phones of course.
A few years ago, most people expected the phone of the future to communicate with wireless masts, bases in homes for cordless phones and Wi-Fi routers. But in the end, it has proved cheaper to change the networks, not the handsets.
Ericsson of Sweden is offering corporate customers a "One Phone" service: staff who are often on the move take all their calls on their mobiles, even when they are sitting at their desks.
"We deployed it at the Ericsson Company and reduced the average number of devices from 2.5 to 1.2 per user, cut costs by 20 to 30 per cent and improved efficiency," said an executive, Sven Boltenhausen.
Speech Design, another company coming to Cebit with a similar package, Teleserver Mobile Pro, says all staff on a corporate phone network can have just one "extension" or phone number each.
The number might be for a desk phone, a cellphone or an "IP" phone hooked up to the Internet. The caller does not need to know how the call is transmitted: the network routes it to the right place.