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Many consumer electronics companies don't even know which features and applications consumers want. That's why a lot of the products that companies have recently introduced -- or that are in development -- 'are just interesting toys, proof of concept,' says David Chamberlain, an analyst with consultancy IDC.
Wireless technology has liberated the laptop Latest News about laptop computer. Now consumer-electronics makers are using it to untether everyday devices from cameras and cell phones Latest News about cell phones to TVs and refrigerators.
Get ready for the next wave of wireless Latest News about wireless gizmos. This October, Eastman Kodak Latest News about Eastman Kodak will bring out a digital camera that will let you snap a photo and immediately show it to a friend on a Wi-Fi-enabled PC or TV.
And by early next year, you'll be able to zap that picture to a screen on a refrigerator when Samsung Latest News about Samsung unveils an ice box with a wireless, detachable display that can function as a TV -- or gallery for family photographs.
Sounds cool? Sure. But this is just the start. Wait until consumer-electronics companies really figure out what works wirelessly and what doesn't. Right now, they're not so sure. They're only beginning to explore how to turn their products into wireless wonders.
Many don't even know which features and applications consumers want. That's why a lot of the products that companies have recently introduced -- or that are in development -- 'are just interesting toys, proof of concept,' says David Chamberlain, an analyst with consultancy IDC.
Nor do manufacturers have a feel for how much consumers are willing to pay for wireless gadgets and related services. 'There's a lot of uncertainty,' says Mark Kaish, a vice-president at telco BellSouth Latest News about BellSouth, which is testing several wireless broadband Latest News about Broadband technologies and related business models.
Following six months of lab tests, BellSouth in July will begin a small trial of phones that offer both cell and Wi-Fi Latest News about Wi-Fi connectivity.
BellSouth expects consumers to pony up for a new generation of such dual-capability phones because they promise to cut users' monthly bills. Consider this: About 40 percent of cell calls today are made from within buildings.
But with a phone that can switch to Wi-Fi when it picks up a wireless broadband connection, consumers could make those calls over the Internet -- from home, office, or some 17,000 wireless hot spots Latest News about hot spot -- for much less, if not free.
Better yet, unlike their predecessors, Wi-Fi phones from the likes of Vonage Latest News about Vonage and Hop-On Latest News about Hop-On are priced at well below $100, which could finally push this technology into the mainstream.
Other customers will appreciate new audio and video capabilities soon to be available on some cell phones. Watching the sports highlights on a handset could become a lot more commonplace. Motorola's Latest News about Motorola upcoming E815 cell phone can stream music videos and movie trailers through Verizon Latest News about Verizon Wireless's superfast cell network, available in several dozen cities.
Wireless from Birth?
At this early stage, however, broadband wireless devices and related services are still quite pricey. For services to reach mass adoption, prices will have to be cut in half, says Monica Paolini, founder of wireless researcher Senza Fili Consulting.
For example, Paolini points out, only several thousand U.S. cell-phone customers -- less than 1 percent of the total subscriber pool -- are using broadband phone services from the likes of Verizon Wireless. But their ranks should reach 10 percent of all cell-phone subscribers by 2007, as prices plummet, she says.
What's more, if vendors are going to win widespread acceptance, they have to move away from adding wireless technology to products that have limited appeal. Most people won't pay hundreds of dollars for a refrigerator that can connected to the Internet, say analysts.
Still, once the technology becomes mainstream (read less expensive), most consumer-electronics devices -- and even such old-age contraptions like washing machines -- will feature high-speed wireless connections, says Craig Mathias, founder of wireless consultancy Farpoint Group. 'When you are born, they'll give you a wireless phone number,' he says, only half-joking.
And it won't seem odd for your oven to dial up your car to flash you a message to put the pedal to the metal because dinner is almost ready."