Showcase Gives Way to the Wacky

RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIF. (01/28/2000) - An audience of 700-plus high-tech executives and investors at the Showcase 2000 Conference here saw dozens of new Internet service companies give demonstrations on stage before finally giving its first loud applause to a tiny handheld, its first prolonged laughs for a funeral site, and more big plaudits for a phone service.

The well-received handheld is the iTag from Xenote, a sleek, neon-blue handheld computer that wirelessly captures information from FM radio stations. Why the applause? Here's how it works.

When you're listening to FM radio and you hear some music you want to know the name of or a commercial about a product you want more information on, just click your iTag and it captures the information about when the music or commercial was played. It can hold up to 45 different entries. Later at home, hook the iTag up to your PC via the serial port and it will display a list of the music or commercials you captured. Click on a list item and you get information on who played the music, links to buy the song online, and the option to hear a 30-second clip of the music.

The iTag is currently available only in the San Francisco area and is working with a single jazz station -- KKSF. But the service will expand to six major U.S. cities in the first half of this year, with more rollouts planned. Later this year, an upgrade to the iTag's chip will enable its use with any FM radio station. iTag plans to give the devices away for free to consumers and may eventually embed the service in other devices, like Palm handheld computers and wireless phones.

Don't Call It a Killer App

The most amusing demonstration was given by WebCaskets.com Inc., whose chief executive officer approached the stage from the back of the hall accompanied by funeral music and six pallbearers shouldering a casket. The company offers caskets and funeral services nationwide at what is said to be a substantial discount over traditional brick-and-mortar mortuaries.

"We let you comparison shop for caskets and design your own monument online," says Alex Frost, WebCaskets founder and CEO. "We typically charge half of what a local mortuary would."

WebCaskets' Web site features a wide array of casket types and designs, many of which you won't find elsewhere. They include multicolored units and themed pictures of skylines, nature settings, and even Elvis. WebCasket also offers a free dedication service where you can post an obituary and details about the life of the deceased.

Frost acknowledges that about 25 Web companies offer some of the same services as WebCaskets, such as the online memorial, but he claims his firm has the most comprehensive service. It maintains a relationship with national funeral service providers, which in turn have connections to local mortuaries.

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