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THE UNWIRED PLANET Small pipes, spotty networks and diverse devices bedevil developers of wireless applications By Megan Santosus As CIO, you're charged with extending corporate applications to wireless devices. A simple mandate, but the situation gets considerably cloudier on closer inspection. Sales wants contact management and e-mail capabilities rolled out to remote salespeople toting smart pagers. Business development wants to provide suppliers with wireless procurement applications, and there's no way for you to control whether those suppliers use web-enabled phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs). Meanwhile, marketing is looking to give consumers applications for ordering products from the company website--applications that have to work equally well whether those consumers use a smart phone, personal organizer or handheld PC.
As the Internet explodes and wireless devices proliferate, so does the attraction of building and extending applications to a mobile workforce, remote customers and disparate suppliers. Yet building applications for the legions of mobile users often requires more than simply hammering out code.
For one thing, the wireless devices used by a target audience can vary widely.
With different operating systems, screen size, memory, security features and performance, building an application that has universal functionality is a challenge. Then there are the various networking and telecommunications issues, including coverage area and service availability. "Any software or application that is developed for wireless is only one part of the equation," says Jane Zweig, executive vice president of Herschel Shosteck Associates, a Wheaton, Maryland-based wireless telecommunications consulting company. "Companies need to think about the handheld terminals as well as network services, coverage, reliability and quality."
Tom Flournoy, director of wireless business development for Weather.com in Atlanta, echoes Zweig's assessment. "The issues don't surround the development tools; they have more to do with the network, bandwidth and cost at the wireless carrier level," Flournoy says. "We have data we can give to customers today, but we have to fit the best information we possibly can in a small pipe." Weather.com has partnered with a number of wireless vendors, including Palm Computing, Phone.com Inc. and Sprint PCS, to offer customers wireless web interaction to basic weather information. In developing the Sprint PCS application, the biggest issue was learning new technology. "We created that in HDML [handheld device markup language], which for us was a new programming environment," Flournoy says.
THE POWER OF WAP Like Flournoy, other developers need to think about implementing wireless applications today even while the technology landscape is still unsettled. Atypical of other emerging IT developments, there is actually some consensus evolving around wireless technology. The wireless application protocol (WAP), a de facto standard that allows mobile devices to access the internet, is driving much of the activity in wireless application development.
With WAP-enabled devices equipped with browsers, remote users view website content in the wireless markup language, a flavor of XML used to present data on wireless devices. The WML format offers developers more heft than HDML, a format that is primarily used to present web-based content on devices such as pagers and phones with small displays, low bandwidth and limited power. (For more information on the WAP specification, visit the WAP Forum website at www.wapforum.com/ index.htm.) The emerging WAP standard, coupled with increasingly powerful handheld devices and a growing reliance on the internet, translates into plenty of opportunity for developers who want to build anywhere/ anytime applications.
Amazon.com Inc. plans to offer wireless services to an ever-changing group of consumers and devices. In October 1999, the online retailer launched Amazon.com Anywhere, a wireless shopping application that runs on the Palm VII organizer.
Just like on the Amazon.com website, shoppers can search for merchandise, read reviews (albeit truncated versions) and make purchases with the Palm device or Sprint PCS phones. Amazon.com developed the application using tools available from Palm's website. While deciding which information to present on a small screen required some thought, "The hard issue," says Nayeem Islam, Amazon.com Anywhere's director of engineering, "is making sure that whatever application you build, you're ready for the different devices that are out there." To prepare for future devices, Amazon.com acquired Convergence Corp. in exchange for equity, a strategy that admittedly isn't practical for every company.
Convergence offers software that provides internet access to a host of information appliances. Although Islam wouldn't get specific about future applications, Amazon.com Anywhere has teamed up with wireless vendors Motorola and AvantGo.
Amazon.com is certainly aggressive in the wireless space, and Islam thinks other companies should follow the Seattle-based company's philosophy. "WAP is a huge force that's going to drive wireless," he says. "The software technology to build applications will follow quickly." Many vendors, including IBM, Oracle, Lotus and Nokia among others, offer tools for developing wireless applications that can access the web, link to corporate databases, and send and receive e-mail. In several cases, development tools are available free from vendors' websites.
Despite progress in web-enabled standards, there are still reasons why companies roll out wireless applications that don't tap into the internet.
David Balaban, senior vice president at Energy America, a marketer of natural gas and electricity in Stamford, Conn., wanted to equip door-to-door sales agents with a convenient device to collect basic customer information and transmit it to a third-party verification company. Balaban spent a couple of hours on the web looking for a device that could be stripped of all functionality and loaded with a custom application. "We wanted a very user-friendly device so our agents in the field couldn't make mistakes," Balaban says. By limiting the available wireless applications to one, Energy America ensured both control and security. After a couple of hours searching on the web, Balaban selected the RIM Interactive Pager 950 from Research In Motion in Waterloo, Ontario.
Once Balaban selected the device, he opted for the BellSouth Powertool application development environment from BellSouth Wireless Data. Programmers at BellSouth initially developed the application in eight weeks; currently, developers at Energy America maintain the application. The Powertool environment generates C code, so in-house developers don't have to learn a mobile programming language. Both data collected by sales reps and application updates are transmitted via BellSouth's wireless network.
Mark LaRosa, CIO of Dynamic Mobile Data, a wireless products and services company in Somerset, New Jersey, sees limitations to web-based wireless applications given the current state of technology. "One of the problems with browser technology is that it breaks down," he says. "If users don't have access to the LAN, they don't have access to the application." For getting updated information or even buying consumer goods, that's fine. But for applications that LaRosa deems more critical, such as dispatch or field service, he recommends going with a device that has some sort of local storage.
OUTSOURCING DEVELOPMENT For people who are just too perplexed by all the options out there, signing on with an application service provider (ASP) may be the answer. There is also a growing community of ASPs that will build and host web-enabled wireless applications for customers. Ted Lucas, CTO of Sephora, a San Francisco-based beauty products retailer, opted to outsource development of a wireless shopping application in part because the terrain is so uncharted. In February, Sephora.com, the company's website, launched a wireless application that lets consumers purchase gifts using a mobile device. "We wanted to provide a service that supports a number of different devices without us having to do a lot of programming," Lucas explains.
Sephora.com outsourced development to Ajaxo, a Cupertino, California-based provider of wireless data systems. Using its Smart Agent development environment, Ajaxo converted Sephora's gift webpages for display on WAP-enabled phones. Mobile consumers can now connect to some of Sephora's webpages, search for specific items by product code or name and buy them--without setting foot near a desktop machine.
With wireless technology still emerging, Lucas doesn't want to invest the time and energy to create development efforts in-house, although he's not ruling out that option in the future. "Right now [wireless] is an early adopter market that's going to be expanding," Lucas says. "We wanted to establish a footprint on the market without having to make a significant change to our website."
Raymond Tam, CEO of Infocast, a Hong Kong-based provider of online trading systems using intranet, internet and wireless channels for retail brokerages and investors, also signed on with Ajaxo for application development. Of most concern to Tam are speed and flexibility. As Infocast licenses its trading system to brokers, new applications have to be up and running fast. By outsourcing development, Infocast doesn't need to maintain a large staff of developers. And because the Smart Agent environment relies on object- and Java-based architecture, Infocast doesn't have to do any tweaking to its website in order to accommodate different devices. This is particularly important in Hong Kong, says Tam, because the only mobile phone currently available is a model from Nokia. Soon, Ericsson and Motorola are expected to enter the market, and Tam wants to be ready to offer Infocast's trading system to users of those devices. By using an ASP, Tam says Infocast can have an application developed in as few as three days.
Opting for an ASP with expertise in wireless development is a viable strategy right now for internet-based applications, especially for companies that plan to roll out functionality slowly. "When delivering services on the intranet, a company is generally not looking to differentiate the offering," says Dan Whaley, cofounder and CTO of GetThere.com, a provider of online travel applications based in Menlo Park, Calif. For wireless applications aimed at an internal audience, Whaley sees less of a need for customization. As the lines between intranets and extranets blur, however, more application customization is typically in order because users often have different devices and different needs. For Sephora's Lucas, being able to quickly adapt to a changing and diverse group of users was a major factor in his decision to go with an outsourcer.
Although including wireless applications in an IT infrastructure seems like a hassle now, CIOs need to deal with it. According to Framingham, Massachusetts-based market researcher IDC (a sister company of CIO), the market for internet-based information appliances--including smart handheld devices--will grow to $17.8 billion in 2004, an increase from $2.4 billion in 1999. The number of remote and mobile device users in the United States alone will reach 47.1 million by 2003, up from 35.7 million in 1999. With all those people roaming free, the audience for wireless applications will be huge.
Senior Editor Megan Santosus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PACKING HIGH-TECH HEAT Finding a handy place to store your cell phone, PDA, pager and your other gadgets has been a problem, right? Now Personal Electronics Concealment's eHolster, which criss-crosses the wearer's back, keeps personal electronic devices close at hand but concealed under a jacket.
Handy, plus you feel like a secret agent.
Priced at $59.99, eHolster comes in a basic black neoprene version. The leather version costs $99.99. Both come with two e-Pouches, one that can hold a Palm computer or other PDA, the other designed to hold a mobile phone; a pager can also be clipped to the holster. E-Pouches for other devices will be released every quarter. For more information, visit www.eholster.com or call 888 425-1034.
CRYSTAL BALLING To avoid embarrassing site out- ages and snafus, fast-growing e-businesses need to make sure their server farms grow as fast as their businesses. A new product offered by Clairvoyant Software aims to help e-commerce sites predict when their CPUs, memory or storage will be maxed out so that they can plan capacity upgrades. ForeCAST Resource Manager for E-Commerce polls the site's servers every 30 seconds, collecting site access data that it uses to calculate its predictions; a year's worth of data can be stored in 1MB to 2MB of space. Targeted at ASPs, web hosting companies or companies that host their own e-commerce sites, the product has a starting price of $10,000 per license. Clairvoyant also offers ForeCAST Resource Manager for Internet Access, aimed at the ISP market; pricing starts at $5,000 per license. For more information, visit www.clairvoyantsoftware.com or call 408 861-1110.
PRIVATE SCREENING To keep prying eyes from catching a glimpse of an employee's computer screen, Optical Coating Laboratory has released a line of screen filters that make a computer screen look blurry to anyone viewing it from an angle greater than 38 degrees on either side of the user. The GlareGuard PrivacyMax filters also reduce screen glare. Estimated retail pricing is $149 for a filter that fits a 14-inch to 15-inch monitor, $189 for one that fits a 17-inch monitor and $259 for one that fits a 19-inch to 21-inch monitor. For more information, visit www.glareguard.com or call 800 545-6254.
CHATTY CATHY Need to translate a big bunch of documents in a hurry? Transparent Language offers a machine translation server that it says can translate more than a million words an hour. Enterprise Translation Server 3.0 can translate plain text, documents and webpages (webpage translation is a bit slower than plain text translation, since the server must first strip out the HTML); it can be integrated with existing e-mail systems and other corporate applications as well as with intranets and websites. The server can translate from English to Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese, as well as from Spanish, French and German to English. Pricing starts at roughly $17,000; the price varies depending on the number of languages supported and the amount of material to be translated. For more information, visit www.transparent.com or call 800 752-1767.
XML-X'ING There's been a lot of buzz around extensible markup language (XML), the web data-sharing standard that looks to be the foundation of future business-to-business e-commerce. But companies seeking to add XML to their e-commerce technology roster needn't toss out their old electronic data interchange (EDI) systems just yet. XMLSolutions Corp. has released XEDI (pronounced "zee-dee") Translator 1.0, software that translates EDI documents into XML and vice versa. Using the software, any X12 and Edifact document can be translated into XML; that way, a company's trading partners need only a web browser and net connection to do business with them. Pricing, based on the number of trading partners, starts between $5,000 and $25,000. For more information, visit www. xmls.com or call 703 506-1111.
CUT THE CORD, WORK THE ROOM Giving a presentation is nerve-wracking enough without having to think about keeping your pointer close to your PC. Mind Path Technologies' GyroPoint RF wireless remote works within a 75-foot radius of a PC or laptop, letting a presenter focus on working the room, not the computer; a gyro device inside the pointer responds to wrist and hand movements.
GyroTools F/X software lets presenters add special effects to PowerPoint, Freelance and Windows applications. The suggested retail price is $199.95. For more information, check out www.mindpath.com or call 800 615-1215.
TURNING TABLES Static HTML tables can now be brought to life. InterNetivity offers a new web-based service called databeacon.com that adds interactivity to HTML tables; the service is based on InterNetivity's databeacon software, a data analysis and reporting application. Here's how it works: When a website is linked to the databeacon server (it takes a few lines of HTML to make the link), the server compresses data into the HTML table. The compressed data is sent back to the user in an HTML page, where the data can be sorted, drilled-down into, analyzed, exported or printed. There is no charge for the basic service. A monthly $500 subscription fee lets publishers use secure socket layer (SSL) connections and gives their processing requests priority.
The company also offers customization and the ability to host databeacon.com on other servers, for an extra charge. For more information, visit www. databeacon.com or call 613 729-4480.
REVISIT CASE CASE Closed? Culture clashes put the kibosh on computer-aided software engineering By fred hapgood One of the out-of-the-park homers hit by computer technology in the '70s was a metalworking support technique called CAD/CAM, for computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing. CAD allowed a person to design a metal part on a computer and send it to an appropriate forming tool, like a lathe.
The lathe would then make the part automatically. No floor operator in the conventional sense was needed.
This model struck a chord with the whole business world, and during the '80s products started to appear that claimed to be the equivalent for programming.
Computer-aided software engineering, or CASE, represented itself as an interface that would allow someone, not necessarily even a programmer, to design a program by drawing its logical structure--what to do, in what order and how--out on a screen. Only when the logical structure was finished did production of the actual code begin, perhaps by the tool itself or by an overseas programmer.
CASE vendors claimed several virtues followed from separating design and analysis from actual code production. Design and programming errors were minimized. Programs were easier to change and maintain. Perhaps most important, CASE would allow management to understand programming projects for the first time, since all they would need to do is learn to read the graphics depicting the structure.
Up until then software projects had been relatively opaque to nontechnical supervisors and therefore frustrating to manage. (Manager: When will the project be due? Programmer: That depends. M: On what? P: Technical issues. M:
Why wasn't it finished on schedule? P: Technical problems. M: Could you add this feature? P: No. M: Why? P: Technical reasons.) Programmers seemed to live on the other side of a one-way window. They could see out, but managers could never see in. George Cagliuso, interim president and founder of Visible Systems in Waltham, Mass., one of the first CASE companies, says he gave his company that name for precisely this reason: to assure managers that the product would allow them to look over the shoulder of their programmers.
CIO ran two articles on CASE in 1990. The first claimed that the case for the new technology was won. "Today the question in the minds of IS executives isn't whether to implement CASE, but how to do it," we said, adding, "CIOs who ignore the need to formalize the systems-development process...do so at their peril, and at the peril of the organizations they serve." The second hedged our bets; we warned that CASE faced huge acceptance problems from the programming community, who were being asked to make radical changes in their working style in order to tighten management control over their jobs and potentially ease their own replacement.
For whatever reason, CASE ended up putting down few enduring roots. Some think the emphasis on top-down, front-end planning ran against the grain of American culture. "CASE is like using an architect to build a house," says Vince Peterson, president of Structured Technology Group in Saugus, Mass., a CASE vendor. "You do the thinking first. Our tradition is to dive in and start doing it." He says European cultures are in general more attuned to CASE and its methods.
Shang Chyou, manager of Structsoft Inc., a business software design company, believes that CASE fell victim to a change in the culture of the computing. "In the old days software was produced for defense contractors and big corporations," he says. "Customers like that worried about design, maintenance and documentation. But now the software industry runs on internet time and people want to get stuff out as quickly as possible. If it needs fixing they will fix it later." He thinks CASE still has a niche--indeed, it is essential--in the design of very large systems.
Still a third theory is advanced by Charles Connell, an instructor in computer science at Boston University. CASE products, he points out, were actually a bundle of tools, including source control systems (which allowed many people to work on a project at the same time), compilers, build tools, testing tools, performance analyzers and others. Some of these tools performed well and some didn't. The poor performance of the ones that didn't dragged down the whole package.
Over the last decade the routines that worked have migrated out from under the CASE umbrella into other programming tools and suites, such as Microsoft's Visual Studio, while interest has faded in the pieces that never performed well. In Connell's view, CASE did not die; it just got reorganized. Connell also points out that many of the most important benefits of CASE--error reduction and ease of maintenance--came about indirectly, from the growing trend of building and reusing software components, objects and modules.
The difference is that objects and modules came up from the floor, from out of the hands of the practicing programming community, as opposed to being imposed from above. They did not threaten the community that was supposed to work with them. That purely political advantage may have made all the difference in the comparative success of the two technologies.
Send ideas for technology revisits to email@example.com. Fred Hapgood is a freelance writer in Boston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PREDICTIONS BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS E-COMMERCE HEY, LANDLORD!
CIOs who can't get their companies' business-to-business web efforts off the ground may soon find themselves calling on the local landlords. And, it won't be because they've lost their jobs and need to find cheaper digs. They'll be calling on "e-business landlords," a new category of e-business service provider that The Yankee Group predicts will develop over the next two years.
Landlords, or hub service providers (HSPs), would offer both the technology and business services needed to make business-to-business sites work, says Lisa Williams, program manager of business-to-business e-commerce at The Yankee Group in Boston. "A landlord makes partnerships that benefit all the tenants," Williams says. "Some of these will be software partnerships; some will be nontechnological partnerships."
On the technology side, landlords would likely provide tenants with network infrastructure, data storage, e-commerce software and systems integration. They may partner with other providers to offer these services, and their size will let them strike favorable deals. Customers would reap the benefit of having all these services in one place. On the business side, landlords would likely offer financial and logistics services; they may even help arrange joint ventures among their tenants. Tenants could include traditional companies, large and small, as well as e-marketplace startups and other dotcoms.
Look for landlords to come from the ranks of procurement software vendors and infrastructure providers; big companies that have a lot of purchasing power and a well-known brand name may also get into the act. Within the next 18 to 24 months, large hub providers may emerge, most likely from well-known names in the technology industry. Given the soup-to-nuts scope of their offerings, the market probably does not have room for more than a half-dozen or so of these big players. -Sari Kalin UNDER DEVELOPMENT NEW BATTERIES BUILDING BETTER BATTERIES Like the quest for the improved mousetrap or the bug-free operating system, the search for the ideal battery never ends. The latest entry in the better battery sweepstakes is Electrofuel's lithium-ion superpolymer technology, which the Toronto-based company claims will run a conventional notebook computer for up to 15 hours.
While conventional lithium-ion batteries offer about 250 to 270 watt-hours of power per liter, Electrofuel's technology raises the ante to an impressive 470 watt-hours per liter. The company was able to achieve its breakthrough by using a patented battery technology and a proprietary manufacturing process.
"Extended battery life is the holy grail for portable device vendors," says Rob Enderle, vice president for desktop and mobile technologies at Giga Information Group, a technology research company in Santa Clara, Calif. "The problem is making high-capacity batteries affordable and compact enough that people will want to buy them."
Flexible superpolymer chemistry allows Electrofuel to mold batteries into virtually any size and shape. A power pack can be as small as a credit card to energize a mobile phone or as large as a briefcase to propel an electric car.
The technology retains up to 95 percent of its charge after 30 days and doesn't suffer from the capacity-eroding "memory effect" that afflicts nickel-cadmium and other types of batteries when they are recharged before being fully depleted.
Electrofuel's first product is the notebook-computer-compatible PowerPad 160, which provides a 160 watt-hour capacity and a run-time of 16 hours. Priced at $499, the two-pound unit attaches underneath a notebook's base, adding about an extra 3/8-inch of thickness to the system. The product connects through the AC adapter port, so the notebook thinks it's plugged into a wall socket. PowerPad 50, 100 and 200 models are scheduled for release later this year at prices ranging from $199 to $799.
Enderle believes that the pricing levels seem about right. Yet he also feels that Electrofuel's best chance for long-term success hinges on whether the company can cut licensing deals with portable device vendors. "Many corporate buyers simply won't purchase add-ons produced by an unknown vendor," he says.
"It also makes a lot of sense to bundle the battery with a new product." An Electrofuel spokesman says the company is currently negotiating licensing deals with several manufacturers.
Electrofuel also envisions applications for its technology in the budding wearable computer field. Enderle also believes wearable computer customers would find moldable, high-capacity batteries very useful. "This could become a market niche for companies like Electrofuel," he says. -John Edwards.