Mobile Phone Gets Personal

AUCKLAND (03/03/2000) - The mobile phone is moving away from being solely a telephony device and towards a role as a unique "personal identifier", according to MIT Media Lab associate director Andrew Lippman.

Lippman, speaking in a panel discussion at Nokia Corp.'s Designed for Life conference in Hong Kong, suggested that the potential of the next generation of mobile devices might be enough to finally break the U.S. market's notorious resistance to smartcards.

The thumbnail-sized SIM (subscriber identity module) cards common in GSM (global system for mobile communications) handsets in the Asia-Pacific region but almost unknown in the U.S. could be used to carry digital certificates, and to govern "communication with the nearby world" via the Bluetooth wireless standard, he said.

He suggested that Bluetooth-enabled phones could be used to trigger vending machines or to link up with street kiosks, meaning the mobile phone user would be able to walk up to and use full-sized screens and keyboards for Internet access.

Lippman also praised the range and variety of handsets available in the Asian market, where, he said, mobile telephony reached the "point of maturity where you buy something because it looks good" -- as opposed to the U.S., where mobile phones are "incredibly boring" and generally "basic black".

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