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Cell phones as study guides

Vocel is offering a service that lets subscribers use their cell phones to practice for tests, such as the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and Toefl (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Subscribers can download questions in groups of 200 for offline study or can set up automatic delivery of new questions or study reminders at predetermined times (see figure 1). For example, parents can subscribe their teenagers to the service and configure it to send an SMS (short message service) when the teenagers complete a test or drill. The service provides immediate feedback. Parents and subscribers can also log in to a Web site to review test scores. The service costs approximately US$5.75 per month and is available through numerous wireless carriers including Sprint and Verizon.

Graphic: Vocel's cell-phone-based study guide service.

Figure 1   Vocel's cell-phone-based study guide service.

Linking real estate signs

Cellit Mobile Marketing's House4Cell service lets prospective home buyers use their cell phones to access information about properties with "Home for Sale" signs on their lawns. To use the service, you send a one-word code using SMS to a phone number, both of which are listed on the sign. In return, you receive a message containing a description and photos of the property and the real estate agent's contact information. You can also request that the agent fax or email you additional information. At the same time, the agent receives your phone number so that he or she can follow up. The service begins at $29.99 per month for three codes and 10 inquiries. Cellit offers another similar service where small business owners embed codes in print advertising so that readers can request additional information using their phones.

Printing mailbox

Presto's Printing Mailbox service lets users share photos without requiring the photos' recipients to have a computer or broadband Internet connection. This service aims to make it easier to print photos others have sent you electronically. To use the service, you need an online Presto account (which someone else can set up and manage) and a special photo printer, which HP developed (see figure 2). You can set up this printer to automatically check for new photos, download them, and print them out. Alternatively, a user can initiate these steps by pressing a button. You can configure the printer's behavior via the Presto account, thus letting another person, say a relative, set up and manage the device. Additional customizations let you specify who can send photos to the account and the font size the printer will use. The service will be available in Q3 2006, with more details about pricing in Q2 2006.

Graphic: Presto's Printing Mailbox service lets you share photos without a computer.

Figure 2   Presto's Printing Mailbox service lets you share photos without a computer.

Airborne high-speed Internet

AirCell, a Colorado-based company that provides voice and data services to the general-aviation market using the global Iridium Satellite System, paid $31.3 million for a 3-MHz license in the latest US Federal Communications Commission auction of air-to-ground broadband frequencies.

The company plans to use the spectrum to offer high-speed Internet access aboard commercial airplanes in the US. Airline passengers will be able to access the Internet using devices such as laptops and PDAs over the 802.11b or 802.11g wireless standards. AirCell claims that it will be able to make the system affordable by keeping installation and operating costs low. It plans to accomplish this by relying on commercially available technology and a direct air-to-ground link, instead of the expensive fuselage-mounted satellite antennas that existing systems (such as Boeing's Connexion service) use. AirCell will initially deploy its network in the continental US in 2007 and will later expand it to the rest of North America, including Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Smart shoes

Apple and Nike have teamed up to create the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, a wireless system that lets Nike+ footwear talk with an iPod nano to provide pedometer functions (see figure 3). The system displays information about time, distance, calories burned, and pace on the iPod's screen. It also provides real-time audible feedback through headphones. The kit includes an in-shoe sensor and a wireless receiver that attaches to the iPod. To complement the system, Apple's iTunes Music Store is offering a new Nike Sport Music section aimed at fitness runners and other high-level athletes. Nike also markets a specially designed iPod nano armband that makes it easy to operate the system during an active workout. The Nike+iPod Sport Kit has a recommended retail price of $29, and a pair of Nike+ shoes starts at $85.

Graphic: The Nike+iPod Sport Kit wireless system.

Figure 3   The Nike+iPod Sport Kit wireless system.


Keyboard for Indic phonetic languages

Hewlett-Packard Labs has developed a stylus-based keyboard to simplify interacting with computers using Indic phonetic languages (see figure 4). Using keyboards for such languages is challenging owing to the number of stand-alone characters, character compositions (conjuncts), vowel marks (matras), and symbols that must be superimposed on the keys of a keyboard (that is, characters requiring more than one keystroke). This approach not only requires time to learn but also represents a barrier to those who aren't already familiar with information technology. HP's new keyboard comprises a digitizer and stylus and connects to the host computer using USB. To enter a character, you select one of the base consonants printed on the tablet. If required, you then enter the matra for the character by writing it on top of the printed character. According to HP, an average user can achieve a speed of 10 words per minute with just two hours of practice. HP expects to license the technology to a third party for manufacturing and distribution.

Graphic: Hewlett-Packard's stylus-based keyboard for typing in Indic phonetic languages.

Figure 4   Hewlett-Packard's stylus-based keyboard for typing in Indic phonetic languages.

Microprocessor-based encryption for mobile devices

IBM's Secure Blue technology adds encryption capabilities to microprocessor chips, providing security for data stored on consumer products, medical devices, defense systems, and digital media. According to IBM, Secure Blue makes encryption techniques previously restricted to the realm of data center mainframes practical for low-cost, low-performance electronics such as phones, PDAs, and laptops. With Secure Blue, code and data are maintained encrypted in the device's memory and are encrypted and decrypted on the fly as the processor accesses them. So, if a device with Secure Blue capability gets lost or stolen, an unauthorized individual can't read confidential information stored in that device. Secure Blue is implemented in hardware and doesn't require additional software support. Moreover, its cryptographic circuitry occupies only about 2.5 percent of the microprocessor's chip area. Secure Blue uses a parallel cryptographic algorithm that IBM researchers created, which provides the same strength as standard block-chaining algorithms. IBM reports that devices using this technology are in production but hasn't named them.


Wall-socket thin-client PC

The Jack PC is a minimal-footprint thin-client PC small enough to fit in a network wall port (see figure 5). A thin client is effectively a desktop computer that has little application logic and relies on a back-end server to execute the bulk of processing. Chip PC Technologies, headquartered in Haifa, Israel, makes the Jack PC, which fits inside a US, UK, or European-style cutout or network wiring box. It runs Windows CE and can connect to any terminal server infrastructure. The Jack PC comes with built-in Citrix ICA (Independent Computing Architecture) and Microsoft RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) clients and can run Internet Explorer 6.0 to connect to Web-driven applications. It also contains a 500-MHz Advanced Micro Devices RISC (reduced-instruction-set computer) processor, 64 Mbytes of flash memory, and 128 Mbytes of RAM. The system supports analog and digital monitors and has four USB 2.0-compatible ports, audio I/O, and support for 24-bit, 1,280 × 1,024 graphics. A key advantage of the Jack PC is its low power consumption. At 5 watts, the system can actually run on power-over-Ethernet. In comparison, a standard PC consumes 80 watts or more. Newcastle-based Jade Integration will start selling the Jack PC in the UK in July 2006. A basic system costs £209.

Graphic: Jack PC thin-client computer.

Figure 5   Jack PC thin-client computer.

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