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Demo Fall '05: Smart phones get the shaft?

Demo Fall '05: Smart phones get the shaft?

Ah, here they are: the phone products. I left DemoFall '05 yesterday shocked by the absence of mobile products on stage. This morning, they made themselves known. Over the past two hours, we've seen a parade of games, voice, video--even eBay bidding applications and services for cell phones. No gadgets, though. Just "soft" products.

Interestingly, though, most of Demo's next big things for cell phones don't cater to smart phones. Six new apps and services out of the eight that I saw make moves to put "smart" tools on "regular" cell phones. Some examples:

Wow, I feel like I'm back in 1999. The AirSet service helps you share calendars on the Internet, letting multiple groups--say, soccer leagues and family members--push their events onto your schedule and vice versa. (Yep, it's a PIM. Honestly, did you think you'd ever hear that term again?) Either way, on the surface, AirSet isn't groundbreaking, especially given well-established competitors such as Yahoo Groups. The difference, though, is that AirSet can send and receive calendar info from your cell phone and it "deep syncs" with Microsoft Outlook and Palm Desktop.

Gnumber Unwired Buyer
The most basic version of this free service sounds straightforward: Unwired Buyer lets you participate in eBay auctions over the phone, using voice prompts. The idea here is that if you can call in a bid, you'll never miss the end of an auction. The really interesting part about this service, though, is its potential: If you can make any sort of online transaction by voice via a VoIP back end (that's how Gnumber does it), imagine what you could do while you should be driving.

TalkPlus Mobile Call Manager
TalkPlus calls its almost-beta service the first cellular VoIP application. In other words, it uses cellular data networks, rather than the Internet, to make calls on any BREW- or Java-based cell phone. Pros? TalkPlus says you can manage multiple phone numbers on your cell, send international calls at broadband rates, and set up voice conferences with up to 10 participants. Question is: Will it sound OK? We'll find out when the beta service launches in 30 days.

I saw more apps for "normal" phones, too, and a couple of notables for smart phones, including a phone-based, GPS-like navigation system called Destinator Anywhere (just now launching in the United States) and a cool-looking remote document search and retrieval service called EasyReach. But if I'm to believe Demo, my smart phone won't be seeing the lion's share of third-party innovation anytime soon.