Mobile Tech Show Brings Array of Innovations

Developed with Pentagon funding to isolate the human voice while suppressing the clatter of battle, the Jawbone successfully silenced the three audible offenders.

The demonstration by Brisbane, Calif.-based Aliph was cheered by tech executives, investors and journalists as the company's two founders, outside in a hotel garden, appeared live via video to the audience inside a ballroom.

The headset, which went on sale last week for $150 and works now on only two in five of the cell phones sold in the United States, was among 35 products demonstrated at the two-day show that ended Friday, an eclectic array of hardware, software and services whose common thread reflects the tech sector's need to satisfy the ever more discriminating digital consumer.

"Mobile and wireless are just totally integrated now into our work and play," said Chris Shipley, the IDG show's executive producer. Now that we take an always-on world for granted, no one is going to buy half-baked technologies anymore.

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Wi-Fi wireless and Voice over Internet phoning have tossed the telecoms industry into tumult, making carriers more desperate for new streams of revenue. Unfortunately for the carriers, some of the hottest new applications won't lend a hand.

Tales were swapped on the show's sidelines of traditional telephone service ditched at home and the office in favor of a combination of VoIP and cellular.

A name on many lips was Skype Technologies S.A., the rave of the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) revolution. Luxembourg-based Skype displayed its software for Pocket PC-based handheld computers that lets anyone in a Wi-Fi cloud make a free Internet voice call to other Skype users. Company founder Niklas Zennstrom called from Europe and the audio quality was at least as clear as any landline phone service. A Palm OS version is promised for next month, and the handheld software also supports the paid SkypeOut service (2 cents per minute for U.S. calls) for connecting with traditional phones worldwide.

Also turning up the heat on the traditional telecoms were new consumer VoIP adapters displayed by show sponsor Linksys, now a division of Cisco Systems. Abandoning the plain old telephone system will only get easier.

Wireless carriers could take some comfort, however, in a number of products designed to encourage the world's 200 million plus camera phone owners to actually move snapshots off their handsets.

A Finnish company, Bellstream, introduced a nifty tool for GSM-type cell phones called Blogia for posting photos, text and audio clips to Web-based diaries, and OurPictures of Palo Alto, Calif. debuted a service for sending camera photos to an Internet-connected PC or to the neighborhood photo shop for printing.

The camera phone is also delving into the marketing business.

Mobot of Waltham, Mass. helped Jane magazine prove to its advertisers in its current issue that readers are paying attention. Readers were invited to snap images of ads and send them to Mobot in return for promotions. Thousands participated.

"This is a world-changing connective tissue," blustered Kevin Wells, the company's vice president of business development. Perhaps.

A show of hands at DEMOmobile found that nearly every one of the 420 attendees had a camera on their cell phone but that almost no one was really using them.

That's certainly not true for voice mail, boding well for a San Jose, Calif. company called Orative whose new product is like having a clutch of virtual phone receptionists who don't take coffee breaks.

Orative's service lets cell phone users notify each other when they will be available to take a call. They can also prioritize callbacks based on urgency. In short, a very smart way to minimize phone tag.

This sort of service, which runs on a server on a company's network, wouldn't have been possible in the days of crude digital displays.

Nor would the first use of cellular data networks to deliver multimedia "signs" to product displays in retail stores. From The MediaTile Company, this is an ingenious idea coming soon to a Best Buy near you in a pilot about which Keith Kelsen, chief executive of the Scotts Valley, Calif., startup, said he could not yet provide details.

"I think we're going to spark something that will make people start looking at the cellular networks in a different way," Kelsen said.

You'll never look at a cell phone the same way after you've seen the handset that Finnish company F-Origin debuted at DEMOmobile.

The software and engineering inside boldly tackle the vexing problem of viewing Web pages and other big, graphical files on a cell phone's Liliputian screen without too much shrinkage. To scroll up and down or across a page on the virtual display you simply tilt the phone.

Rotate from vertical to horizontal and the display automatically switches from portrait to landscape mode. And then there's the tactile feedback that the touchscreen and other nontraditional "buttons" provide.

F-Origin is looking for strategic partners and has no intention of getting into the hardware business, so you can't buy an F-Origin handset.

But you can sure admire the technology.

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