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Limited Wireless Internet Access

Often touted as the ultimate form of untethered access, limited wireless Internet access usually means working on a PDA, an Internet-enabled cell phone, or some other kind of small format, hand-held electronic device where bandwidth and displays are both too narrow for normal surfing, email, and communications. Although improving technologies and increasing display sizes (or capabilities) may improve this situation, most users who''ve tried these technologies say they don't yet work very well for ordinary Internet access.

David Strom, noted author, editor, and email expert, tried an Internet-enabled phone but didn't like it very much. He said: "It had a small screen, it was very fragile, narrow bandwidth meant it ran too slowly, and it was hard for me to take notes while on the phone." Though he concedes this could simply be a function of inadequate technology, he also opines that handheld devices must still improve "quite a bit" before they're as usable as the hype sometimes promises. "Besides," he says, "it's so easy to find Internet access at cybercafés, airports, and other locations, I'd rather rely on finding a connection wherever it is I'm going than carry one with me all the time."

Like Mr. Strom, many other experienced users still seem to perceive that the limits on this kind of wireless access outweigh its convenience and reach. Two things may change this perception, though: improved displays and faster communications links may make it easier and more straightforward to use such devices, and proliferation of specialized applications built specifically for small-screen, handheld devices may help relieve some of the frustration and difficulty in trying to use them for general email and browsing.

Another regular Palm user, Dr. Bill Brogden, shared a slightly different point of view. Despite the limitations of the Palm, he finds it incredibly useful to provide easy, direct access to all kinds of data and information that he downloads to his Palm to work on or read. He says: "As long as I can download data to my Palm during off-hours, and it''s ready for me to use when I really need it, I find it useful for accessing information from phone numbers, to specifications, to technical data, when I'm away from my desk and out of range for most kinds of wireless networking anyway." His take on its utility is as an information appliance, where interactivity and Internet access are secondary to its contents. From this point of view it's also easier to understand the great appeal that ebook readers and other similar devices have for some consumers.

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