I know, I know. I'm stranded on premise beach without a kayak. I mean, you didn't even know there was a wireless revolution going on, one that's already kind of obviating all the glamour once attached to everything wired, now did you? Nor did you think the Web unsafe for advertising, what with all those banners and spam e-mails and sponsored pages and DoubleClick cookies spying on every move you make.
The fact is, though, that wireless is the new new new thing. It's what's led enterprises like Nokia, the Finnish mobile phone company, to stratospheric market caps. It prompted a U.K. company, Vodafone, to pursue a $180 billion hostile bid, the largest ever, for a German firm, Mannesmann. Indeed, it's got the smart money betting the next few years will see a surge in the European economy, where wireless telephony is far more deeply embedded than it is stateside, and where the wireless Internet will presumably take off with less resistance than in the deskbound U.S.
Ah, the wireless Internet. It's one of those marvelous constructs that sounds great in breathless business magazine stories. Then reality sets in. Web pages are already crowded with so much chazzurai that even a 15-inch screen is indecipherably dense. And now we're talking about putting all that on the 4-inch-square screen of a mobile handset? That makes Stan Freberg's Contadina tomato sauce challenge look like kindergarten play.
That's where PDAs like the Palm Pilot come in-in ways I had not expected.
The marriage of Palm Pilot to mobile phone has been preordained since both were infants. In an economy composed increasingly of road warriors, it makes sense that the machine that connects us verbally should merge with the device that stores our daily calendars, phone books and to-do lists. It's fair to say marketers have been salivating at this prospect. Nothing could be more salutary than gaining access to the data that comprise us-and on-the-hoof, as it were. Imagine beaming down into a working stiff's most valued appliance information customized just for her.
For the most part, reality has lagged behind the fantasy. Customized Web data still doesn't fit easily onto Palm screens; the trend in cell phones has been toward smaller and sleeker, another hindrance. While the new Palm VII allows nicely for wireless e-mail access and the like, it's easy to see it's a specialized device for a precious few. For the foreseeable future, consumers will probably stick to the two-device route. The marketing dream clearly requires somebody to come up with a way to deliver the goods to an unwired Palm.
Which is exactly what Vindigo.
com has done. Available right now only in New York, Vindigo delivers to your PDA a database of some 5,000 restaurants, bars, and stores, all of it searchable by location and category. I tell it I'm at the corner of Park and 40th and I've got a hankering for East European food, and it provides a list of the 10 closest boites-including Caviarteria, next door in Grand Central Station. I can even rate the restaurant for future reference.
Vindigo gets its information into my Palm when I back up my data, a process called Hotsynching, which I do several times a day. And that's the beauty part. Each time I Hotsynch, my Palm not only backs up data, but it goes through the Web into Vindigo's servers, where it downloads updated service information-and advertising, presumably targeted at me, based on the information a Web provider can "read" from my registration information, cookies and my Palm data. Imagine your Zagat's Guide had advertising aimed at you, based on the restaurants you frequent and the marginal reviews you write about them, and you'll get the picture. And because the user is opting into the service-trading the information and customization for targeted ads-the business stops short of crossing the privacy line.
Vindigo is one of the handful of companies breaking the barrier between fixed and wireless communication. It's made me understand how my Palm Pilot is not just a companion, but a medium. Best of all, it's reminded me where to get that mid-day caviar fix. I suspect life will never be the same.M
Mr. Rothenberg can be reached at [email protected]