You probably already have Internet access at work and at home. Now, tech companies want you to take the Internet with you wherever you go. Fresh off the success of Apple Inc.’s iPhone, semiconductor makers and Internet and cellphone companies are taking another stab at making the Web more accessible to everyday consumers on their mobile phones and other portable gadgets. At the ongoing Consumer Electronics show at Las Vegas, Yahoo Inc. rolled out a revamped Internet software platform for cellphones that executives claim will be “a game changer”. Yahoo’s Go 3.0 service lets users customize the “home pages” of their cellphones to get instant access to information from the Web such as weather, news and sports headlines, as well as personal email and calendars. The software will also give users one-touch instant access to popular websites such as MySpace, eBay and the Flickr photo sharing site. The mobile Internet, said Yahoo co-founder and Jerry Yang, “is the next phase of the Internet.”
Intel Corp. CEO Paul Otellini said he thinks it will be even bigger than that. “We’re now in the midst of the largest opportunity to redefine consumer electronics and entertainment since the introduction of the television."
Intel announced it is on track to deliver its latest chips for so-called “mobile Internet devices”—part computer, part phone, part Web browser—within the next several months. It is launching a major initiative—not unlike its Centrino wireless PC push—aimed at putting the Internet in your pocket. Otellini showed off prototype devices based on Intel chips, including a Web-based gadget that travellers can use to audibly and visually translate building signs, restaurant menus and conversations in real time. With built-in GPS technology, the pocket-sized device could also be used to get directions and identify and give background—via the Web—on local landmarks.
Forecasters predict there will be more than 4 billion cellphones worldwide by 2010, dwarfing the number of personal computers. Apple's introduction of the all-in-one iPhone last year jump-started the latest industry push towards improving the mobile Internet. Other big tech companies are also positioning themselves to play in the mobile Internet space. Google Inc., for instance, announced a new mobile phone software platform last November. It is widely expected to launch its own cellphone and possibly even get into the cell service business—competing head-on with the likes of Verizon and AT&T Inc.
But delivering mobile Internet service to consumers is not easy. And, despite the initial success of the iPhone, it's not clear that consumers want yet another new mobile gadget. “Sure, some people may want some sort of easy-to-use device that can maybe fit in your pocket," said Steve Baker, vice-president and an analyst at tech research company NPD Group. But he said it's hard to make a mobile Internet device that's not too heavy, not too expensive, and convincing consumers they should buy one to replace their trusty cellphone. Richard Dougherty, director of tech research company Envisioneering Group, said getting good on-the-go access to the Web—either through cellular networks or through wireless Internet Wi-Fi or WiMAX technology—is another major hurdle.
At a time when some consumers have a hard enough time just trying to find a strong cell signal, wireless Web service simply isn't good enough today, he said. “Consumers don't want a device that isn't going to connect like it should and give them a quality experience," Dougherty said. Intel is trying to fix that, too. Along with its mobile Internet push, Intel also is a major backer of WiMAX technology, which promises to make high-speed broadband wireless Web access commonplace