The Mobile Worker
by Corey Goff
Turning Commute Time into Productive Time...
Driving north on Interstate 85 at 7:30 in the morning in Atlanta, GA is not so much a commute to work as it is a test of patience. Not only are you competing with other folks on their way to their jobs, but you are also competing to decrease your own personal downtime. The morning and after-work periods are often a busy person's most wasted timestuck in the car or on another machine of mass transportation.
Many of us will listen to the radio, or some tapes, or even CDs--but is that really productive or just a means to avoid some kind of road rage? The question then becomes, "How do I make this time more productive for myself?"
The answer is to use the time to absorb information. Many smart folks listen to informative audio recordings (the original method was the cassette tapes, now it's the MP3 player). This is not a bad move, if timeliness isn't an issue. But, what if you want to know what is going on now? Or your library has a limited selection that doesn't cover the topics you really want to know about? Then you need to find a useful information service that will provide news, content, or data. This makes the commute productive in light of your needs--not just "fill-in" time.
Not all commuters rely on cars for transportation to and from work. Some of us use mass transit, such as bus, rail, or air. Others bike or walk to work. And often, we get to work via a combination of these means. A practical information service, then, often must be independent of traditional lines of communication.
Satisfying the Information Demand
Many individuals carry a Personal Data Assistant, or PDA, such as a Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor, or Compaq iPAQ. And most people have a cell phone as well. These mobile devices operate on several different platforms. Some, such as the Palm Pilot, operate on the Palm OS. Devices like the iPAQ utilize Microsofts Windows CE operating system. And catering to cell phones, web-enabled phones, and RIMs is yet a different format, sometimes even dependent on what part of the country or world you live in.
Consumers have a variety of different interests, jobs, preferences, and dislikes. In this age of information, people expect companies to treat them as individuals and thats why you see Web sites offering personalized My pages where the user can individualize the visit per his or her personal preferences. But this is only a starting point; personalization needs to go even further to satisfy different users' varied personas.
Types of Providers
Companies right now are catering to the new MoPro (mobile professional) market. While the word "professional" means a person who holds a state license and doesn't work with tools, marketing folks have hijacked the word to mean someone with a job. So, when you hear "professional," don't feel excluded just because you're not a teacher, preacher, doctor, nurse, lawyer, or cosmetologist. Companies like MobileBriefs, Audible.com, i2Go, and BeVocal have made it their mission to service the growing demand of information anywhere, anytime. And you don't need a state license to be a happy customer. Let's look at the various categories of providers:
Personal Broadcast (PB) companies. This new breed of service provider will tailor shows specifically to you. MobileBriefs (http://www.mobilebriefs.com) is an example of such a broadcaster of personalized business content. Their service allows a subscriber to go the Web site, choose which areas of business (i.e. marketing, finance, etc.) and/or which industries he/she has interest.
A user can even enter a commute time if desired. Then, the system feeds the user relevant content (based on the subscribers preferences) from MobileBriefs' vast database of business articles, abstracts, and business book reviews. The user has the option of reading the text on site, downloading the text to any PDA, listening to the audio on site, downloading the audio to any PDA, downloading the audio to any MP3 player, or even accessing a personalized audio show by wireless PDA or cell phone.
General Audio Download companies. These types of companies typically have a large base of general interest audio material for individual download to your desktop or mobile device. Audible.com (http://www.audible.com) makes it possible for you to listen to audiobooks, lectures, public radio programs, newspapers and more, either at your desktop computer or on the go with a portable device. The service allows you to even listen to free samples before you buy. Just by downloading the AudibleManager® software to your computer, you can listen to audio files on portable devices like any of the Windows-based PDAs or MP3 players. Subject offerings include fiction and nonfiction, comedy, education, business information, speeches, spirituality, public radio programs, newspapers, and magazines.
Corporate Mobile Audio Communication companies. These companies usually specialize in creating internal communication systems for corporations via mobile audio. One leader in this space is i2Go (http://www.i2go.com), which has created a mobile software platform that enables companies to provide relevant, rich media content to their customers, employees, and partners. You can access the information on all types of mobile devices-- anytime, anywhere. Customers also have the luxury of personalizing the audio content they receive. The company has just recently created a Telematics division to reach the consumers through the ever-increasing number of Internet-enabled cars that have begun to populate the automotive landscape.
Phone Information Utility companies. Not as adept as Personal Broadcast (PB) companies, but able to reach more users at the moment, these companies enable users to dial into a cetral audio information repository and--through menus--choose their content. One leader is BeVocal (http://www.bevocal.com), whose objective is to extend the power of every phone by providing voice infrastructure software, applications, and services to telecommunications companies and businesses worldwide. The consumer accesses the information over the phone and s/he can personalize the content based on location. Users can get information on traffic updates, driving directions, weather, news, sports, stock quotes and flight information, all through voice-activated commands over the phone.
The Future is Mobile and Wireless
By 2003, 118 million US consumers will listen to personalized, on-demand audio content at least once a week (Forrester Research, May 2000). Analysts are forecasting over 1 billion wireless devices in 2003, with more than 50% of these devices being Internet enabled (Forrester Research, November 2000). These expectations, coupled with the mobile professionals longer commute time and desire for personalized information, will dictate that companies, such as MobileBriefs, Audible.com, i2Go and BeVocal, quench this emerging markets thirst.
Corey Goff is an independent writer on mobile information access and serves as Director of Finance and Operations for MobileBriefs (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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