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Shopping with your Cellular Phone?
Put wireless technology and e-tail together and you get mobile commerce. Someday soon, say m-commerce advocates, you'll be able to shop online with your cell phone (or other mobile device) just as you can now with your PC.

Sounds cool, but will it catch on? According to market research firm Strategis Group, two-thirds of Americans who use wireless devices have no interest in shopping with them. Still, IDC says m-commerce will pull in $21 billion by 2004. How do you go from indifference to $21 billion in four years? By making m-commerce simple.

In Finland, for example, you can buy a soda via cell phone. Just walk up to a soft-drink vending machine and dial a special code on your phone; out pops your pop, and the cost is automatically deducted from your bank account. In Frankfurt, Germany, you can find a parking space by dialing a number on your phone. The device displays the location of the nearest empty spot, and the cost of the meter shows up on your next phone bill.

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U.S. companies are working on some novel m-commerce schemes of their own. Take, for example, AirClic Connect -- a joint venture between Motorola, Symbol (the original developer of the bar-code scanners that speed checkout at grocery stores), AirClic and Ericsson affiliate Connect Things. The key to their scheme: mobile phones equipped with thumbnail-sized scanners. The scanners read printed "Web codes" (think bar codes, only smaller). In a variation on the old razor scheme -- sell the handles cheap, make your money on the blades -- AirClic plans to subsidize the phones, then take its cut on transactions.

The AirClic system has several potential applications. Users could scan Web codes on prescription bottles to get detailed dosage information. Kids could scan Web codes in their textbooks and connect to homework help sites.

But shopping is the real killer app: Vendors could embed Web codes in print advertisements. Buyers who liked what they saw in an ad could place an order simply by scanning the ad with their AirClic phone. Here's a look at how this new form of shopping -- and, by extension, other new m-commerce tools -- might work.

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