US company Pocketscience, in conjunction with Japanese consumer giants Sharp Electronics and JVC, has announced a portable email and fax service that does not require a laptop.
The service can be accessed by a pocket sized electronic device via any telephone worldwide.
Pocketscience will operate the service, Pocketmail, while Sharp and JVC will market the devices.
To access the facility, users call a toll-free phone number from any phone and hold the device up to the handset. There is no need for a phone jack.
Pocketmail can serve as the user's only email account, in which case there is no need for a computer, or in conjunction with an existing account. If used with an existing account the service will automatically retrieve email from the user's primary Internet mailbox.
PocketMail can filter incoming messages, including automatically blocking messages, or allowing the user to choose which items to retrieve immediately and which to leave for later.
US pricing for the service is $9.95 per month for unlimited email messages and access to the free number. Faxes can be sent for $1 internationally.
Devices containing Pocketmail technology will be priced between $100 and $150 depending on their features.
Pocketscience is currently working with other manufacturers to incorporate the technology into a variety of electronic devices, including electronic organizers, PDAs, and palm-size and handheld PCs and, according to the company, is making its technology affordable enough that manufacturers can add mobile email capabilities to their products with virtually no impact on the products' retail price.
The company, however, is not ready to make any announcements about future products as negotiations are ongoing, according to a company spokesperson.
Email use is exploding. The number of email users in the US alone is expected to grow from 75 million in 1998 to 135 million by 2001, according to estimates by Forrester Research, which also predicts that the number of email messages transmitted in the US will grow from 225 billion in 1998 to 500 billion in 2001.
Not only are more people using email, they are using it more frequently. A 1997 survey of US Internet users by Find/SVP found that 59 per cent of users checked their email at least once a day, up from 47 per cent in 1995.
Pocketscience was founded in 1995 to take advantage of that rapid growth by providing email anywhere. Originally, the company was a member of the NASA Ames Technology Commercialization Center, but is now a privately held company backed by various players in the communications, information, and computer industries.
In the future Pocketscience will explore and develop other technologies, but at present it is concentrating its efforts on mobile email, according to the spokesperson.
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