It's getting easier to chat online
(IDG) -- As sending and receiving data over mobile networks becomes more prevalent, companies are launching new applications and hardware to make entering text messages easier and faster.
Vendors are being driven to release products because of increased popularity of WAP (wireless application protocol) services, mobile e-mail, mobile microbrowsers and SMS (short messaging service).
Motorola's Lexicus Division has announced the general availability of its iTAP Intelligent Keypad Entry System.
ITAP is an application that manufacturers can install on mobile phones and wireless devices to allow end-users to key in words with the telephone's keypad without using the cumbersome multiple-key pressing system currently used, Motorola said in a statement. The new technology supports both WAP and SMS, and is available in Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, German, U.K. English and U.S. English, Motorola said.
The software uses a predictive text-entry method, said Dominic Strowbridge, technology marketing manager for Motorola in Europe, Middle East and Africa, based in Basingstoke, U.K.
The iTAP system "puts up in the display what it thinks is the most likely combination of characters," based on the keypad digits the user presses, Strowbridge said. "For the vast majority of words, it's going to be much, much quicker."
ITAP is loaded with a 40,000-word dictionary and also allows users to add words.
On a typical mobile phone today, in order to spell the word "ciao" for instance, the user presses the "2" button three times, the "4" key three times, the "2" key again and the "6" key three times. Using the iTAP system, the user simply presses "2,4,2,6" and "ciao" appears on the screen. If that isn't the word sought, the user overrides the choice.
The iTAP application is now shipping on Motorola's cd928 mobile phone, which supports Chinese and other Asian languages, and will ship on a number of phones next year, Strowbridge said. It will eventually be on all Motorola mobile phones where data entry might be used and Motorola hopes to license it to other manufacturers, he said.
The system is the same as Tegic Communications' T9 Text Input system, currently licensed to most other mobile phone manufacturers, Stowbridge said. Tegic's T9 system can be used for text input on wireless phones, handheld computers and MP3 (Motion Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer 3) devices, according to information on the company's Web site.
While both Tegic and Motorola have developed software products for text entry, Ericsson has come up with a hardware product to make data entry easier. Ericsson's Chatboard is a mini-keyboard that can be attached to certain Ericsson handsets, allowing users to type out e-mails, messages or other data input. The product will be rolled out initially next year in Europe, where SMS growth is phenomenal.
The number of SMS messages sent in Europe doubles every six months or less, according to the GSM Association, based in Dublin, Ireland. The number recently reached 2 billion messages sent so far this year, with Germany, Italy, Finland, the U.K., Norway and Sweden leading the growth. The association expects new WAP services to cause SMS to grow even more rapidly.
While SMS, WAP and e-mail are now the applications driving text entry on mobile phones, Strowbridge and others predict a more popular future use -- wireless chat. Wireless chat will allow users to see when their friends and colleagues are also on standby on their phones and will allow them to send and receive real-time text messages.
Although such users could easily dial the phone and initiate voice calls, Strowbridge thinks that wireless chat will mirror the popularity of fixed online chat because it will be quicker, cheaper and easier than making a voice call. Students, for instance, who have been behind the growth of SMS in Europe, could use it during class without detection, Strowbridge said.
Motorola and America Online announced in mid-October that they are working together to bring AOL's popular Instant Messenger technology to Motorola's wireless phones.
Jana Sanchez is London bureau chief for the IDG News Service.
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