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T+L 100: Technology | 2001

The next generation of Global Positioning is in the palm of your hand with FriendFinder, a service from Mobile Position that lets others know where you are via your cell-phone signal (if your phone's on and FriendFinder is activated, you can be tracked). Too Orwellian for you?All information is encrypted, and anyone who isn't on your buddy list—similar to that on a Web-based instant-messaging system—won't be allowed to track you down. Currently available only in Scandinavia, FriendFinder is expected in the United States early this year.

Travel sites are proliferating on the Web like strip malls in suburbia, but here's one whose name you should remember. Orbitz.com, the mega-site founded by five major U.S. airlines—American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United—is expected to reinvent the online fare-finding wheel when it launches in June. Orbitz is developing a server-based search engine that will increase the site's computing power and speed, making it much faster than the mainframe systems used by most fare-finder sites. Want to know the cheapest price from New York to Austin?Orbitz will compare every publicly listed fare in seconds and do so "without bias," claims company spokesperson Stacey Spencer. The site will also offer similar searches for hotels, cruises, rental cars, and vacation packages.

A PC in your car?It'll be here soon: a new option in the 2001 Lincoln Continental and LS Sedan is wireless access to e-mail and stock reports. The 2001 Cadillac Seville and DeVille sport optional consoles that sync with handhelds, part of an infotainment system that will also translate e-mail into synthetic speech so you can hear your mail as you drive.

Soon you may not need a phone jack to get a modem connection in an airport or train station. Bluetooth, a wireless technology supported by such leaders in telecommunications as Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba, will allow cable-free connections between digital devices via radio signal. Access points will be added to transportation hubs, perhaps in the ceilings, allowing anyone with a Bluetooth-enabled device (phone, handheld, laptop) to log on to the Internet without plugging in. At airports, the system would act as an electronic gate agent, sending information on flight delays and changes to you as you walk through the concourse. Eventually you may be able to go directly to your departure gate without waiting in line—as the company's technology evolves, an airline using a computer with Bluetooth will recognize passengers who've signed up for the service and automatically check them in. The first Bluetooth-ready cell phones should hit the market early this year; access points have been installed in the Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Seattle airports, with others to come throughout the year.

People are streamlining their increasingly wired lives with products that have two or more uses. Among the latest in multiple-personality gizmos are the Samsung Uproar (cell phone and MP3 player, $399), LG's TP3000 (cell phone and PDA, $399) and the Fujifilm FinePix 40i (digital camera, video recorder, and MP3 player, $699).


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