Buyer's Guide: Wireless All-in-ones
Buyer's Guide: Wireless All-in-ones
Troy Charlton of Nashville is on the leading edge of a new technology that’s expected to be the hottest thing since the cell phone: wireless access to your e-mail, MLS data, and the Web.
For the past year, Charlton has been retrieving MLS data from the Web by tapping the keypad on his Nextel Web-enabled cell phone.
“I just enter the first three digits of the property address or the MLS number, and back comes a description of the house, its size, number of bedrooms, price, and salesperson contact information,” explains Charlton, broker-owner of Century 21 Charlton Realty Co. About 200 of the Middle Tennessee Board of REALTORS®’ 7,000 members have also tried the service. It’s offered by the Middle Tennessee Regional MLS (MTRMLS) in Nashville, which does business as RealTrac Solutions.
Such real-time wireless access to the Web and MLS data and instant e-mail to buyers and sellers are shaping a new standard in responsive services. Making these services accessible is the goal of the emerging products that unite the functions of cell phones, PDAs, and wireless-Web devices and the wireless data services they employ.
What devices will be available to you? Technology vendors are releasing a variety of solutions, many for less than $500, depending on whether you want a phone that has some PDA features, a PDA with built-in phone, or one of the new e-mail messengers, also with some PDA functionality. If you gravitate to a full-featured PDA, investigate the Sharp Zaurus (www.sharp-usa.com) and Palm i705 (www.palm.com). PDA groupies may want to consider PDA phones, like Handspring’s Treo (www.handspring.com) and the Pocket PC (www.pocketpc.com) phone, which is expected later this year. Most vendors will also offer “smart phones,” which are phones first and PDAs second. Or, you can opt for an always-on e-mail messenger, such as the RIM Blackberry (www.blackberry.com) and Danger’s new Hiptop (danger.com).
As this selection suggests, there’s no one size that fits all in mobile solutions. “Each device has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your needs,” says Mark Lesswing, vice president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Center for REALTOR® Technology, a technology information resource and advocate for members.
But with 94.8 percent of REALTOR® households owning a cell phone, according to the REALTOR® Magazine 2001 Reader Profile Study, MRI Custom Division, cell phones are the most likely port of entry for the new wireless wave.
And wireless access to e-mail, in particular, will give cell phones and other convergence devices their real value. “If you look at wireless in the context of an Internet marketing strategy, extending the reach of e-mail will be a major advantage,” says Lesswing. “In a hot market, you can’t wait three or four hours before you respond to a consumer’s e-mail.”
Charlton agrees, and says, “Wireless devices are a neat way to get e-mail and send messages, as long as you keep them short.”
His caveat points up the devices’ drawbacks: data entry and screen size. With a wireless phone, you must type text messages using a number pad. And if you access a Web page, you’ll see only a few lines of text. Ultimately, these products may be best used as the mobile companion to your primary computer system.
Wireless, from any device
Charlton and others in his Tennessee market are using cell phones to access their MLS. Alternatively, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), an MLS serving Washington, D.C., and adjacent markets in surrounding states, has been experimenting with an open-platform approach to wireless, which allows delivery of MLS data to any wireless-enabled PDA, notebook, or phone. The MLS estimates that 500 of its 33,000 members have tried its wireless services.
Early experiments with wireless MLS convinced vendors that real estate professionals want a service to work with any device. Hand e Corp., makers of Pocket Real Estate (pocketrealestate.com), for example, recently announced a wireless version of the software that will enable users of most wireless devices to access MLS data remotely. Pocket Real Estate Wireless will work on Palm and Pocket PC PDAs, Blackberry devices, and most Internet-ready phones.
Emerest Mobile, developer of the wireless services available from MRIS, has also expanded its device support. “We started out making wireless MLS data available on the Blackberry,” explains Emerest Mobile CEO Jagdeep Baccher. “But we found no single device is right; real estate professionals have different preferences about what they want in their device.”
No matter the device, vendors will likely have to work out kinks before these multifunction gizmos are ready for prime time. Some of the problems that plague cell service, such as range limitations, affect the new wireless services. And some hardware platforms will ultimately prove more functional than others. But the transition to wireless is underway.
“Now’s the time to invest in learning what this convergence can do for your business,” Lesswing says, “and to make plans for how you’ll use it.”
One thing’s clear: As you incorporate wireless solutions into your work day, how you operate in the field will never be the same.
The next step in mobile
Expect a bevy of all-in-one devices and service choices by year’s end. Pricing isn’t yet resolved on all products, so visit the manufacturers’ sites for updates. Among your options:
Danger Hiptop (danger.com): This compact e-mail messenger/phone/PDA serves as the portal to the range of integrated communications services from newcomer Danger Inc.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the products in this category. NAR doesn’t evaluate or endorse these products and isn’t responsible for changes in product info. Prices are the vendors’ suggested retail prices and are subject to change.
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