No data services, but look at these games...

Crippled though they are by an absence of data services, Nokia clearly has no problem selling its WAP phones.

How can you take seriously a technology whose launch is dominated by questions from a design magazine journalist? A journalist whose last assignment was a weekend blatting around in Chrysler's retro PT Cruiser? (It goes "like a sewing machine", for anyone contemplating shelling out for one.)

As well as the design mag, there were representatives of a TV network, three business publications, a couple of internet mags and the usual suspects from the IT press at this occasion (atop Auckland's fakely posh Metropolis hotel-cum-apartment building).

We were all there to witness the unveiling of a couple of mobile phones. Yep, those dead weights we lug around which go off at inopportune moments and which tether us to the office while we misguidedly believe they're contributing to our freedom.

Okay, I concede they do have their uses. They're not bad for calling an ambulance when someone at your party on the beach passes out from too much sun and bubbly; and then for telling the ambulance the emergency's over when the victim comes to a moment later.

One of the phones we all got to paw was aimed at business users (who could afford the $400 or so on a 36-month connection plan) and the other was "for the young and young at heart".

At this stage of their evolution, mobile phone makers seem to want to stress the devices' interchangeable coloured fronts (and backs in the case of the "funkier, hipper" of these two examples), rather than useful features like wireless data access. The business model supports WAP 1.1 and data services of up to 43.2Kbit/s, but has anyone heard of any of the latter available here? Not me.

Crippled though they are by an absence of data services, Nokia (for it was they whose phones we were secrety coveting) clearly has no problem selling the things. According to numbers bandied about by Acer (it, too, makes phones, expecting to sell 10 million in 2000), Nokia would sell 150 million of them this year and make one million a day next year.

There's no question, then, that the consumer market has been cracked. So what about the awkward data functionality that pushes them into that much tougher market, the communications one? Nokia, for one, doesn't appear too bothered about selling those features just yet. Data functionality exists, but the company isn't emphasising it, nor development of services.

Its Scandanavian rival, Ericsson, is taking a different approach, having entered into a joint mobile application development effort with Wellington company Synergy. Ericsson has a history of backing such efforts in New Zealand, helping establish E-Zebra, a company which uses Vodafone's short message service for delivery of information to a young clientele. Again, however, it's not yet a compelling business application.

Those sorts of applications are being explored, though. Computerworld reports on the experience of Lion Nathan, which set out to see if WAP was the answer for sending credit information to sales staff in the field. The trial showed Lion Nathan the limitations of a WAP phone's display, but also demonstrated the usefulness of wireless email.

Should we be taking them seriously, then? Or concentrating our attention on how they look? Perhaps neither. "If anything sells these phone it'll be the games," said the Nokia product manager. Oops, forgot to mention those.

Doesburg is Computerworld's editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg.