Out on a Limb with M-Commerce (Cont.)

Concern over health complications due to radiation emissions from cell phone handsets has also dampened enthusiasm for expanding their use. Last June, the World Health Organization called for further testing to assess the potential risk.

Growing alarm over the connection between cell phone use and traffic accidents is adding fuel to the m-commerce resistance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a warning about driver distraction from cell phones and other devices. Studies have consistently shown that drivers who use cell phones have higher accident rates, and some lawmakers are calling for restricted use.

Creating Demand

Though many researchers seem to be jumping on the m-commerce bandwagon, spinning study results to deliver favorable conclusions, others have highlighted the public’s indifference.

Earlier this year, research and consulting firm Ovum reported on consumer coolness toward wireless services. “It’s debatable whether ordinary consumers are actually demanding mobile e-commerce services right now,” said Jeremy Matthews, Ovum analyst and Asia Pacific mobile specialist. “It’s more a case of suppliers sensing an opportunity to make money, and pushing the idea at them.”

Matthews said that wireless e-commerce is not likely to be a moneymaker in the short term, predicting that consumers will probably lag far behind business users, and even businesses will likely not pay a premium for services that are already available using a telephone or PC.

“If suppliers are to survive and prosper in the long term, their early offerings will have to be very targeted and very compelling,” he said.

Where Wireless Works

On the plus side, analysts say it is likely that time-sensitive industries, including financial services and online auctions, will benefit enormously from wireless commerce.

Charles Schwab, Ameritrade, Fidelity, DLJ Direct and other online brokers have already introduced wireless trading. Yahoo! offers wireless access in Europe, and eBay announced plans to follow suit earlier this year.

The Ovum report came shortly after Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos made a public pitch for m-commerce, saying it is “going to be the most fantastic thing that a time-starved world has ever seen.”

Bezos said that wireless Internet will permanently change how people shop — allowing them to do errands while sitting in a doctor’s office or buy a book immediately on hearing a recommmendation from a friend. Bezos called the m-commerce advantages “irresistible.”

Chained to the Web

One person’s “irresistible” is another’s “intolerable,” though. As columnist Roger Ebert wrote for Yahoo! Internet Life, “The time is past when cell phones, PalmPilots, and pagers were a status symbol. Now they are a leash — a sign that other people have us on 24-hour call, like a dog. Handhelds are the most enslaving, since they have us yanking our own leashes.”

With all the gung-ho analyst and industry predictions drowning out consumer reservations, it may seem as though m-commerce is being shoved down the American public’s throat — and so far, it is not going down very well.

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