SAN DIEGO - Some three dozen products were introduced at the DEMOmobile technology show last week, including a device that can save people time waiting by sending notifications by phone, e-mail or text message when a repairman arrives at the user's home.
The service, called Heads-Up!, is from a company called Dynamic Mobile Data Systems. It led a field of products for roving repair and delivery people. Such workers increasingly carry cheap mobile devices imbued with ever more intelligence.
Another standout category at the fifth annual DEMOmobile - an elite gathering for industry insiders and journalists - was about getting access to home or work computers from mobile phones or any other Internet-connected device.
"No longer are we tied to our desks, and for that matter, no longer are we tied to the traditional workday," is how Chris Shipley, the IDG show's executive producer, described what she sees as a coming era where mobile work will redefine social and business relations.
Software called ezPCAccess by TERA Technologies Inc. impressed many with its remote management of Microsoft's Outlook e-mail/contact/calendar application.
Promised for later this year, ezPCaccess' features include direct access from any Web browser and simultaneous multi-user viewing that should challenge similar products such as Laplink, PCAnywhere and GoToMyPC.
PocketWatch Systems' PocketHub software also offered remote access to Windows computers from handsets, though the Scotland-based company's demonstration was flummoxed by a datastorm of competing wireless signals.
The plethora of wireless frequencies - aggravated by spotty cellular coverage - played havoc with several demos. Bad luck shadowed those relying on the GSM cellular standard that blankets Europe, but not North America.
A few items grabbed even this jaded crowd. One was a joystick-equipped handheld computer called the Zodiac. The clever machine, engineered by Palm Inc. alumni, tilts the Palm operating system on its side for portable gaming. It's due out next month, starting at $299.
Another was the Mirra, a compact "personal server" from a company called Ispiri Inc.
Mirra backs up computers and securely shares your files - pictures, music, whatever - over broadband Internet connections with people you select. The cheapest model, with an 80-gigabyte hard drive, is priced at $399.
This year's DEMOmobile offered hope that the long-suffering, low-power Bluetooth wireless standard will get some traction.
Brother International uses Bluetooth in the new, $399 MPrint Micro Printer, which fits in a coat pocket. Logitech introduced a $180 Bluetooth-centric desktop suite that untethers keyboards and mice and lets you send text messages through any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone.
Anyone who has ever entered text with a cell phone keypad or the Graffiti handwriting-recognition feature on Palm handhelds knows there must be a better way.
MessageEase from ExIdeas may not be the ultimate answer, but it's a fine idea, especially with tablet PCs looming. MessageEase is a nine-key, on-screen touchpad where letters not used as often are entered with a sideways slide instead of a tap.
A few inventions at this year's DEMOmobile were positively Orwellian. A British-developed anti-truancy tool called Alerts, from Langtree SkillsCenter Ltd., tells Mum and Dad when the kids are on the lam - in real time via text messaging.
And Get Closer from Closer Communications is sort of a trade show riff on the popular "Are You Hot or Are You Not?" genre of Web sites. Get Closer rates showgoers by their value to you, the presenter.
Several products sought to entice people to buy camera-equipped cell phones.
Two of them, Phone2Fun Digitizer and Postcard from the French startup Realeyes3D, allow you to write or sketch a personal message on a piece of paper, photograph it with your handset then send it as an e-mail attachment. Or overlay a message on a photo to create a digital postcard that can be sent anywhere from a handset.
Photo-phones are wildly popular in Japan and South Korea, but American cell phone users are largely oblivious to them.
Vladimir Edelman, director of ESPN Wireless, which is already pushing scores and highlights to U.S. cell phone users, wants domestic wireless carriers to give a bigger push to the video clips, games and other richer multimedia services now available on more handsets.
His lament at DEMOmobile: "Most people here (in the United States) have absolutely no concept of what can be done on their phone."