- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Passing notes in class has gone high-tech.

Cybiko, a hand-held wireless device similar to a hip PalmPilot, lets technology-savvy students send messages to each other right before their teacher's eyes.

The new gadgets which look like a modern walkie-talkie with a flashy keyboard and screen are geared specifically to children 12 to 16 years old.

It packs instant messaging, interactive games, e-mail and practical applications like an organizer and address book into a 4-ounce device small enough to fit in a shirt pocket or hide from an unsuspecting teacher.

Users can communicate wirelessly to each other as far as 300 feet away outdoors and can have a cyber-chat with as many as 999 friends.

They even can use their Cybiko to find a love connection during science class.

Users type in the criteria they are looking for in a "friend," including age and other personal information. The wireless network then will match the criteria with other Cybiko users nearby.

When a match occurs, the gadget vibrates and a line of hearts appear on the screen. The more hearts, the better.

But Cybiko must be used by more than one person to make that cyber-connection or play multiplayer games. Otherwise, it's just not as much fun.

"It's a great idea," said John Breeden, chief editor of GameIndustry.com, an on-line trade publication in Silver Spring, Md. "It will reach that cool factor when a lot of people have them."

Of course, with the PalmPilot being the hot-tech toy for adults, it shouldn't take too long for a teen-age version to catch on.

Don Wisniewski, president of Chicago-based Cybiko Inc., says the target group of teens and 'tweens an industry term used to describe youngsters 10 to 13 years old has been missing the perks of a hand-held gadget that's cool enough for them. One that is not too adult or too childlike.

"They really don't have consumer electronic devices that are designed for them," he said.

"They're a unique group. They are way smarter on the Internet than anyone I know."

But the device could be a teacher's worst nightmare as students play or pass notes instead of work or even use their Cybiko to cheat on tests.

However, Mr. Wisniewski said teachers don't seem too terrified about Cybiko's possible disruption in class. In fact, 50 teachers throughout the country are evaluating the device and looking into ways to incorporate the technology in their classrooms.

If teachers don't use them, students likely will have some trouble getting them past school officials, considering the recent policies set by school districts all over the country that ban electronic devices on school property. Everything from cell phones and pagers to electronic laser pointers and GameBoys have been prohibited.

For example, the Manassas School Board enacted a policy that students can be suspended for up to two days if they are found with any kind of portable communications device.

Cybiko can be bought through the company's World Wide Web site at www.cybiko.com for $129. But only a few national retailers, including CompUSA and FAO Schwarz, are carrying the products so far.

Locally, teens and 'tweens can find the gadgets in stock at area CompUSA stores for $129.99, but FAO Schwarz in Georgetown Park and Tysons Galleria don't carry them.

Cybiko is likely to become more available because chains like Best Buy and Target are signing on to sell them, Mr. Wisniewski said.

From a wireless standpoint, the device already has been accepted, Mr. Breeden said. Thanks to the popularity of the PalmPilot, teens are already familiar with the concept.

However "people expect a lot out of their wireless devices" so they will want full-color graphics and sound effects to match the GameBoy they've outgrown, Mr. Breeden said.

The 5-inch gray-screen device, which comes in four translucent colors, allows dozens of interactive multiplayer games such as "Lost in Labyrinth," an interactive quest to find the "spiral of knowledge," and "CyLandia," where users raise Cy-B, a virtual friend that lives and grows.

The company is developing new games that can be downloaded from their site for free.

"If they market themselves, they could be big," Mr. Breeden said.

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