- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

Cell phone companies are helping their customers take multitasking to a new level.
They can call in their Starbucks coffee order on the way to work, dial up a round of beers from the bleachers of a ballpark, or even use their hand-held phone as a debit card.
Virtually everything, from shopping to ordering food and entertainment, now can be done using a cell phone, a credit card and a few fingers. Cell phone companies are introducing these new services in a bid to win and retain new customers in a competitive market.
In addition to the features cell phone companies have been hawking, such as wireless Web and interactive text messaging, some firms are taking advantage of the popularity of the 140 million cell phones in use in the United States.
"It's unbelievable," said Nokia spokeswoman Virva Virtanen. "The sky's the limit."
Cell phone users in a hurry can now phone in their Starbucks coffee orders and have them piping hot and ready when they walk in the door. The nation's biggest specialty coffee maker started the service last week in 60 Denver-area locations. For 25 cents extra, waiting for them will be their freshly prepared drink with their name printed on the cup.
Cell phone payment company Cellbucks is testing a similar system that allows cell phone users to get their beer at the ball game without leaving their seats.
The Triple A Buffalo Bisons' Dunn Tire Park last week started allowing cell phone users to register with vendors at the stadium and order from their menu. Runners bring the refreshments to the patron's seat, and the cost is deducted from a preregistered credit card.
"People won't have to miss the action anymore by waiting in line," said Patrick Bird, Cellbucks founder and CEO.
Professional hockey and basketball venues are to begin using the technology within the year, according to Cellbucks.
Although the Toronto company's ordering systems will help users beat the crowds, hurried cell phone users might appreciate Nokia SmartCover technology, which acts as a debit card. Wave the cell phone cover over a device at a store, fast-food restaurant or gas station, and the money will be deducted from a checking account or credit card.
This technology, similar to Exxon Mobil's SpeedPass, was developed last year and is being tested in the United States.
"We're still working on the deployment," Ms. Virtanen said. "Our business development team is very active in developing that."
The cell phone technology is even more impressive in Europe, she said.
In Ms. Virtanen's native Finland, cell phone users can send text messages to order drinks and snacks from vending machines, buckets of golf balls at driving ranges, and car washes. The price of the order is added to the customer's cell phone bill.
Although U.S. cell phone technology isn't so far advanced, manufacturers and service providers are working to introduce it here soon, Ms. Virtanen said.
"It's more than a phone, it's a personal, trusted device," she said. "You can pretty much make your handset do anything."
And for the bored, cell phone companies have been trying their best to entertain. They have moved beyond arranging for entertainment by buying movie tickets or making restaurant reservations to actually providing the fun.
Cell phone "gaming" has become a popular feature during the past several years. Gone are the days of blocky Tetrislike games now, cell phone users can play games with color graphics and blinking lights. Users can even play each other.
Cingular Wireless touts its wide array of games and ring tones to personalize a user's cell phone ring. The service provider offers an Arcade option to customers who can get games such as hangman, blackjack and bingo downloaded to their phones on demand.
"The Arcade allows a player to create a single game alias that works across all of Cingular's game providers, provides a centralized score record for all games, has score rankings for all players, has a discussions board for posting messages and provides a single bill for all games," said Cingular spokeswoman Cecelia Bender.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.


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