"Tomorrow and beyond" was telecoms group Ericsson's slogan at the CeBIT tech trade fair this week, and for many visitors the event was just an electronics Toy Story.
"But despite Ericsson's loud echos of Buzz Lightyear -- the hero of Disney's box office hit who aims to go "to infinity and beyond" -- the mounting role that electronic gadgets can play in business is raising the stakes, and with it the competition for a slice of a $7 trillion market.
"Cellphone makers at the fair continued to play up their mass-market appeal, laying out their wares like gems in a trendy jewellers. But handheld computer players showed they have value to add, and together the two have formidable power.
"From now, the race is on to produce a palmtop computer with inbuilt wire-free Internet links that people can also talk through, and that will work worldwide.
"I think within the next 12 months we'll certainly see that happening," said Peter Richardson, principal analyst at Gartner Group's Dataquest. "At CeBIT next year there'll be a rash of these kinds of devices."
"The winners stand to tap a portion of an enormous market in business-to-business e-commerce -- estimated by Gartner to be worth over $7.29 trillion worldwide by 2004.
THE WAP IS NOT ENOUGH
"Despite the hype around mobile Internet access through Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) on mobile phones, analysts say limits on telecoms capacity and the nature of mobile phone use clip the scope for cellphones alone in the Internet age.
"But their mass-market penetration -- nearly 300 million people have already acquired the cellphone habit globally -- is an enticing foundation to build up services through handheld computers, of which around 10 million have been sold so far.
"As companies shift more of their business onto electronic networks, they want to maximise efficiency through "always-on" connections with their workforces by, for instance, letting sales staff input orders on the road.
"Some ground can be covered through wire-free links between a handheld computer and a cellphone -- here Bluetooth radio technology to link up devices plays a key role -- but the ultimate goal is just to have to carry one, light device.