5 New Ways to Use Wi-Fi

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3. Surf the Web Without a Computer

You can already beam pictures from your PC to a Wi-Fi-enabled photo frame like Samsung's SPF-72V or PhotoVu's PV1750. Services like FrameChannel can turn these static frames into information portals, delivering RSS feeds, news, weather reports, NASA photos, cartoons, trivia, and (my personal favorite) the Beer Channel to your frame. Just create a free account online and pick the channels you want.

The Chumby personal Internet player does this and then some. The $180 gadget is about the size of an alarm clock; besides photos, news, and weather, it can display your POP e-mail, eBay auctions, Craigslist classifieds, Netflix queue, electronic greeting cards, and interactive games. Chumby units should be available in early spring.

4. Take the Internet to Go

Wi-Fi is making the move to cars. Dash Navigation's Dash Express GPS device ($599) will offer two-way communications via cellular networks or a hotspot when one is in range. You'll be able to do Yahoo Local searches, get real-time traffic and weather updates, or send directions straight to your car's GPS unit (but you'll need to fork out another $10 to $13 a month for a subscription). Dash expects to ship its first commercial devices next month.

Meanwhile, Autonet Mobile can turn your car into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot--so you can log on from your laptop in the passenger seat as you cruise down the open road. Autonet Mobile is currently available in Avis rental cars, and the company plans to (finally) launch a consumer version of the product in February.

5. Keep Your Home Humming  

Wireless networks are also coming to your kitchen, laundry room, and beyond. For example, Miele builds Wi-Fi into both its Honeycomb washers and dryers ($1300+) and its upcoming MasterCool refrigerators and wine coolers (pricing unavailable at press time). When the appliance detects a problem--a device fails, or you simply left the fridge door open, threatening the safety of your pricey wine collection--the device will send a message over your home Internet connection to a Miele technician, who can tell you to shut the fridge or set up a service appointment. In addition, Miele says it plans to roll out its RemoteVision diagnostic service this spring.

In the "Laundry Time" project, Whirlpool, HP, and Microsoft tested Wi-Fi-enabled appliances that alert consumers when it's time to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. (No products have been announced yet.) In Japan, Toto sells an "Intelligence Toilet" that monitors your health (you don't want to know how) and can transmit that information across a network to your doctor's office. Chatty toilets have yet to be spotted on this side of the Pacific, but you know it's only a matter of time. Before long your appliances may be talking about you behind your back--so treat them well.

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