The digital world is about to get personal — very personal. In this sixth annual profile of tech trendsetters, we spotlight six in pursuit of the next big idea: using Internet technology to genuinely connect people and things, and deliver precisely what we want, when and where we want it.
In the aftermath of the dot-kaboom, they deepen our understanding of the Net's ability to change how we work and play. At times it seems like the richest turf in high tech is taken, but the Net's openness and versatility offer great opportunity to anyone with a way to tap its digital geysers — and create a richer life for the rest of us.
Voice over the Internet: Cathy Martine
A 24-year AT&T vet named Cathy Martine is pushing Ma Bell into something new: zipping phone calls over the Internet. AT&T's forthcoming voice-over-Internet Protocol service, CallVantage, will allow callers to adopt any area code and direct calls to their home, mobile and office phones at once. Martine aims to give customers games, movies and music — as long as its digital. She says, "It's the art of the possible." Read more.
Online gaming: Mike Cassidy
With three buddies, Mike Cassidy started what became Xfire, a company that helps video gamers find their friends — and favorite foes — online. With tens of millions playing video games, it's a huge opportunity. "It was one of these, 'Well, if we could just make $1 a month off 10 percent of the market, we'd be rolling in money,' " he says. Already, Xfire is reaping ad dollars and license fees. Wanna join in? Read more.
Mobile TV: Blake Krikorian
Blake Krikorian's first magic trick: smooth video on a PDA. The longtime engineer and now entrepreneur promises his next move will be to make it happen on a cell phone soon. The device that allows this, the Slingbox, arose out of his desire to watch TV from afar. "The VCR lets you time shift," he says. "I wanted to place shift." If Sling Media can avoid a copyright fight, this could be the next big thing. Read more.
Embedded networks: Robert Poor
Ember, which Robert Poor co-founded, wirelessly networks mundane devices together. For $10 a light switch, you can darken a whole house with a single button. "When I talked about networking light switches four years ago, people looked at me as if I was crazy," he says. A similar chip keeps fish in refrigerated trucks cold, without ever cracking open the bay door. To help Ember become a big company, Poor has removed himself from day-to-day operations. He says, "I did a founder-ectomy." Read more.
Thoughtful gadgets: Patrick Whitney
Patrick Whitney's cell phone drives him crazy. Its speed-dial settings don't change when he travels to another city. He can't send a message to his online calendar. It makes random calls when it gets squashed in his briefcase. The solution? Better design, says the director of the first full-time graduate school of design in the U.S. For a decade, he has preached "human-centered design" to companies. "You have to watch what they do," he says of tech users. "Not what they say." Read more.
Broadband wireless: Rajiv Laroia
Rajiv Laroia was handed a dream assignment at Lucent's Bell Labs in 1997: invent a way to put broadband in the sky. After quitting Lucent in 2000, he founded an outfit called Flarion and raised a total of $150 million. A Flarion PC card allows e-mail and Web access at a torrid 1.5 megabits a second, three times as fast as the latest cellular design. Says Laroia, "There's no need to be tied to wires." Read more.