Yahoo! Bets Millions E-Commerce Will Go Wireless

Over the last several weeks, Yahoo! Inc. has plowed millions into buying companies that will move e-commerce from PCs onto wireless devices. But some industry experts say the wireless market is a china egg that will never hatch.

When the well-known Internet search engine forked over $130 million in stock buying Atlanta, Georgia-based Encompass, a company that makes software that links Internet users to the Web automatically — it definitely raised some eyebrows. But when Yahoo! anted up another $80 million (US$) in stock to add Online Anywhere of Palo Alto, California to its stable, it became apparent the company is betting its future on the wireless e-commerce market.

Online Anywhere specializes in formatting Web pages that handheld computers can easily access. In fact, Yahoo! said it soon planned to transmit its content to millions of pagers, cell phones and even Web-TVs.

Some analysts say the move suddenly projects Yahoo! far beyond the limited niche of desktop computers into the untamed jungle of the e-mass marketing. By making this bold foray, Yahoo! joins the ranks of big players like America Online and Microsoft.

But This Could Be a Problem

Critics say that when the dust settles between the warring handheld devices, billions may have been wasted developing content for different formats that no longer exist.

In addition, they contend that once the novelty wears off, hand held units could fail to capture the masses’ imagination — just as other attempts have failed to bring computing to the level of the average Joe’s lunchbox. There’s also the lingering possibility that the “next new technology thing” could make all the current handheld models suddenly obsolete.

Nevertheless, Yahoo! is pressing forward with its strategy to expand e-commerce beyond desktops. The recent deal it penned with Sprint Corp. to bring its services to the long-distance phone company’s 3 million wireless customers is proof that it’s positioning itself to reap the rewards of a future mass e-commerce market.

But some seriously question when or if such a market will ever materialize.

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