Cellphone Tour Guides For New York City and Washington DC.

Tourists with cellphones - and soon that may mean most tourists - can now use them as personal city guides when taking in the sights in Washington or, with a service that started last week, Manhattan.
By calling a toll-free number, users of a new service called BeyondGuide can listen to short narratives about 21 major New York sites, including the Brooklyn Bridge, Fifth Avenue and, of course, the World Trade Center. From the tale of a so-called Human Fly - a Norwegian who parachuted off the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center in 1998 and 1999, eluding the best efforts of the police to stop him - to the hopeful and haunting voices of Ellis Island immigrants, the guides mix history and politics, culture and humor. Think National Public Radio Crossed with the Circle Line.

The services are organised by attraction and thematically, offering information, for example, on topics like moviemaking in New York. Users give voice prompts to tell BeyondGuide where they are or what they would like to hear about. The information segments average 90 seconds in length.

Self-paced and personalized are bywords of the service, said Yechiam Halevy, president and chief executive of BeyondGuide, a technology company in Rockville, Md., that got its start creating interactive multimedia systems for museums. In Washington, where more than 100 sites are covered, a customer currently pays $10 for unlimited use over a 48-hour period. The New York BeyondGuide service will be available at no charge through the end of the year; people can call (866) 400-4867 and follow the voice prompts to sign up. Starting in 2002, the company is considering charging by the site or by the call or for unlimited use for the duration of a visit. But in the long run, Mr. Halevy expects most of the company`s revenue to come from partnerships with government tourism boards, travel agencies and guidebook publishers.