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Byline: Lawrence Ulrich
Sep. 19--If you were around in the Seventies, you remember Pong.
For a while, it was the most amazing thing. An actual game, right there on your TV set! Two knobs controlled a pair of onscreen paddles. A white square of a ball bleeped back and forth in a hypnotic simulation of Ping-Pong or tennis.
Quickly though, the game became quaint. Bigger, better video games banished poor Pong to a basement shelf, never to be played again.
Now General Motors is hustling up subscribers for new OnStar services that let you make hands-free phone calls in your vehicle, or hear Internet-based news, stocks and sports. You can get traffic and weather reports based on your vehicle's location. Or listen to your e-mail messages, converted from text to a computer-generated voice.
The system also works in the hands-free, voice-driven manner that GM supports and safety watchdogs demand.
It's all very clever. It's an industry first. It's also Pong, with the novelty wearing off quickly and improved versions right around the corner.
That's not to say GM isn't on to something good with its Personal Calling and Virtual Advisor services, which the automaker has rolled out nationwide to its more than 1.5 million OnStar subscribers. That number is expected to reach 4 million by the end of 2003.
Unlike the two-decade gap …