Mobile

Ubiquitous computing

In about 20 years from now I will show the phone I use today to my granddaughter. “See, honey? It was called iPhone. It has a touch screen and two buttons. The large, round one takes you from any application to a home screen. And this little button on the top is used to turn off the device.” A spark of curiosity lights up in the child’s eyes. “Grandpa, what does off mean?” Dear kid. The same kind of surprise was painted on her face when I first told her what offline meant. Those were the days…

I don’t know about you, but I never turn off my phone. I have a switch that silences it during meetings and plane mode for when… you know, I’m on a plane. The only occasion my phone is off is when the battery depletes. But it happens less and less frequently — the device charges when I listen to the music in my car or in the bedroom.

If I don’t turn off my phone and it is constantly connected to the internet, when am I actually offline? Where does the internet end and real starts? You are certainly online when you are reading your emails at work. But when commuting back on the bus and browsing Twitter on the phone — where are you then? Can you draw a hard line? Because I can’t anymore…

Mark Weiser coined the term ubiquitous computing back in 1988. Weiser then worked as an engineer and a visionary in the famous Xerox lab in Paolo Alto — the place where first computer mouse was conceived and the first non-textual computer interface was born. No wonder that back in the eighties those engineers chased a vision of small, interconnected computers that would accompany us at every turn.

The engineers at Paolo Alto did not stop there. The next step in this vision were context aware computers — machines that change their behavior depending on where and with whom you are, and depending on the surrounding area. Today we have come pretty close to this vision. My phone knows where I am. And thanks to geolocalization apps such as FourSquare it can also tell who accompanies me and what’s around us.

The marketers have already begun to seize this power. I launch ForuSquare at the mall and it shows me there is a special offer around — today, when I’m writing these words, it’s a special show at Sony. Unfortunately, the “complete experience” lacks taking care of the people I came here with. But not for long. What could such a message look like?

“Hey, there is a special demonstration of the latest Sony equipment waiting for you at the store. We know you’re here with your wife and kids, so here’s the plan: you leave the kids at the playground (it’s on the 3rd floor, click here for the discount coupon). Then pass by two-store H&M — you can leave your wife there (click here to send a special invitation to her mobile phone). Then it’s 30 minutes just for Sony and you.”

I can’t wait.

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