Friday, March 11, 2011

Contextual Computing – The next big thing in Mobile Computing?

By Tilman Bollmann

Location Based Services have come over us. Have they? LBS is certainly one of the most hyped buzzwords in the industry right now, and for sure combining location data with other personal information offers a huge potential for services and marketing. And also a huge potential for paranoia. But has LBS turned into a business already? In 2009 analysts were forecasting LBS revenues to exceed 12B USD in 2014, but little has been said about such forecasts recently. And in fact, in my personal surroundings no one is actively using LBS beyond navigation and geocaching. Why?

The last cold winter in Germany revealed one special drawback of modern smartphones: the capacitive touch screens simply don’t work with gloves. And this get’s us to the major weakness of LBS nowadays: I need to become active to make use of LBS where in fact it wouldn’t be necessary. My mobile phone knows a whole lot of things about me. It knows where I’m working, it knows where I’m living, it knows my appointments, so why do I actively need to look up the best train connection when I’m leaving the office in the evening?

Taking just the location information leaves out a lot of relevant information from the context of a user, which includes calendar information, time, weather conditions, mood, social network, physical activity and wellbeing, and so much more. Combining this information with the history, my phone should be very well able to predict what I want to do next and provide me with the necessary information, without me asking.

So I’m dreaming of an active idle screen on my phone that tells me my train is leaving from track 6 in 4 minutes, that the Chinese restaurant around the corner has a special lunch offer today, remind me that I have parmesan cheese on my shopping list when I pass the supermarket and tell me that a friend which I haven’t seen in years is coming to town tomorrow. And all this without me having to press any button on a tiny 3 inch touch screen with winter gloves.
Of course this doesn’t work right out of the box. My phone and me would need some time to get to know each other. It needs to learn my habits, my favorites, my routines. But once it knows this, it could literally become my “personal digital assistant”.

And a “connected context” could even take this further! My phone knows I need to be in Bochum by 9:00 am. So does my neighbor, who’s usually taking the car. Our phones could tell us and he could give me a ride. Of course, connecting contexts requires a lot of trust and shouldn’t be opened up to everyone. But on the other hand it offers huge potential for increased efficiency and a more sustainable conduct of life.

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”, Mark Weiser, father of the term “ubiquitous computing”, said in his article “The computer for the 21st century”. Well, the computer for the 21st century appears to be the mobile phone, and it’s pretty ubiquitous already, but it’s still a dumb device that I even need to tell not to ring when I’m sitting in the opera. To weave into the fabric of my everyday life, smartphones still need to become so much smarter, and I’m going to work on it now. Will you too?

Let’s see who gets there first.

No comments:

Post a Comment