Smart Phones: What Comes Next

BLOG Smart Phones: What Comes Next

projection monitor and keyboard

A few years ago I made a pitch to one of the large cellphone manufacturers to create a smart phone that could, to some extent, become a ‘buddy’ — it could remind you of things, monitor things for you, and by interacting with the ‘buddies’ of other phone users introduce you to people with whom you shared certain affinities. The cellphone company thought it was too wild, and couldn’t see the ‘business model’ (how they could make money from it), so it never went anywhere. Since then, new technologies have made some of what was then impossible commonplace, and presented some new possibilities. So here is a story of what our cellphones might, if their manufacturers aren’t too obsessed with profit and legal risk, soon do for you (you can find early demos of all of these technologies online — I’m not inventing any of this):

Karen props her phone on the table in front of her. It uses a combination of voice recognition and lip-reading technology (through its camera) to listen to and respond to her instructions. She reviews her Waves (new and open multimedia conversations) which are projected in large easy-to-read size onto the table, wall, or even holographically into mid-air. She answers or participates in most of them through dictation and voice-recognition instructions, editing them through use of a virtual keyboard, pointer and touch-screen that are part of the phone’s projection display; her phone recognizes and translates her hand-movements through the camera.

She also takes a look at her Subscribed Content, which includes blogs, wikis, updates to friends’ and colleagues’ personal home pages and tweets. Most of these are already embedded in Waves, and she comments on some of these and ‘subscribes’ friends to other Waves she thinks they might be interested in. She also looks at the active Waves that have formed around her own blog articles, and adds to these conversations.

She changes her Conversation Status to Available for selected friends and work colleagues, and opens some new Waves, simultaneously carrying on several IM, voice, and video conversations; the people she is speaking with, and the documents and other objects she is sharing with them, are projector displayed. Some of her closest friends she has on Continuous Virtual Presence Status — they can hear her, and see both what is in her camera image and what she is looking at on her projected display, any time they choose to, and vice versa (a small photo of them appears on her display whenever they are ‘with’ her). She calls up and plays a full-size projected Virtual Piano, practicing a new song she has writen for a free concert her band is putting on this weekend.

She is notified that Ben, a work colleague from Finland, is currently in her town; their GPS proximity-detection software, their scheduling software and their affinity software (which allows you to list people you would like to meet, if and when they are willing and able), have worked together to set up a meeting at a nearby coffee shop in 30 minutes. Karen’s phone asks her to confirm both her availability and her order, which will be waiting at her reserved table when she arrives.

As she walks to the meeting, she is told about additional special offerings on the menu that coincide with her profile of food and beverage preferences, and she changes her order by voice instruction. Her menu is added to her daily calorie and nutrition counter, which tells her how her consumption fits with recommended daily allowances. The calories expended on the walk are also automatically registered and logged to her exercise program. She also reviews some ‘auto-tweets’ sent to her by her appliances (an updated grocery list), her home monitoring system (lights left on, windows closed), her plants (some of them need fertilizer) and her cat RonRon (photos taken by his collarcam every 15 minutes, and a view from his current location in the laundry basket).

After several similarly-scheduled and coordinated meetings, she goes for a drink with her friend Rayah. They both decide to set their affinity software to Open, and they’re discreetly shown photos and shared interests of other people nearby who have also set their status to Open. They agree that a foursome of business travelers from Chile would be interesting to meet, and signal their willingness through their phones. Their invitation is accepted and they are directed to a table at the other end of the bar they’re in. The six hit it off well, and Karen and her friend show the visitors around town and invite them for dinner. Karen and one of the visitors begin a romantic relationship.

Back at home, Karen’s exercise regime is planned and monitored by software on her phone and sensors connected wirelessly to it. She also uses a biofeedback application to help her with her meditation practice and to manage her stress levels. As she uses her rowing machine, her phone projects holographic images of the Thames synced to the speed of her rowing motions. When Karen’s away from home, she uses easy-to-pack resistance bands to replace the resistance of the rowing machine, so she can do these same exercises anywhere.

The next day, her phone’s CarShare program tells her that it’s her turn to drive, and suggests the optimal route for her to pick up her three passengers for the morning drive. Her affinity software also tells her what interests she has in common with these strangers, so they have much to talk about. The speed detectors in phones in other cars along her route, and the overhead cameras of the department of transport, automatically feed information to her GPS, advising her of the best route to take. Her account is automatically credited with ‘gas money’ from her passengers.

During a learning seminar that day, she voice- and video-links in several other people unable to attend in person, and the backchannel discussions she has with other participants are relayed to the seminar leaders, who improvise the program to respond to comments from all participants. The backchannel also leads to an impromptu follow-up meeting with several other far-flung participants Karen has never met, who, she discovers, share an interest in one specific aspect of the seminar subject-matter. That impromptu meeting turns out to be more valuable than the initial seminar.

After the meeting, Karen accedes to her scheduling software’s suggestion that she go grocery shopping. She negotiates the list with the shopping software, which uses economic order quantity algorithms to minimize both running out of items and the number of shopping trips she needs to make. This software also tells her which stores close to her have most or all of what she needs, and the total price. Once she’s chosen a store, and even while she’s shopping, sensors on the store’s merchandise and elsewhere suggest additional or alternative purchases, and give her social responsibility, ecological and unit price data and comparatives on all the products on her list. Her proximity software tells her a friend is in the store, and they chat for awhile and agree to a later meeting. She also picks up items on the list of her elderly neighbour, and has a visit with her when she drops them off.

That weekend, Karen participates in a city-wide bike rally and scavenger hunt for a local charity. Her enrollment, selection of team-mates, sponsors and donations for the charity, and play-by-play event instructions are all coordinated through open source software on her phone.

A few themes to this coming-soon technology:

  1. It’s mostly open source, collaboratively developed, free software. It’s designed to improve users’ social interaction, work effectiveness and time management, not to sell products. And it’s developed by millions of people with the time and passion to develop, and essentially give away, extraordinary and innovative software, because it costs almost nothing except time to develop. This is integral to the emerging Gift Economy.
  2. Many more people have cellphones than laptops. As desktops have given way to laptops and now even smaller notepad computers, the obvious destination is the cellphone. Technology to do away with the physical keyboard and monitor are already here, so it’s only a matter of time.
  3. If you want to know what’s possible in business and social applications, look to the gaming applications, which are always two steps ahead. The camera-based apps described above were developed first for the Wii and other gaming platforms.
  4. Acceptance of these tools will always be a function of (a) ease of use (intuitive), (b) trust (the user has control, not the vendor), and (c) comfort (every new tool no matter how sexy will take a generation to become ubiquitous, because you’re only really comfortable with what you’ve grown up with).
  5. The variable pricing model in place in most of the world for cellphone usage (including here in Canada) is an enormous barrier to the realization of these technologies. Many kids now are rationing and finding cheap workarounds to be able to afford usurous cellphone costs for both voice and data. We need to force carriers to move to a reasonably-priced, flat-rate-everywhere rate for cellphone charges.

Thanks to Mushin: my conversation with him the other day was the inspiration for this exercise in imagining possibilities.

I know some of you have wondered how someone who sees our civilization poised for collapse in this century can be so enamoured of this relatively frivolous technology. Since it’s a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (another of our knowing/feeling/doing disconnects), I’ll have more to say about this in an upcoming post.

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4 Responses to Smart Phones: What Comes Next

  1. vera says:

    Say, are you the same guy who sold us the space program (soon, we’ll be living on alpha centauri!)?Ugh. You been listening too much to your inner robot…

  2. Jim Camasto says:

    After the first hour of techno shenanigans, Karen desperately plugs into the 5kilo battery backpack before she’s rendered “virtually” comatose…

  3. Mushin says:

    Thanks Dave for our wonderful conversation.I really like how you spun this into a nice story that pretty much shows what is possible, and, may I say, helpful?Looking at the amount of time my rather old fashioned style of communicating across my networks take (typing, reading, looking) I think Karen is probably a much evolved woman that has learnt the slowly emerging cross-systemic flock consciousness that we need to wholistically navigate this greatly augmented and meshed reality.Yet this is the space, I’m sure, that real innovation will spring from and, as I’m an optimist, the solutions to the present day ecological, economic and social will be enacted from.And as you well point out, this is not going to come from the landline based Internet but in and through the mobile one; after all even in countries where the ‘net is hardly present mobile phones are everywhere.Complex challenges need complex responses which are only going to come from highly complex interactive and emo-intelligent Wholes… at least that’s what my optimism is counting on.

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