Within the next decade or so, wireless applications will be able to sense what information users need and when they need it based on who they are, the time of day, and what tasks they're working on. Then they'll deliver that information using push capabilities and alerts.
"It'll be very intuitive, and it won't matter if the data you need resides in a [customer-relationship-management] app or a legacy database," says Antoine Blondeau, VP of Salesforce.com Inc.'s wireless product division. "You'll be able to receive the information you need through E-mail messaging and even voice."
"You will be immersed in the network. This information will be used in ways we're not even capable of comprehending now," says George Rittenhouse, VP of wireless research at Bell Labs. "When you get in your car, the network will know it, and it will know that it's 6:30 a.m. Your network access will automatically switch from your computer to your phone to your car as you move through your day. It'll send you information that the freeway you're about to enter is backed up and provide an alternate route."
Key to contextually aware applications will be wireless sensors that collect and disseminate data. "We may see instruments that you wear to monitor a chronic health condition, or healthy people may be monitored for changes in their health. There will be sensors throughout your house, and cities will be sensor-rich," says Teresa Lunt, manager of the computer science lab at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. We may start seeing such networks within 10 years, she says.
Contextually aware applications are just beginning to be developed at universities. Students at the University of Oregon are working on a middleware Java application known as Context Aware Toolkit, partially funded by a grant from Intel, which makes it easier to build contextually aware network applications for wireless handheld devices and the sensors that provide them with information.
Contextually aware networks could have many business applications, says Jason Prideaux, a research assistant at the Computer and Information Science Department at the University of Oregon. It could alert people in an office building whether a co-worker is available by sensing the person's activities, such as whether he's giving a presentation in a conference room, talking on the phone, or even just moving among offices.
Illustration by Brian Stauffer
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