Why the UMPC will be successful - Part 2

, posted: 6-Apr-2006 18:47

Location adaptability
The second platform design goal for the Ultra Mobile PC is location adaptability.  And it is this that we will cover in this second instalment of our series.

Definition of adaptability
To start this discussion, I had to ask myself: What does Intel/Microsoft mean by adaptability?  This could be interpreted as location awareness, or it could simply be marketing speak for versatility. Here are the three explanations from the design goals:
- Personalized information and services based on location.
- Environment recognition and adaptability.
- Interaction with devices in living room or car.

I've basically surmised that this equates to integration with the environment.  This means a bit of location awareness, but also just the ability to integrate with devices at home, in the car or wherever the UMPC is.  From a practical sense (which is what we really care about) this could be similar to existing devices or something new. 

I've broken this into two categories: location based services and location based integration.  To achieve this, the UMPC will need to have three key ingredients:
- Portability (a given)
- Connectivity
- Extensibility
We'll see how these three ingredients play into this as we go through the services and integration.

Location based services

Existing devices have the ability to detect and log on to (for example) wireless networks without user interaction.  That is they come into a new environment (note the hint of portability) with familiar characteristics and they automatically log on and you just work.  In this sense existing devices are already somewhat adaptable to their location.

However, this simply cannot be where it ends.  If I had a million bucks to spend on a new business, I'd love to invest it into location based services - this is one area that's got lots of potential and is currently largely untapped.  Current location based services generally utilize network triangulation or assisted GPS to try and figure out where you are.  This model will give way to much more compelling and simpler models in the near future and when it does location based services will simply take off. 

When we do see location based services, what will they look like?

Longer term you'll have your car remind you that you are low on gas just before you drive past the last gas station for 100kms or your favourite game tell you that a fellow gamer is nearby and wants to kill some time (or your character) with you. 

How does this fit with the UMPC?  Good question.  The key thing about these services is that they need to connect to you somehow, and there are two ways for this to happen.  Either the service connects to you or your device polls the service.  Neither of these are simple problems to solve.  If the service connects to you, you have to allow it to - which doesn't work well on a device that is security conscious.  If you poll the service, you will ultimately reduce the life of your battery as you'll poll often when there is nothing to poll and hence keep the device awake.  There are solutions to this, but this is outside the scope of this post.

Suffice to say I don't think that we will see true location based services and information in the next 12 months, and probably not en-mass for at least 24 months.

Location based integration

This area has much more potential to change the way we live and work in the near future than location based services, and simply because the key components are already in the market.

By location based integration, I'm meaning both the ability to adapt the device to the conditions you are in as well as integrate with existing devices, not only at home, but also at work, in the car and out and about.

An example of this might be integration with your car stereo to play audio (or the sound track for the movie the kids are watching in the back seat).  Many modern car stereos include a AUX input on the front panel of the device.  Obviously the UMPC will have a 3.5mm headphone jack which makes it possible to integrate the device easily with most other audio equipment.

Docking is another area that will see these devices to be used in new ways.  The idea here is that the device will have an optional accessory - a docking station that will allow you to plug the device in when you are at your desk or at home.  Connected to the docking station will be an external, keyboard and even an external monitor.  This allows these devices to be used as a normal PC with the convenience of being able to be taken out where you go.  Need more storage at home?  Plug in an external 250Gb hard drive?  Need optical drive? Just plug it into the docking station.  This makes the device very versatile and attractive as a device suitable for each family member (should you have nothing to do with your money).

Bluetooth is a technology that has taken some time to mature and still has some way to go, but this technology is built into the platform, meaning that even when a WiFi connection is not available, some connectivity will still be able to be provided through a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone or even a Bluetooth enabled desktop computer.  This could mean that you can leave your UMPC next to your desktop computer and have it retrieve mail through the desktop computers network connection via Bluetooth when the device is in the vicinity.

How realistic is this?
The ability to integrate a UMPC with various other devices is here today.  The limit is your budget and the implementation.  There is not much that couldn't be done today inside the idea of the device adapting itself to its surroundings.  However, it's not cheap to Bluetooth enable everything and often it is fiddly too, so you'll want a certain amount of tech savvy to get it working.  In addition, you'll want to check out the Geekzone Bluetooth guides for some additional help.

The location based services will probably start to take off when there are services available and the devices can figure out where they are (i.e. they have onboard GPS and access to wireless services concurrently).  This is a little way off yet, but it's not completely out of reach.  Watch this space.

Other related posts:
Is this my next UMPC?
UMPC's coming to NZ
Local coverage and a Vista TIP tip

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Darryl Burling
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