Posted by: Steven Harris | May 1, 2008

Ubiquity

Ereadin' an ebookAs an experiment in ubiquitous computing, the other day I went shopping with the Samsung Q1 in hand and broadband card installed. I like the notion of a broadband card, freeing your computer from a dependence on a geographically limited wi-fi hub (still geographically limited, but less so).

So I slapped the Verizon broadband card in the Sammie and hit the grocery store. I wanted to test having a media-rich experience, so I logged onto Pandora to listen to some avant garde jazz on my Henry Threadgill station. The music stream from Pandora came down fine. I did lose the broadband signal at one point, but generally the card seemed to work pretty well as I walked the grocery store aisles. People, however, seemed to look at me like I was some kind of terrorist or something, wandering the store with my bizarre device and and its weird flashing antenna.

The achilles heel for ubiquitous computing: battery life. With the power-intensive media stream and broadband card running, my Samsung could only operate for a little over an hour before going belly up. Wow. That has got to be a lot better. I’m having the same experience at a conference right now. I can’t be away from a power outlet with the Samsung for more than about an hour.

Some would say that devices more like a phone would be the future of ubiquitous computing. While I agree that phones or phone-like devices will become more and more common, I just can’t see that they are useful for all kinds of computing activity. For example, I have read a number of books on a PDA or a cellphone, but it’s not an activity I generally recommend. If I’m only carrying the phone or PDA and don’t want to be burdened with something larger, OK, sure. But as a general practice, reading on a phone-sized screen doesn’t seem especially effective or pleasant.

I think devices like the Samsung, an intermediate step between the laptop and the phone, will become more common. These devices need to be freed from both the localized wi-fi and from the electric outlet. That will be true ubiquitous computing.


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