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Problem Finding, Department of

There have been so many books and things about problem-solving that we figure most problems are already solved. So we need more problems to keep all those expert problem solvers busy.

Monday, November 08, 2004

 

Wherable Computing

This began in stealth mode. Normal people never noticed. Even the Geek squad didn’t see what was happening. The people who write about wearable computers probably noticed. But they didn’t say a lot about it.

The first hint came with the cell phones. The ones that clip on your belt or fit in your purse. Wearable cell phones. But not computers.

Then came the PDA. Maybe a little big to be called wearable. But certainly carry-aroundable. This should have been the tip-off. The PDA is a computer. And you can wear it if you really want to.

Then the iPod. Looks like just a replacement for the Sony Walkman. A wearable music player. Things like this have been around for years, along with wearable radios. Nobody would notice anything new here. But is this the beginning of the slippery slope that leads us into the depths of wearable computers?

Now we reach the Smart Phone maneuver. Put the capabilities of the PDA into a portable phone. The Smart Phone becomes the PDA-killer. But you can wear it. Doesn’t that make it a wearable computer. Nah. It’s just a smart phone.

Meanwhile, the wearable music player mutates. It develops a 20 gigabyte disk, the kind that goes in computers. It also grows a USB port, suspiciously like those things on computers. It becomes able to gather, store, and deliver files just like a computer. And it is wearable. But nobody would call it a computer.

Now there are two digital wearable devices, a smart phone and an audio player. They both handle audio. They both manage files. They both have batteries to charge. They both clip on the belt or fit in the purse. Plenty of opportunity for crossbreeding.

They also have differences. The audio player has an ear bud, depriving people of the opportunity to hold the device to the ear. The smart phone has a speaker to remind people that the purpose of the hand is to hold a phone to your ear. A hybrid device could offer both methods and the convenient service of pausing the audio play when you get a phone call. It would also help the phone service to sell audio downloads. Local weather and targeted traffic reports would be of particular interest to commuters. But it could carry podcasts or music. It could draw on the web. Much like a computer.

Of course the hybrid would just be a smarter phone. Nobody would call it a wearable computer. Not even if it Dell fixed it to make recordings. Not even if Apple made it show pictures and videos. Not even if everybody made it connect to Wi-Fi nets, just like a notebook computer. Not even if it has a cute little keyboard designed for elfin fingers.

Will there ever be wearable computer? Of course not. Just a Personal Communicator (PC). Handles all your audio traffic (direct, voice mail, voice IM, news casts, podcasts, music). Handles all your text traffic (email, IM, SMS, web pages, web interaction). Can voice your text traffic to you if you want. Handles your contact list and your calendar. May uses your glasses as a virtual monitor. Can send orders to your home computer/entertaiment center. So it may replace that remote that is somewhere in the living room furniture. A wearable remote.

But it will remain in the stealth mode. You won’t really know (or care) where the computing is done. You will just communicate your orders from where you are. Wherable computing. You get on with what you want to do. And the people who write news items about wearable computers can keep on writing. Or maybe write off into the sunset, off to that Great Where in the sky.

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