published Friday, June 11th, 2010

Jenkins: Mobile computers open a new world of options


by Donnie Jenkins

Cell phones and tablets are poised to become two of our primary computing interfaces. So-called smart phones, such as the Apple iPhone, RIM Blackberry and models based on Google's Android operating system, get most of the attention. Meanwhile, the Apple iPad dominates talk concerning tablet computing.

The impressive new iPhone introduces many new twists to mobile computing. It leads the way in display technology with the so-called Retina branded approach, which increases the number of pixels or basic units viewable on the screen. More pixels in this case basically means better viewing for text, pictures and video.

However the iPhone is not the only area where innovation is evident. While the Apple iPhone and the iPad have advanced touchscreen technology to an amazing degree, there are other approaches being developed, mostly for the Google Android operating system.

I saw a video demo this week of a program for Android phones that uses the front and rear cameras of particular models to allow what you might call gesture computing. Simply by waving a hand or finger at various positions relative to the cameras, the operator was able to open programs, connect to websites and complete other functions.

It's obvious that we are moving away from a desktop-only computing model. Many feel that the days of the basic desktop computer are nearly over, but I doubt that they will be replaced anytime soon. What I see happening is a great diversity of computing devices coming into being, as evidenced by the smart phones and iPad.

The models of touch and gesture computing make it possible to think about computing in an entirely new way. Add to this the concept of augmented reality, which basically uses cell phone cameras to detect objects, then overlays data or other information over them.

If this sounds confusing, think of the traditional biology book used in many classrooms. In this book you would find layers or templates of pictures of various systems of the body superimposed one over the other. When you lift each page you expose the next layer below, a very effective way of showing the basic structure of the body.

Similarly some versions of augmented reality programs take a physical object and allow a greater understanding of it by adding pictures or additional information. Other applications of this idea include children's entertainment and education.

Another important element of the various mobile computing devices is the intense interest in location-based information. Companies such as Foursquare pioneered this field, but Facebook and even Twitter are becoming involved in collecting and using location data. This type of information is valuable to businesses that want to offer coupons or ads to customers when they are in the general area of the business or at a close competitor.

Finally, consider the so-called Internet Of Things, which I have so often discussed here. As RFID and other types of sensors become more common, it will be mobile devices such as tablets and phones that are able to communicate with them. This has good and bad aspects, of course, and it will benefit us all to be very aware of this development in particular.

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