Context-Aware Applications - The Future Is Ready To Happen

We're just at the forefront of how applications are changing

I'm really glad Beth Schultz wrote this article for ComputerWorld about context-aware applications. It's actually one aspect of some product R&D I've been engaged in over the past year, and I was beginning to consider what things to write about on the topic. We often think of context-aware applications as location-aware apps, integrating GPS information into apps such as tracking delivery trucks, or equipment in a hospital, things like that. You might even have a content aware app right in your garage; cars that won't let you lock the door if the key is somewhere inside the perimeter of the car, or that unlocks the car automatically when you walk up to it. But context-aware is a lot more than just location-aware.

From Beth's ComputerWorld article... "Context-aware computing has one exciting future," says William Clark, a Gartner analyst. By 2013, more than half of Fortune 500 companies will have context-aware computing initiatives, he predicts, noting that mobility is a subset that accounts for 80% of what's happening in this arena.

We are on the cusp of seeing content being applied much more intelligently and dynamically to more than just tracking you or an object's geo location. It will become more about what we are doing and where we're doing it, either in a job function or during a personal or recreational activity. More than being at xyz location on a map, it's the context relevant to what you are doing at that location that's becoming context-aware, say at a job construction site, an amusement park, the scene of an accident investigation, snow skiing, or inspecting oil rig equipment.

Satelite map
For example, if I'm standing at point G on this map, I might load up an application on my SmartPhone that dynamically shows me the line lengths and a site map at Elitch Gardens amusement park, an app that plays ESPN highlights from the game last night at the Pepsi Center, or an interactive hiking guide that tracks my progress and helps me capture my experiences along the South Platte river in Denver. That same tracking application might used while inspecting the tracks and switches, capturing and documenting inspection information in the train yard near Union station. Just by knowing where I am, what activities or job functions I might perform, can increase the relevancy of an application and its content, or change an application's use.

Another significant change I believe we'll see are applications that capture content, in the moment when it happens, rather than waiting until we're in front of a computer or laptop. We already see this today in our everyday lives. Think about how the photo and video capture capabilities of our mobile devices enable us to record an event that's happened. This has fundamentally changed the news business, whether it be local, national or international. Twitter is another great example. Now what if instead of capturing video to upload on YouTube or send to the news station, our job is to perform a safety inspection on a well head, in part using a photo, text and voice recordings captured from a cell phone or SmartPhone to gather our inspection data. But rather than search and pull up the records for that well head, relevant data for that site is preloaded and presented to the user, because as the inspector is arriving at the site, the app knows there's relevant data for this location and that there's a well head inspection here that's due for completion.

That's a whole different level of "context-aware" applications, where content is brought to us by already knowing our location rather than us searching for it based on location, using RSS feeds or streaming content to the user because they are near a ride at a park, and integrating capture capabilities into applications beyond just uploading a video to a site like YouTube. Search could change entirely, showing us what feeds or information is relevant based on where we're located or the activity we're performing, rather than the other way around, which is how things work today. Add in social networking, to share this information with others in your personal or business social networks, and it strikes a pretty exciting picture for me of how apps are changing and where apps are headed.

Context-aware is pretty big idea.

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