Laying aside privacy and compatibility concerns, what if a paramedic arriving on the scene of an accident automatically had immediate access to the medical history of an unconscious victim?
Hewlett-Packards Cool Town concept-turned-demo-center in Palo Alto, Calif., is an interesting look into the near future, which could very well include this scenario. Cool Town is HPs initiative to push products such as the companys Jornada PDA, along with cell phones and information services, into a pervasive, always-connected environment.
According to Doug McGowan, an HP general manager, these interactive devices and services "should be like utilities—for example, water or electricity." In other words, reliable and widely available. McGowan sees the Internet evolving from a computer-centric model to one where people, places and things have an always-connected, always-available presence on the Web.
Despite the many hurdles and the witches brew of potential problems that lie between us and the vision portrayed in HPs Cool Town, its cool to think about how our lives could be improved by smart devices and proximity-based wireless services.
For example, some of the elements of Cool Town have broad implications for IT managers. Outside the organization, there are myriad opportunities to share information in ways that customers will find immediately compelling. A museum could have an infrared beacon next to a painting that patrons could use to get more information about the work and the artist and even to order a print. A cellular phone could become a tricorder of sorts, leading the direction-impaired (such as myself) through unfamiliar streets to a client meeting.
For these daydreams to come to pass, well have to pass through some dreary doldrums. IT managers will have to live through the internecine battle of the vendors to decide which wireless specifications become standards. Bluetooth and 802.11b are being bandied about, but both have serious shortcomings.
Another serious shortcoming is the limited imagination that will likely be used to come up with a form factor for these futuristic devices. Cell phones and PDAs are going to be around for the foreseeable future, but both are tiresome gadgets that are nearly impossible to use (or at least use safely) while driving or even walking. These devices will have to toughen up and last much longer between charges to be the vehicles of a near-term cool future.