Coded gray.

Wednesday 13 December 2000

Me and pocket PC

Pic of the day: To connect or not to connect, that's the question!

Datapad 2010

The pocket PC of the year 2000 is basically an executive toy, a filofax with batteries. Unless you like books or music, in which case it doubles as a bookshelf and stereo. But there are new things waiting in the wings. Currently they are add-ons, and you can't easily combine them either. But in the next generations of pocket PCs they will be built in, and take the device to its next level - what the futurists call the "datapad".

The one essential word is "wireless". It is all fine to be able to carry your pocket PC around as a small, self-contained unit. But you still have to plug it in to update it. With the new "Bluetooth" technology, proximity is enough. It is a chip that detects other similar chips within a few meters distance, and a protocol that establishes communication transparently. Or that's how it is meant to be - I have not seen them yet, though they are shipping, from what I hear. With Bluetooth, your pocket PC could synchronize itself silently when you entered your home. But that's probably not why you would want it.

Bluetooth could also be used to pay for stuff in shops - the cash register would activate your pocket PC and you would verify the amount and click OK. Your bank or credit account would be updated automatically, as would your home finances software.

For the trendy, the technology could probably also detect other pocket PCs in the vicinity and broadcast a public profile, the things you'd want random strangers to know about you. This may vary from nothing to the fact that you're single and desperate, like beer and are a wiener dog owner born in Scorpio. The gadget may then find out that a nearby person is someone you'd absolutely want to meet, and the other way around, and it would start beeping furiously at you. Yes, it is ridiculous. Tiny decorative gadgets with approximately this function (a bit simpler, in fact) are sold en masse in Japan these days, under the name "lovegetty". They have not caught on in Europe, presumably because people here are less bashful and so don't need an excuse to talk to strangers. (Not that I do that.)


The true transition cannot come, however, until a mobile phone is merged into the pocket PC. At this point we have that futuristic device, the Datapad.

In America and much of Europe, mobile phones (or "cell phones") are expensive to buy and expensive to use. They are simply not affordable for common people. Ironically, in Japan and the Nordic countries the phones are much cheaper to buy and use. Ironically, because these countries had rather expensive wired telephones from state-owned monopolies. This made mobile phone comparatively cheaper in the eyes of customers, and it was a simple matter for the mobile providers to create a mass market. Here in Norway, mobile phones were literally given away when you opened an account with a mobile company. Today we have more mobile phones than wired ones.

With competition in a saturated mass market, prices are edging down. This is likely to continue and accelerate when the current boom of investment is over. Today Internet access over mobile phone is simply too expensive: Only business executives and teenagers can afford to do it regularly. But this is bound to change when the competition picks up. It won't happen overnight, but it is likely to happen here in Scandinavia before 2010.


The datapad is always online. It does not store a lot of data locally, but downloads on demand. Music, books, maps, restaurant guides, news. Eventually you will be able to watch television or movies on its small but crisp display - though you are not likely to do that when you are at home, of course. These high bandwidth applications will not be available so early, though. Perhaps 2020. But then again, the near future is always 20 years away. I admit that it may never happen, but there is technically no reason why it shouldn't.

History shows us that people want to be entertained (see television). History also shows us that people want to be connected (see telephone). The datapad of the future will merge with the mobile phone to become one versatile instrument. You can read your e-mail or make a phone call, or both at the same time, and then go back to watching "Friends - the Next Generation".

The "lovegetty" functions are not forgotten. There is one more unit that needs to be put into the datapad: The GPS. This little piece of high-tech magic uses satelites to decide where on Earth you are. Not just what city, but what street address, when combined with online maps. This means it will be able to detect friends (or in-laws) approaching from miles off. And when you arrive in a new town, it will alert you to members of the various communities you belong to, whether it be your corporation, your church, or your plaid skirt fetish club. You'll never drink your beer alone again.

(Not sure how useful this feature would be without beer, though. Then again, according to historians, without beer there would been no civilization as we know it - the combination of beer and religion created the ancient cultures from which our own descends. But I digress.)


As you can see, the lowly pocket PC is poised to evolve into a frighteningly addictive tool, with little change to its size and basic features. Before you can use it to unlock your home door you may have to press your thumb against the finger print reader. I am not kidding, these devices are pretty much ready for mass production now, though they compete with voice recognition and retina recognition as the passport of the future. Or, of course, we might have a sign tattoed into our forehead or our right hand ... Ahem. Just kidding. I hope.

Always Online, Real-Time Access will change our lives yet again. This will not happen until the new, more useful generation of datapads have become widespread. Once they are affordable and confer significant advantages, they will be as common as cars and telephones are today, if not more so. In a future entry, if any, I will take a look on the Connected Society of 2020.

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