Transferable core technology could change the way we compute.
I have a confession to make. Though I have used several different palmtop computers/organizers, I have never made any one of them part of my daily computing habits. I still use an old-fashioned calendar book. I still take notes in a spiral-bound notebook. And I rely on landlines for the bulk of my Internet and phone use. I don’t have an urge to rush out and buy those new Dockers with the extra-big pockets for all the devices I have to carry around.
The main thing that keeps me from falling for the latest geek chic is the nagging sense that much of this stuff hinders rather than helps productivity. Part of it is a speed issue–I would rather do other pressing things until I get a broadband connection. But part of it is my personality. I’m not exactly Shrek, but I do like my privacy. I like to work on my own timetable. I like to be blessedly unavailable for large swaths of time. And I rarely am so desperate for information on the road that I can’t wait until I get home to retrieve my messages, check my e-mail, use the company databases, or surf the Web. By making myself available 24/7, I fear I will be at others’ beck and call and will never get a moment’s peace to sit down and have a good long think.
Beyond my need for solitude and efficiency, there are technical reasons why I am anything but an early adopter of wireless and handheld devices. The biggest one is the notion of data synching. I have a hard enough time managing three locations of e-mail without needing to worry about the contents of several computers. The more devices we have–desktop PCs at work and home, perhaps a laptop for road trips, a palmtop or two, a couple of phones that do data–the harder it is to keep all the data stored on them together on the same page. Sure, there are lots of software solutions that help us create redundant sets of data. Or I could keep it all on one server and access it remotely through a virtual private network. But these solutions overcomplicate matters for myself and our IT department.
The good news is that the solution to the technical problems is close at hand. Check out our cover story about the impending 3G wireless push. By the end of this year it will be almost as fast to do my online chores wirelessly as it is with a landline broadband connection. That will give me the push I need to stay connected for as much of the time as my free spirit can handle.
Solutions to data synching are close at hand as well. Imagine if the guts of your whole PC–processor, memory, storage, etc.–could fit in your shirt pocket. Rather than having several devices–each with its own processor, memory and storage–you have only one. Snap on a palm-like interface and power supply, and you’ve got a palmtop. Plug it into the bay of a laptop and you’ve got a travel PC. Slide it into a docking station on your desk and you’ve got your full network, screen, power, and input device available. But the computer with all the applications and data is the same no matter what peripherals are attached. There’s no data synching necessary. It’s called transferable core technology and it’s just around the corner.
Xybernaut, the company known for its wearable computers, holds the patents for transferable core technology and has units in working in the field. IBM has licensed the technology and is developing solutions for its target clients. I expect others to jump on board once the adoption rate proves this to be a feasible concept.
One thing transferable core technology allows us to do is to think outside the desktop/laptop/palmtop box. Why limit ourselves to these staid forms when other types of human-computer interfaces are now feasible with this technology? How about a white board that uses a flat screen together with an area for touch control and handwriting recognition? Plug in the core, click on the presentation, and edit it with colleagues (perhaps remotely) in real time. When the collaboration is over, plug the core into your PC cradle and produce slides for all participants. Or, how about a tablet PC that lets you take notes in standard form, go back to your desk, swap out the core with your PC and have all your notes transcribed and ready to insert where needed?
On the consumer side, imagine plugging the core into a digital camera and being able to manage, edit, and publish photos to the Web from the field. How about a mobile phone with the power of a PC that lets you record, transcribe, and manage all your phone conversations and messages? How much more powerful would the iMusic device be if its core were a hot-swappable PC? I could go on and on. The formula is simple: Think of an appliance that handles data, and imagine how much more powerful it would be if you could just plug the guts of a PC into it.
Xybernaut’s vision focuses on wearable computers. With an eyepiece, a microphone, and a belt-top power supply plugged into the core, you can walk around with a hands-free PC. When you need to get in the car, you just plug the core into your dashboard for hands-free computing while commuting. (I don’t suggest that you surf the Web, but perhaps you could have the machine read back a document you’re composing.) When you get home, you unplug the core from your dashboard and plug it into an ergonomically friendly PC station.
Right now, Xybernaut’s clients lean toward more military and industrial uses. Imagine this scene from Afghanistan: A soldier wears a PC while doing intake on Taliban and Al Qaida prisoners. The PC is wirelessly connected in real time to a remote command station. If she gets a good lead from several different prisoners, her commander orders her to give her core PC to a commando unit, which plugs it into a console in its chopper. While flying to the location mentioned, it listens to a briefing from its commanding officer wirelessly downloaded to the core, and conducts the raid as ordered. On the way back from the raid, it downloads the contents of all confiscated hard drives to the core for analysis. The core then gets sent to a digital forensic lab, where it is plugged into the appropriate station while the hard drives are analyzed for physical evidence.
Personally, I can’t imagine agreeing to walk around with a palmtop computer, let alone a PC, on my belt. But I can imagine keeping my core PC with me and being able to plug it into any number of interface devices. And I know a lot of people who would jump at the opportunity to have such a unit handy should the need arise while they are on the road. Combined with broadband wireless, having a mobile PC that can handle this bandwidth, which never would need to synch with any other device, is a killer app.