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Asia's pie in ubiquitous computing

Posted: 16 May 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ubiquitous computing? pervasive computing? smartphone? smart personal objects technology? spot?

In the push towards ubiquitous computing, Samsung and HTC have shown that even with limited funding, Asian companies can compete with big-time players, believes Electronic Engineering Times - Asia's Majeed Ahmad.

Majeed Ahmad is Managing Editor of Electronic Engineering Times - Asia.
The notion of ubiquitous computing has come a long way since 1988 when Mark Weiser, a researcher at Xerox PARC, first put it forward as information technology's next wave after the mainframe and PC. He believed that this would lead to an era of 'calm computing,' in which technology, rather than panicking people, will help them interact in natural ways by anticipating their needs.

Over the years, however, the term ubiquitous computing has evolved into different perceptions to different companies.

At Intel, for instance, efforts are underway to pursue intelligent buildings packed with wireless sensor networks and displays, where information follows users wherever they go. IBM has gained traction with a less ambitious spin it calls "pervasive computing." The goal is to enhance and tie servers together in ways that begin to build ubiquitous vision.

Another manifestation of ubiquitous computing came late last year when Microsoft announced the smart personal objects technology (SPOT) initiative with the launch of a Dick Tracy-like watch that can be set to track such things as stock quotes, sports scores and weather information. The plan is to create a host of information services and transmit them to a growing galaxy of smart devices.

Meanwhile, Symbol Technologies, a maker of mobile computing devices, is designing data collection terminals that will incorporate a walkie-talkie that uses VoIP, instead of conventional RF-based technology.

Diversity aside, one thing is clear. To put the notion of ubiquitous computing into working mode, communications is as much needed as computing. That brings us to the omnipresent cellular system; one way to pursue ubiquitous computing may be fusing the idea with cellular panorama. The smart-phone show is partly about making this connection.

That is where Asian electronics manufacturers stand a chance. First, most of them do not have deep pockets like IBM, Intel, and Microsoft to sustain big R&D projects. Second, the so-called smart phone is the closest thing to justify the commercial rationale of ubiquitous computing.

Asian firms have already been making some progress. Korea's Samsung is the only handset manufacturer in the world to be working with all three major operating systems for data-enabled cellphones: Palm, Smartphone 2002, and Symbian.

And one of the first smart phones to hit the streets came from a little-known Taiwan manufacturer whose only claim to fame was producing the successful iPAQ handheld for Compaq (now part of Hewlett-Packard). High Tech Computer (HTC), in collaboration with Microsoft, designed the PocketPC Phone Edition that is now being sold worldwide.

The efforts of Samsung and HTC show that Asian designers can compete with incumbent players, and the grand vision of ubiquitous computing should not be an exception.

- Majeed Ahmad

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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