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Ubiquitous computing will mean multiple devices

December 26, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Will you be able to keep up with the multiple devices of ubiquitous computing? One of the key differences that ubiquitous computing offers over the personal computing to which we have grown accustomed during the past 20 years is the diversity of devices that will carry ubiquitous computing technology. In fact, I believe the average knowledge worker will carry as many as three of these devices simultaneously -- all linked via personal and local-area technology.

Some readers have challenged me on this issue since my last column, arguing that the richness and depth of the computing experience offered by today's PCs isn't likely to be duplicated on a PDA, mobile phone or other gadget in the foreseeable future. In fact, one of the three devices will have multiple functions and will be a direct descendant of today's PCs. It will have hundreds of megabytes of RAM and gigabytes of storage. Rather than acting as our central PC, it will more likely act as a "personal server," storing all the digital content we own in a neat, transportable package weighing just a few pounds and looking more like a pad of legal paper than a PC.

But for the greater part of every day, workers will likely use a second, more pocket-size device. Imagine something no bigger than today's PalmPilot or Pocket PC. Imagine a processor of 500 to 800 MHz, a high-resolution screen, 100GB of local storage and personal-area network, LAN and WAN wireless connectivity. Using either a slide-out BlackBerry-style keyboard, handwriting or voice recognition, it will serve as a powerful mobile information system. At home or office, linked via Bluetooth to full-size keyboards, monitors and other input devices and linked to Web-based and server-loaded applications via fast Wireless LANs, it will deliver a computing experience as full and rich as the one we get today from an average PC.

The third type of device will be primarily for voice communications. This device will be similar to today's smaller mobile phones and no larger than today's elegant phones from Ericsson and Nokia. But it will have a large high-resolution screen, will always be connected to fast, third-generation networks and will be capable of delivering a range of network-based information services.

But despite their potential, these devices won't displace or replace the PC any more than the PC replaced the minicomputer or the minicomputer replaced the mainframe. However, IT managers must be prepared for a shift in sentiment among end users. By embracing multiple devices, users will usher in the era of personal-area networks. The



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