Passive Computing: The Hardware

The hardware devices for passive computing are designed to make existing tasks easier and more efficient. Like in previous eras, they are also going to allow us to do things we couldn’t or wouldn’t do with our devices before.

We have already starting to see a cycle of marketable wearables hit the market. The wrist devices created by Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit look like they can make it into the mainstream. I love using the pay function with my Apple Watch – it feels so much more natural than taking out a card or using my humongous iphone plus. The other day, my cousin set up a phone for a group picture. He put phone on one end of the room and we all stared at it. Is there a timer? How long do we have? Nope – it turned out he had the watch-in-hand ready to instruct that thing to snap photos once we were ready.

Another device that will emerge over the next decade is the voice-activated assistant. Here I’m thinking about the Amazon Echo which hangs out in your home. When you call for it, it can answer questions for you on the internet. It excels at frequent, simple queries: the time, the weather, your schedule, or the news. These devices are improving in their ability to connect to audio feeds such radio stations or podcasts.

Included in this category are also the audio personal assistants on our phone: Siri, Cortana, and the awkwardly-named Google now. In Apple’s latest iPhone, for example, Siri is always listening so it acts like a portable Echo. These assistants have felt like beta features for a few years but they are slowly moving forward towards their promise.

Also emerging is the connected car, which should come with it’s own voice assistant. Google glass was before its time, but it’s possible some heads-up display technology will emerge as well.

One piece of hardware that needs improvement is the headphone device – including the microphone. One of the more time-consuming parts of using smartphones on-the-go is finding, untangling, and connecting those headphones. They are also a hazard when it comes to getting caught or being exposed to the elements. Sometimes we just do without them, but putting the phone to one’s ear should really be a thing of the past.

I have several different types of headphones, including a wireless bluetooth pair. The wireless pair is great but it’s just as difficult to put on and pair with devices which causes me to use it only for conversations at home while organizing or gaming. If the rumors are true, Apple is removing the headphone jack in their next phone. I hope that they will use this opportunity to innovate on the headphones themselves.

What’s the value of having the internet available to us in this way? Is it just going to be a little bit faster and a little bit more convenient or is there something more to it?

In tomorrow’s post, I’m going to talk about the the new applications that these devices may allow.

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