Kinecting Communities

On April 16 I will be speaking at the Mobile Citizen Summit in Washington DC (registration still open), which brings together “practitioners across the  government, nonprofit, advocacy, and political spaces—the kinds of  people who develop the strategy and the tools to reach, engage, educate,  and enable citizens across the country and around the world.”

But I’m going to be talking about “mobile” in a different way than others still use the term, i.e. they focus on a handheld device, while I will be focusing on the mobile citizen. As I have said before I don’t believe our future involves experiencing “augmented reality” by always holding up little 3-inch plastic screens in front of our faces. Natural user interfaces and immersive computing offer much more to how we access computational resources – and how technology will help us interact with one another. Here’s an example, in a story from the past week.

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Air Everything

Like many people, I was very impressed by a video over the weekend of the Word Lens real-time translation app for iPhone.  It struck with a viral bang, and within a few days racked up over 2 million YouTube views. What particularly made me smile was digging backwards through the twitter stream of a key Word Lens developer whom I follow, John DeWeese, and finding this pearl of a tweet (right) from several months ago, as he was banging out the app out in my old stomping grounds of the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s a hacker mentality for you :)

But one thought I had in watching the video was, why do I need to be holding the little device in front of me, to get the benefit of its computational resources and display? I’ve seen the studies and predictions that “everything’s going mobile,” but I believe that’s taking too literally the device itself, the form-factor of a little handheld box of magic.

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Playing with virtual data in spatial reality

For the past few months, when I’ve had visitors to Microsoft Research on the Redmond campus one of the things I’ve enjoyed demonstrating is the technology behind the new system for Xbox 360 – the controller-free gaming and immersive entertainment system that Microsoft is releasing for the holiday market in a month or so. In particular, I’ve enjoyed having Andy Wilson of MSR talk with visitors about some of the future implications in non-gaming scenarios, including general information work, and how immersive augmented-reality (AR) could transform our capabilities for working with information, virtual objects, and how we all share and use knowledge among ourselves.

We’re further along in this area than I thought we’d be five years ago, and I suspect we’ll be similarly surprised by 2015.

In particular, there is great interest (both in and out of the government circles I travel in) in the “device-less” or environmental potential of new AR technologies. Not everyone will have a fancy smartphone on them at all times, or want to stare at a wall-monitor while also wearing glasses or holding a cellphone in front of them in order to access other planes of information. The really exciting premise of these new approaches is the fully immersive aspect of  “spatial AR,” and the promise of controlling a live 3D environment of realtime data. Continue reading

Pre-release hands-on look at WP7

I try to avoid straight-up promotion for my employer on my blog too often (if you didn’t know, it’s that scrappy West-Coast-based startup Microsoft). I like sharing R&D projects, but for consumer products I leave that stuff to others or third-parties.

But with the Apple iPhone 4 controversy going on, and Google’s Droid platform chugging away, frankly I was surprised to see a long story on übergeek tech blog Engadget today about our Windows Phone 7, with a great video of a hands-on demo:

I’m sharing it because I eagerly await the launch for my own use. The review itself is worth a read – it has in-depth looks at the UI and UX, social-networking aspects, music integration (full-on Zune experience), app marketplace, search, maps, innovative photos, wireless cloud syncing, high-def video, elegant online/offline email innovation, Office integration, Xbox Live, and other facets. Some features are good, some missing, some are awesome. Launch coming this fall…

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Slate of the Union Day

Today is “Slate of the Union” day, when the two most charismatic individuals in recent American history go on stage and attempt to reclaim mantles as innovators. I’ll leave aside the fellow with lower poll numbers for now (President Obama). More eyes in the tech world will be watching as Steve Jobs makes his newest product announcement, the Apple tablet/Tabloid/iSlate thing iPad (it’s official).

Back in the late 1980s I worked for the legendary “Mayor of Silicon Valley” Tom McEnery (he was actually the mayor of San Jose), and we did many joint projects with Apple, particularly with CEO John Sculley, a great guy.

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43 Gigabytes of Mobile Data per Day

Here’s a nifty infographic, created by Online Education with several striking statistics about “an average day on the Internet” and the volume of data involved in mobile talk and data, Twitter, blogs, wikis, email, news sites and the like. The numbers are staggering! Continue reading

Why a Cloudlet Beats the Cloud for Mobile Apps

Sure, you know cloud computing. You also know a bit about so-called “private clouds,” which enterprises and government agencies are exploring as an option to combine the power and scale of virtualized cloud architectures with security and control over data.

But what do you know of Cloudlets? They may just be a key to the future of mobile computing.

That’s a possible conclusion from the results so far of a Microsoft Research family of projects called MAUI, short for Mobile Assistance Using Infrastructure. The MAUI approach is to enable a new class of CPU-intensive, and data-intensive, applications for mobile devices – but enable them in a new way.  Today’s mobile devices can’t run such apps, at least not well. And if they stick to the cloud they may never do so.

I’ve just read a fundamental MAUI paper published last month in the IEEE’s Pervasive Computing journal: “The Case for VM-based Cloudlets in Mobile Computing” (November 2009, co-authored by MSR’s Paramvir Bahl along with colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University, AT&T Research, and Lancaster University).

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Tellme what you want

The future of social computing is in the integration of various services and technologies – but the fun is already available now. Here’s a nifty demo of the integration of cloud computing’s services with increasingly powerful mobile computers (smartphones or netbooks). Developers can take advantage of far more computational power both locally on the device – faster, cheaper processors thanks to Moore’s Law – and computational power residing on networked data centers.  Think of a business or social activity, and thanks to platforms like the iPhone, Android, and the new Windows Phones, “There’s an app for that.” Or there soon will be.

This quick little demo feels like nothing fancy today – but ten, even five years ago it would have seemed like sci-fi. In fact it’s available now, and uses a new Windows Phone, in this case a Samsung Intrepid, making use of Tellme software from Microsoft integrated with Bing Search web services. The demo intregrates some longtime technologies in their state-of-the-art condition today using cloud-services delivery:

  • Speech-to-text
  • GPS-enabled location-based services
  • Web search
  • Voice-enabled dialing
  • Social media (crowdsourced ratings integrated in search results)
  • Hardware UI (a dedicated TellMe button on the Samsung Intrepid phone)

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The promise of mobile augmented reality

Robotvision appMy intention with this blog is always to write medium-length “think-pieces,” about technology, government, or preferably both. I’m working on several (the Jefferson Gov 2.0 piece, the Evil Twin 2.0 piece, and one on “whither the multilingual web”), but they do truly require thought and some free time, so they percolate a bit.

In the meantime, readers like the latest cool demo videos, so for Friday fun here’s another one (watch below or on youTube), which was featured on TechCrunch last night (“Bing comes to the iPhone via Robotvision”), with an augmented reality app for the iPhone which uses Bing Maps and Bing’s real-time data (website here). The company describes itself this way:

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Navigating Indoors Without GPS

Here’s a nifty demo of a very small piece of software, that could find daily use for large numbers of people in any large enterprise, or any shopper in a mall – anywhere someone’s wandering in a large building or complex looking for a specific office, conference room, storefront, or location – especially indoors where GPS is of no use.

It’s called GoMap, and I think it could have great applicability for government complexes, which have lots of rabbit-warren hallways, lots of constantly-reassigned workers, and lots of visitors.

I missed GoMap’s first public unveiling today because I’m on the east coast this week, mostly for the Cybersecurity “Leap Ahead” conference in Arlington Virginia which wrapped up today; I will write about the conference separately.

But that meant I had to miss the bar-camp-style WinMoDevCamp today on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. There was a lot of buzz around this DevCamp, and there’ll be others in 6 more cities soon (Austin, London, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Toronto) as developers gear up for the upcoming release of the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system.  You can get registration information about the future events at the main WinMoDevCamp site (props to Todd Bishop on his TechFlash blog for highlighting the series).

The GoMap prototype makes innovative location-aware use of Microsoft Tag and TagReader (the high-capacity color barcodes developed by Microsoft Research), to solve the problem of having no GPS capability indoors  - check out the short video.

WinMoDevCamp is an indication that there’s a real explosion of app development going on in the Windows Mobile world, to match the equally exciting iPhone app and Android app activity. There’s been a feeling in Microsoft that our best advantages are the large installed base through third-party WinMo phone manufacturers, plus Microsoft’s long experience nurturing app developers on other platforms (.Net as a good example).  But I personally think that superior innovation is going to be the battleground, and we’re well positioned for that as well, with a lot of exciting things emerging from Microsoft Research and different advanced development labs in product groups. GoMap’s one example.

Not sure of the timeline for GoMap, but you can use TagReader right now, without the GoMap piece. It’s a free download on the Tag webpage, or you can get it on any mobile phone (yes, even the exploding iPhone) at http://gettag.mobi.

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