Welcome!

Industrial IoT Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, SmartBear Blog, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Mobile IoT

Mobile IoT: Article

21st Century Wireless Tools: Working in a Networked World…

21st Century Wireless Tools: Working in a Networked World…

Companies are always risking their business, betting on what will be happening next year, and how they can make money out of it. The trick is to get it right.

We all know that we work in a fast-moving industry. Even before wireless communications raced ahead, the IT field was already moving too quickly for most industry commentators - fast enough in fact to make a fool of anyone rash enough to try to predict future developments.

From the famous IBM statement that the total world market for computers amounted to no more than 20 units, to Bill Gates saying that no one could ever use more than 640KB of RAM, history is littered with embarrassing comments on the future...and some more expensive errors of judgment. The Intel Web site makes no mention of the 80186, moving straight from the 80188 to the 80286; no one guessed at the time that backwards compatibility would be so important - something we now take for granted with every new development.

In the wireless world things are even worse, with companies staking their whole business model on the uptake of new technologies barely out of the lab. 3G networks really sum up this inability to guess what's happening next. No one knows what they'll be used for, but whatever it is, it's going to have to be expensive if the networks are going to turn a profit. It's remarkable that companies investing so much in future developments seem to spend so little effort trying to understand it, adopting the "If we build it, they will buy it" approach to development, often at a cost.

One company interested in what the future looks like is Xerox. If they could only turn their hand to making money out of their predictions, they could be dominating many diverse markets today. The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is trying to work out how computers and documents are going to be used in the wireless office of the future, how we'll interact with them, and what they'll do for us. You may have heard of Xerox PARC. They played a large part in developments such as the Graphical User Interface (GUI), Ethernet, and many of the Internet standards in use today. Their visions have helped shape the office you work in and the software you use, based on the point of view of the document as central, and everything else just tools to manipulate it.

Xerox doesn't always get it right. Many of their ideas are fanciful and far-fetched. Some are just too far ahead of their time, but some are becoming reality as we watch. One of these ideas describes the kinds of wireless computers that are going to exist, and how they can work together in a new kind of office. They're known as the Pad, the Tab, and the Screen.

The Pad
By examining how people work, looking at how they interact with the space around them, researchers at Xerox realized that we like to be surrounded by paper, or more accurately, by documents. The familiar desktop interface of modern computers bears very little resemblance to a real desk, with its piles of paper and printouts, handwritten notes, and scribbled details. We seem to like to work with our documents spread around us, not neatly displayed on a screen at eye level, but physically near us. The work we're most interested in is beside us, while work to be considered later moves to the side of the desk. Attempts to recreate this interface on a screen are, basically, laughable, and while larger screens may make us more comfortable with digital representations of documents, we still seem to need their physical presence to organize ourselves.

So the researchers considered how to make this digital, and decided that the solution was a large number of flat-screen wireless displays, each with a single document. When you sit down to work in the morning, instead of printing out your tasks for the day, you would bring up that document on a Pad, then probably place it on your desk. Another Pad might contain a printout of your current project status, while another has some slides you were working on, and yet another, some notes you made about future projects. These Pads would pile up around your desk - in the same way as the paper sheets there now - reminding you of things that remain to be done. Once a task is completed you'd clear the Pads involved with it, and they'd be ready to be used again.

Obviously, any Pad would be capable of displaying any document, but that isn't how they'll be used. Interfacing with the Pads would, most likely, be through a touch screen, but being wirelessly networked would mean that a keyboard or other interfacing method could easily be used.

Pads should replace the ubiquitous VDU on every desk, allowing a more natural way of working and preventing us from trying to fit our lives into a 17-inch screen.

The Tab
The Tab is a very small device, the size of a pager or wristwatch (it may even be a pager or watch, in addition to being a Tab). With only very limited display and interface options, the Tab offers only the minimum of document editing features. Tabs are more about people, and could well be built into name badges or corporate passes. They also have the ability to hold documents for transportation, and some may offer basic reviewing features.

Note that the Tab itself isn't considered to have much in the way of local storage, but always exists in a wirelessly networked environment. I might be working late, and decide to take some work home with me, so I transfer some documents from the Pads on my desk to my Tab to take home. When I get home I can simply transfer them to any Pads I have there, but the documents themselves never actually moved because a central server holds them. Only my perception of their location changes. If I lose my Tab on the way home no data has been lost. Though I may have some trouble finding it again, it's still there on the server. In this way all of the problems of multiple copies of files, and version modification, are addressed.

The Screen
The Screen is the simplest of our trio of devices. It's a large screen, probably mounted on a wall or other display surface. Networked in the same way as the Pads and Tabs, I would use a Screen to show work to colleagues or to give presentations. Displaying a document would be just a matter of copying it onto a Screen where I wanted to show it. Again, the document itself wouldn't move, only my perception of where it was located.

Obviously Pads, Tabs, and Screens constitute only the front end of the system. It should be obvious that such an environment is going to need a complex of back-end servers managing all the documents and ensuring that they appear to be where the users imagine them to be. The complexity of such a system shouldn't be underestimated. These devices would be very basic terminals, reliant on a server to carry out most of their processing tasks and only able to perform the most basic of functions without network connectivity. But such servers do exist, and network reliability has never been better. The servers are going to have to be able to talk to all the devices, all the time, and some form of standard wireless network is going to be essential. Xerox has done much work with infrared communications, though Bluetooth would now seem the obvious alternative.

It's when we consider the devices, themselves, that our technological limitations become obvious. The Tab is relatively easy - just mount Bluetooth into a watch and you're 90% there. The Screen is, similarly, easily created from a standard PC connected to a projector or plasma wall display, but the Pad is a more difficult challenge.

To get a letter-sized device, with a display of sufficient quality to read text from, and cheap enough for a dozen on every desk, isn't easy and perhaps isn't yet possible. Even ignoring the problem of needing to keep the cost down, the simple challenge of producing a device slim enough to be piled onto a desk, yet robust enough to survive a modern office environment, could well prove impossible without stronger materials or better manufacturing processes. The nearest equivalent would be the Web pads, as demonstrated at every consumer electronics show for the last few years, yet strangely absent from local stores. But these devices may well be overpowered for our needs, leading to their high cost and bulky size, and thus their lack of marketplace success.

Of course, it isn't necessary to implement the whole model to benefit from the ideas within it. What Pads, Tabs, and Screens are actually about is working with documents, rather than files or directories. The user experience is wholly document-centric and users don't need to know where the files are or how they're organized, just how to use them. The three devices described demonstrate the three ways in which documents are used, and attempt to describe devices that might fit each role perfectly, without users having to change their way of working to suit the machines. When any device can be used to access any information we'll really be working in a networked world. I'm looking forward to it.

For additional information, WBT readers can go to the fasinating Xerox Palo Alto Research Center Web site at: www.parc.xerox.com.

More Stories By Bill Ray

Bill Ray, former editor-in-chief (and continuing distinguished contributor to) Wireless Business & Technology magazine, has been developing wireless applications for over 20 ears on just about every platform available. Heavily involved in Java since its release, he developed some of the first cryptography applications for Java and was a founder of JCP Computer Services, a company later sold to Sun Microsystems. At Swisscom he was responsible for the first Java-capable DTV set-top box, and currently holds the position of head of Enabling Software at 02, a UK network operator.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
The financial services market is one of the most data-driven industries in the world, yet it’s bogged down by legacy CPU technologies that simply can’t keep up with the task of querying and visualizing billions of records. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Karthik Lalithraj, a Principal Solutions Architect at Kinetica, discussed how the advent of advanced in-database analytics on the GPU makes it possible to run sophisticated data science workloads on the same database that is housing the rich...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, discussed the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insights from the vast t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EnterpriseTech has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. EnterpriseTech is a professional resource for news and intelligence covering the migration of high-end technologies into the enterprise and business-IT industry, with a special focus on high-tech solutions in new product development, workload management, increased effic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CHEETAH Training & Innovation will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CHEETAH Training & Innovation is a cloud consulting and IT training firm specializing in improving clients cloud strategies and infrastructures for medium to large companies.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datanami has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datanami is a communication channel dedicated to providing insight, analysis and up-to-the-minute information about emerging trends and solutions in Big Data. The publication sheds light on all cutting-edge technologies including networking, storage and applications, and thei...