Wireless networking

Wireless conceptual designs from Motorola and frog

Arstechnica linked up to a page showing concepts for devices that create a Personal Area Network. It's a new design challenge to create the interface for a federation of devices...and even more so for the applications used by those devices. Wireframes work fine for page design - what lo-fi tools work for glasses + audio + pda + wrist display? I guess we'll find out.

Location-based interaction design

Wired News reports on using a Bluetooth wireless enabled cell phone to interact with an Apple Powerbook. The interesting thing is using existing devices (the phone) to extend the interaction possible with the computer, rather than relying on yet another gadget. Examples from the article include controlling Keynote/PowerPoint presentations, or locking/unlocking the computer based on leaving or sitting down.

The implication is that design for mobile/wireless isn't just about tiny screens and impoverished keypads, as so many assume - it's about interaction with connected devices, connected services, and with movement through space. This might seem a no-brainer, but it certainly requires new thinking and techniques in addition to our traditional IA toolbox. Marc Rettig's Designing for Small Screens 1.4MB PDF touches on some of this, but I still think we've got a huge amount to learn about mobile user experience.

Ubiquitous WiFi

In death of warchalking John S. Rhodes says that warchalking is dead with the inception of the WiFi zone program, backed by the non profit WiFi alliance, which will be marking WiFi Zones with a sticker logo. These logos are to replace the chalk markings that the warchalking folks were chalking on WiFi zones after war walking through neighborhoods looking for internet access on mobile devices.

The interesting part of this discussion has to do with some observations and predictions made by John, who points to an article on Fortune Magazine about Bell Canada using payphones for WiFi access. The article says that the U.S. will probably follow suit. John thinks that people will want and pay for WiFi access everywhere. If base stations start showing up in pay phones, WiFi may be ubiquitous in large cities.

It's pretty close to ubiquitous in heavily trafficked and affluent areas of NYC already. Living in WiFi saturated NYC and usually armed with a PowerBook, I can say that after using my laptop in Starbucks, I agree I want it everywhere. But I don't necessarily want to pay a lot for it. Starbucks' T-Mobile hot zones charge a little much in my opinion. What will be interesting in the development of pay for play WiFi zones is how pricing shakes out. NYC already has some kind of deregulated pay phone structure where multiple companies compete to put pay phones on the street, which makes it possible for some people to hike up prices for pay phone use and others to offer lower charges. But with WiFi, if there are multiple base stations available in an area, I want to go with the one with the lowest rate, so I wonder if this will mean competition over WiFi users and competitive pricing? Who knows. It's not a reality yet for us, but is in the near future in one way or another.

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