Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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Prognostication validation!

I was amused to find out about GPS:Tron - which lets you play the classic light cycle game in real time - and in real space.
After the game has been started, the phone searches for a Bluetooth GPS receiver to communicate with. This receiver sends the current GPS-data to the phone. The GPS-receiver itself calculates the current position by analysing the signals received from 2 or more GPS satellites.

To exchange the position data between the handsets, they both connect to a game-server on the Internet which forwards the data to the other phone. The connection runs initially over the air (GSM) to the mobile access provider, then via Internet to the game-server.

Seriously neat!

It reminds me of an article I wrote a few years ago for the short lived Bluetooth World magazine...

Entertaining Mr Blue

There's an often-quoted maxim of cyberpunk author William Gibson: "the street finds its own uses for things". Some technologies start off as business tools and end up as leisure accessories, turning a work tool into an entertainment.

The recently hyped "peer-to-peer networking revolution" is a classic example of consumers hijacking – and hacking – technologies, using them in ways not fully envisaged by their original creators. This kind of breakthrough allows the technology's early adaptors to gain accidental competitive advantage, which can change the rules of the game severely. The upstart P2P file-sharing system Napster has only recently been tamed by the rather earnest companies who are deadly serious about making large amounts from the "fun" world of music retailing.

The recent appearance of texting turned SMS into a surprise consumer hit that caught even the telecoms operators unawares. As the growing importance of revenue now has increasingly overshadowed those illusory longer-term 3G revenues, SMS is now seen as a perfectly respectable way to monetise eyeballs – especially through the focus of billions of euros of debt. What seemed technically insignificant to the technologists changed the came when certain audiences (notably the pre-paid youth market) made SMS their own. Early pioneers reaped large benefits, as subscribers moved to their networks.

Knowing what you do not know, or better still spotting it early, has never been more valuable. Even so, it,s still possible to make mistakes. Motorola's text phone, launched to cash in on a new wave of users has yet to be a commercial success, its tiny keypad turning away users happier with the hunt-and-peck of composing messages on a phone's numeric keypad...

Another, subtler, development has been the invention of a whole new sport. Geochaching, a high-tech orienteering, powered the availability of cheap GPS units, has exploded into the outdoor community. A location posted on a web site and a hand-held (even wrist mounted!) GPS are all a geocacher needs to track down a hidden box...

The road from product to entertainment seems to be a one-way street, with very few products moving from "toy" to "essential business utility". Will toys always be toys? Despite recent US scares about hostile powers getting their hands on the advanced graphics of the Playstation 2, which apparently requires little adaptation for real life beat 'em up simulations, there's still little evidence of toys turning nasty.

So could Bluetooth be the latest victim of unforeseen usages, disrupting the progress of a hopefully disruptive technology?

Bluetooth in the world of electronic entertainment is starting to appear on a few companies' agendas. Could the laboratory explorations of today, really hop to impinge on the world of the Playstation, GameBoy and X-Box? Well, Yes. The next playground Pokemon craze could come with cheap Bluetooth chip sets, giving their users access to near disposable piconets. With game devices as network hubs we could see them linking everything from PDAs to phones, sharing game information using XML messages over Bluetooth networks.

One can even use a Bluetooth PAN to create a home entertainment hub, linking everything from audio systems, to video, to games machines. This isn't such a big step – already companies like Linn and Naim provide control systems for their audio equipment, and X10 acts as a home control system. With combinations of these tools it's possible today for the determined home entertainment enthusiast to link and control all their devices. With a simple plug and play Bluetooth PAN, a next generation remote control can become the hub of the home.

Some of Bluetooth's entertainment possibilities are obvious. Removing the wires from game controllers makes boxes like the Playstation 2 and Microsoft's planned Xbox more suitable for the modern home, reducing clutter so our personal spaces stay as clean as our Dyson-swept floors – as well as moving the focus of the gaming world from a PC to the comfort of the sofa. Add to this a universal plug and play network and bring your self-designed, highly personalised snooker devices and fishing rods to your friend's virtual tables and trout streams. But this is the obvious stuff. We have no way of predicting what people will do when they have Bluetooth in their homes, along with the tools to create new Bluetooth services and devices. It won't be long before you'll be able to log onto an electronic component distributor's web site and order yourself a handful of Bluetooth chip sets...

There are real threats to Bluetooth in the home, in addition to much-publicised PR gaffs. Will Intel's move away from Home RF to the world of the 802.11b wireless Ethernet result in the appearance of ad-hoc networks with wide support? Already PDA manufacturers are touting their devices' wireless networking support, while Microsoft has indicated that Windows XP will support 802.11b instead of Bluetooth (though third party drivers will be available).

There are of course natural advantages to using Bluetooth in a home entertainment platform, not least of which is its ease of configuration and self-managing properties. This though is the realm of the technical, before the great unwashed who powered the GameBoy and SMS craze have gotten their hands on the technology. It is difficult to underestimate the power of the streets and the demands of users to rewrite the white papers of the early adopters. However, it's important not to simply try and follow what you think users are doing – deep user research will be required to build successful products on street technologies.

Which reminds me. I apologise for predicting the Nokia N-Gage in that article. Sometimes reality gets in the way of neat ideas...
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