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Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Computerless, Web-Enabled Devices Are On The Rise

The release of the RTX Dualphone and Sonos Digital Music System got me thinking about an important trend: PC-less devices on the home-network (not that I'm the first). The names of the hardware systems may not mean anything to you, but the web services that they tie into will. The RTX Dualphone (found via Gizmodo) is one of the first PC-less Skype phone available on the market (Netgear also has one). Sonos has direct integration into Rhapsody, Real Network's music streaming service. I expect more from Real in the future; they are promoting their Rhapsody DNA program (white paper) currently. The Chumby (not widely available yet) is another example. Once plugged in, it finds your network and then relies on webservices for multi-purpose widgets. The now-in-Beta Eye-fi wireless SD card hopes to free your digital camera from the PC (Radar post). Other examples include IM devices designed for teens, Apple's upcoming iTV, and the Ambient Orb (which relies on the pager network instead of WiFi, but is the earliest ancestor I can think of and probably would use WiFi were it being introduced now).

As home WiFi becomes ubiquitous, expect more devices that do one thing well and are very easy to explain, understand and configure. I also expect more USB/AC chargers to come on the market as well. If you know of other PC-Less devices please point me to them via the comments.

Update: As if by magic, today I read about a WiFi-enabled doorbell on Gizmodo. You still need a PC to configure it, but it doesn't need one to function.

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Comments: 8

Alberto   [11.29.06 04:48 PM]

My first non-pc device on my network was my Nintendo DS.

brady   [11.29.06 05:21 PM]

i didn't think of that. thanks!

SteveK   [11.29.06 05:55 PM]

Desktop computerless you mean. The analogy is to electric motors. Back in the early part of the 20th century electric motors were very expensive, so a system of appliances existed that used an interchangeable electric motor. As electric motors became dirt cheap not only did each appliance get one but they proliferated wildly (for example, the little electric motor vibrator in your cell phone.

In the same manner Moore's law has given us embedded systems which far surpass the performance of not only the original IBM PC but last decades workstations. Given that your router probably runs a full Linux OS why bother making it dependent upon a Desktop PC? The fact that the majority of these embedded applications are running some flavor of Linux or BSD must be giving Redmond some serious indigestion as well.

The real seismic event is that desktop computing is soon becoming PC computerless with the $100 OLPC providing the majority of the functions most people use Desktops for (Browsing, Word Processing etc.) in a nearly disposable package (I call it bubble pack computing). This will relegate the "desktop" to being the server (essentially the mainframe of a household/office) or vanish in a puff of distribution. But in addition the OLPC and its ilk will constitute the first instance of these high power embedded systems that can be easily reprogrammed without additional tools.

R.P. Aditya   [11.29.06 07:19 PM]

The estarling wifi-enabled RSS feed displaying picture frame is another example:

David Dossot   [11.30.06 02:39 AM]

And what about Nabaztag, the funny WIFI rabbit?


Ceri   [11.30.06 10:19 AM]

There's also the Roku Soundbridge (that can stream internet radio without a computer)

michaelholloway   [11.30.06 08:28 PM]

Pager networks and pc-less devices with downloadable Widgets? Aren't these examples of new, specialized webs? I noticed that when Google went public they threw the cash back into the company - buying under used fiber networks that had become obsolete as broadband was able to served the market cheaper. The thought occured to me then that they could be setting up a parallel web. The military has a parallel web; why not Bell South or Wall Mart. God help open source.

Nicolas Toper   [12.04.06 02:52 AM]

This sounds a lot like the web enabled refrigerator of the Bubble :)

Another point: wifi is basically implementing the Bluetooth initial vision. As a proof most of the Bluetooth company I know are now falling back to Wifi.

One point though. For the emergence of those kind of devices to truly be, a lot of infrastructure are still missing. Have a look at Ubiquitous Computing in the academic papers for more details.

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