Introduction to Ubiquitous Computing for Business: Reading the Waves
It's often hard to notice a sea change until it washes over you. You know one is coming—it's happened before—but it creeps up slowly and is hard to pay attention to. We see this effect often in information technologies: the web, personal computers, three-dimensional graphics, digital media, virtual worlds, smartphones, social computing, and more. We call such technologies "disruptive" because they seem to come from nowhere to wash over the established leaders.
For the most part, though, we could have seen any of them coming. Each had made a preceding beachhead: hypertext, workstations, animated sprites, cassette tape recorders, text-based multiuser domains, citizens' band (CB) radio, bulletin board services, and other forgotten predecessors of today's rich electronic media environment. At the time, those capabilities were mere novelties, prominent enough to take notice of but only actively used by devotees and geeks. In fact, the "flash in the pan" effect seen in the media causes us to sometimes dismiss later versions that actually do cause the sweeping changes prematurely predicted previously. Think back to when you first heard of hypertext; we had grand visions of universally interconnected information but dismissed Xanadu as providing marginal value,1 unable to foresee the tremendous value of today's World Wide Web. Similarly, workstations preceded personal computers, bulletin board systems demonstrated community-generated content before Wikipedia, multi-user domains (MUDs) anticipated SecondLife and other virtual reality systems, and CB radio foreshadowed mobile phones. The rudimentary capabilities of the early versions of such technologies are easy to dismiss, making it difficult to imagine their ultimate success.
A sea change is hard to see—so many swells rising, merging, and dipping. It's the same with technologies. Gartner research uses the notion of a "hype curve" to describe the pattern in which a new idea creates inflated expectations that cannot be realized, leading to a crashing wave of disappointment and dismissal of the idea, which eventually does bring some measure of its initial promise to market. Gartner plots each idea at a point on the "hype curve," as an estimate of each idea's position in the rising and falling cycle. But the notion of just one "hype curve" along which all technologies rise and fall is misleading. In fact, each idea has its own swell and surge, and they all mix together to cancel or reinforce each other—like waves. This convergence of reinforcing concepts actually generates the enormous effects that overwhelm markets.
A champion surfer can "read the waves" to anticipate which rhythms of rips and sweeps will create that "fat wave" that comes once a day. But even champions know that the waves are not entirely predictable and that the big ones are very hard to see. The history of failed business projections and predictions of disruptive technologies makes the business strategist's job seem impossible. We cannot expect to see exactly what the changes will be, but we can at least see the general trends and estimate some prospective impacts both horizontally across and vertically within industrial sectors.
Who This Book Is For
This book aims to help business strategists, chief technology officers (CTOs), futurists, innovators, and entrepreneurs understand the mix of technologies that form the field of Ubiquitous Computing and to understand the opportunities and threats these imply. The business strategist's role is to foresee oncoming sea changes, to anticipate the ebbs and swells that will affect the ways in which they conduct their business, and to find the best ways of exploiting the positive while mitigating the negative effects. The aim of this book is to provide a map of the capabilities and benefits of Ubiquitous Computing technologies, not a map of the technologies themselves, and to help you identify which ones are reinforced or diminished by other trends in our society.