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March 2010 | Volume 13 / Number 3
Personalized Apps

Tag, You’re It: Context-Aware Applications Could Be a Communications Game Changer

By: Paula Bernier

Smartphones and anywhere access to the Internet are pretty cool. But what’s next in communications could blow the doors off those recent advances.

The coming whirlwind of change falls under the umbrella of contextual applications. That is, applications that capture and analyze information, such as the user’s location and possibly other data, and in turn provide appropriate content to that individual.

The application possibilities for this kind of thing are endless. They range from the commonly-offered example of defining a user’s location based on cellular triangulation, GPS or readers to allow a retailer in the immediate area to offer that individual a coupon or other special offer. But contextual applications also could fall into education, health care, tourism and a whole lot of other areas.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that Google (News - Alert) is testing the contextual application waters.

The search and online advertising giant’s mobile search service reportedly now considers the location of the user in an effort to make search results more targeted. For example, an individual using her iPhone (News - Alert) or a smartphone based on Google Android might type in the first few letters of museum and presented with links to various museums in the city in which they are visiting.

But there are many far more interesting examples of contextual applications.

For example, as discussed in the case study in February’s INTERNET TELEPHONY, Abilene Christian University is working with Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) to enable students and campus visitors with school-provided iPhone and iPod Touch devices to get required reading lists on their mobiles as they pass a classroom and receive details on buildings and statues as they tour the grounds. The user devices in this scenario will have “tags” affixed to the back of them (although some devices involved in contextual applications need only their embedded capabilities) which, when they are passed in front of a “reader” convey the desired information.

Another extremely interesting idea that might be considered part of the contextual applications movement involves the use of technology to bring geographic and medical data together in a way that will allow for more personalized diagnosis.

Bill Davenhall, head of the health and human services marketing team at GIS software firm ESRI (News - Alert), has been evangelizing this concept by writing and talking about how he may have avoided a 2001 heart attack had his doctors considered geography in looking at his medical history and propensity to be affected adversely by the pollution surrounding his new home in southern California. According to Davenhall, he grew up and lived as an adult in areas with heavy pollutants in the air, which the ESRI executive indicated may over time have weakened his body, which then succumbed to L.A. smog in 2001. Had his doctors looked at these factors, he says, they may have been able to steer him away from his California move, suggesting it would be hazardous to his health. IT

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