The real potential of technology - today

05 Sep 2007

One of the neat things about my job is that, every so often, you get to see the future. Not like analysts predicting that there'll be a gazillion mobile TV viewers in 2012 or whatever, or some new box that will 'revolutionize' voice call optimization or something. No. I'm talking about people who have the imagination and the vision to take existing telecoms technology and put together a real, working ecosystem that shows the real potential of all this stuff - a potential that we still think of as being in the future but is really here now, waiting for us to gather the necessary components and do something amazing with them.

Like, say, build an apartment block that looks like an iPod.

Seriously. It's called the iPad, it's designed by Hong Kong-based design consultancy James Law Cybertecture International, and it's an apartment tower complex under construction by Omniyat Properties in Dubai's Business Bay that resembles an iPod sitting in a dock.

What's so futuristic about that‾ Check out the interior:

An 'iReality' feature that replaces your real-world view with live streaming video of scenic locations like New York's skyline or Beijing's Tiananmen Square; a washroom that monitors your weight, blood pressure and temperature via electric currents; ambient lighting that changes colors when you receive incoming calls or email; voice commands; rotating living rooms and dining rooms; moving walls; virtual art; VOD; a karaoke library; a Jacuzzi equipped with water proof touch screens; a pool that pipes your music library underwater as you swim; and RFID scanners in the lifts and on apartment doors that allow the building and the flats to 'recognize' residents.

Airline 2.0

Of course, at $1,089 per square foot, it's high-end with a vengeance, and who knows how much of it will actually work as advertised, or how many people would want to live in a flat like that even if they could afford it. But so what‾ The appeal is in the idea - as equipment and bandwidth gets cheaper and homes become increasingly networked, all buildings should be designed with this kind of functionality in mind.

Here's another example: in-flight entertainment.

Connexion by Boeing's inevitable demise hasn't stopped airlines from chasing the idea of onboard Wi-Fi. But for the most part, it's still a retrofit add-on approach. Unless your airline is owned by Sir Richard Branson.

Virgin America kicked off last month with an inaugural flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Here's Virgin America's idea of inflight entertainment (glommed from Xeni Jardin's BoingBoing report): two Wi-Fi APs, 110-volt power plugs, USB ports, Ethernet jacks for LAN access (make that PAN: plane area network), a touchscreen seatback interface that runs on Linux, seat-to-seat chat and chat rooms, Google Maps, video games like Doom, SMS and email, and music downloads.

And that's just the stuff that's not under embargo.

Some of the offerings aren't actually ready for prime time just yet (the Wi-Fi, for example, is pending FCC approval). And of course there's already plenty of industry pundits wondering how long Virgin America can last, even if it does offer a flight experience that, by most accounts, is about a zillion times better than any airline in the US.

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