Essays on Technology and Culture

Context-Aware Computing

I have an app idea for any dedicated iOS developer. Write it, get it in the store, and I will easily pay at least $9.99 for it. I’m sure other people would pay just as much. The idea is simple, and I’m surprised nobody’s put out an app like it yet.

It’s a geofenced app launcher.

Everything a developer needs to make this is already baked into iOS. Plenty of apps use geofencing for things like notifications and reminders, or background updates. With the M7 chip in the iPhone 5S, it wouldn’t even be a huge battery drain. Launching apps is trivial with URL Schemes. It’s the backbone of apps like Launch Center Pro and Drafts. Combining the two would be brilliant. In fact, if the nice folks at Contrast were to add geofenced app launching in as a feature in Launch Center Pro, even as an in-app purchase, I would jump at it.

The idea came to me after a few weeks at my new job. I’m now living a cross-platform existence, using Windows at the office, and a Mac at home. I need to track my work projects, and I’d much rather incorporate it into my existing OmniFocus system than try to use Outlook or a web-based solution. Having a notification pop up on my phone when I’m at the office to launch OmniFocus, directly into my Work perspective, would be awesome. Currently, I use a repeating reminder in Due set for a few minutes after I get into the office, but what if I’m running late, working from home, or just off for a holiday? I only want my phone to buzz when I really need it to.

Context-aware computing is going to be the next thing in mobile technology. While the rumor mill says that iOS 8 will be all about fitness apps and health, I’m hoping that the changes to the ecosystem will also enable iOS to become more aware of a user’s environment. Imagine, if you will, your phone knowing you’re at the office, turning off the ringer, and reconfiguring the home screen to apps you use the most at work. When you leave the office, the ringer turns back on, and the home screen switches to apps you use on the go. At home, your phone home screen changes again to apps you use there, maybe turning the ringer down to a quieter level. With Keyboard Maestro, you can already do a lot of this on a laptop based on Wifi networks, but I rarely take my laptop anywhere.

My phone, however, is always with me. The hardware is all there to make context-aware computing happen. We just need the software to tie it all together, and I trust Apple to do it in a way that’s easy, effective, and integrated. If the M7 co-processor can know when you’re driving and when you’re walking, why not tie that in with the application launcher, the settings to connect to Bluetooth and Wifi, or any of a host of other hardware and software features in our phones? That is the future of mobile computing, and I’m ready for it.