Athens PC and my phone


At the recent WinHEC conference, a prototype PC dubbed 'Athens' was unveiled. 
One of its features is an attached phone; the computer is supposedly smart enough
to mute its other sound output when the phone is in use.

This seems very backward-looking to me.

The future of communication is wireless.  Everyone has cell phones now. 
Even in the house, phones with cords are going the way of the dodo.  The last
thing I want is a phone that ties me down to my computer desk.

What I really want is for the computer to shut up when I'm on my cell phone. 
When you think about it, that's a pretty sophisticated task; much more so than what
was demonstrated with Athens.

First off, the cell phone and the PC have to be linked.  Modern phones are pretty
sophisticated from a software perspective, so this doesn't seem like it would be hard. 
Next, the system needs to have some concept of location.  If I am by the computer,
it should mute the computer sound when I'm on my cell.  If I am in the den, it
should mute the stereo or TV.

Location for the cell phone may be available soon because the government is mandating
that cell phone manufacturers have to build location services into their phones (ostensibly
for 911 usage).  Location of your PC, its speakers, your stereo, or your TV is
less clear - unless they start building some kind of location services into those,
we'll probably have to fall back on manually informing the system where these pieces
live. 

(I wonder if the system could run test tones through the speakers, and use microphones
to "intuit" what device is near what other device?)

Note also that I've thrown stereos and TVs into the mix - I haven't heard much yet
of any plans to integrate these devices into what I'm generically calling "the system". 
I have heard of intermediary devices, like the Sony media-center, which sit between
the computer and the TV; likely in the short term that will be the mechanism by which
the components of the system talk to each other.

Further out on the horizon, it would be great if the system recognized who is using
my cell phone; if it recognized that other people are also watching the TV, and make
intelligent choices about muting and other control decisions.  Of course, there
is tension between this power and the lack of privacy when the system knows all this
info.

So to sum up; I think the PC, my phone, and my other media appliances should be able
to talk to each other and coordinate their behavior.  I think they need to understand
where they are and where I am.  I think this would be a true realization of the
power of distributed systems and distributed computing.


Comments (4)
  1. Bryan says:

    From what I’ve heard about the AthensPC, the phone IS a cell phone. It’s not atttached to the computer in any way except it’s "holder". It connects to the computer through Bluetooth (to sync phonebook, calander, documents(?) etc…), but uses "dual" modes to make calls. If the user is close to the computer, the phone will use Bluetooth to connect (this would be a stronger, more stable connection than standard cell service) when close to the computer, and when farther away (down the hall, at work) the phone would use standard cell phone service. Also, the early versions of the AthensPC seem to be marketed primarily toward business users. It makes MUCH more sense to have a phone linked to a computer if you’re spending much of your day at the office, and it also makes videoconferencing/videophone that much easier to implement for companies.

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