From mainframes to minicomputers to PCs, computer hardware has long been bulky?so bulky that not only was it not mobile, but it was kept in special air-conditioned rooms on a raised antistatic floor. Ethernet technologies developed to allow these computer systems to communicate first privately and then publicly, worldwide over the Internet. Developments in liquid crystal displays and hardware miniaturization allowed computers to become "mobile" as laptop computers. However, laptops are actually movable computers and not mobile computers. Radio signaling systems technology, complex cell networks, and further miniaturization of computer processors and memory made mobile phones possible. As mobile phones become more like computers and begin to process data and run applications, and as other small devices use mobile networks for communications, it is possible to see computers and wireless communications converging.
This new class of devices includes data-capable mobile phones, wireless personal digital assistants (PDAs), and even in-vehicle computers. What makes these devices fundamentally different from other computers is their inherent mobility. They provide anytime, anywhere instant access to applications. They travel with you. You don't wait for them to boot. You don't wait for them to dial an Internet service provider (ISP). Most important, you frequently use them while you are doing something else. In-vehicle navigation devices are used while driving. Mobile phones are used while walking to an appointment, waiting in a lobby, or riding an elevator. Anyone who has tried to use a laptop while driving a car knows that it is almost impossible. Traditional computers have interfaces that are designed for focused attention and stationary use.
In a stationary computing environment, it matters little where a user actually is other than to set the correct time zone and language. When real mobility is added to computing, a new world of applications and capabilities are enabled that take advantage of knowing precisely where a user is. These applications include dynamic navigation and real-time traffic, advanced emergency services and roadside assistance, instant concierge and intelligent travel services, and the ability to use location in a variety of other services to significantly improve personalization.
Mobile location services are actually a subset of a larger set of new capabilities enabled by advanced personalization technologies: context-based services. Applications that are context-enabled not only are able to customize themselves based on where a user is, but also on who the user is and the role the user might be playing at a given time. An electrical engineer seeking information on microprocessors is likely to be interested in a different level of detail than a human resources professional. However, roles are more than personalizing based on job titles and areas of expertise. Individuals themselves have multiple roles. An individual can be an employee, a university professor, a father, or all three. Both time and location give powerful indicators to the context in which someone is using an application?and therefore how it should be personalized.