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OPINIONS. TRENDS. MEDIA ISSUES.

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Volume 15, Issue 4

Smartphone or the New Personal Server?

by David Smith

Do you still think of your refrigerator as an icebox? Do you still refer to your car as your buggy? Hopefully not. Then why are we still calling our smartphones, which are actually used more for texting than for calling, phones? Because the words remote and server are taken and PDA is too “old-fashioned”? I mean, that’s what it is, right: a personal (rather than enterprise) server for wearables, your car, your home and a target for a multitude of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.

In the 80’s, personal computers found their way into the marketplace. This caused IT people to lose some control of their environment. Enter Ethernet and the enterprise client/server environment, where the PCs were the clients and the servers controlled specialized services such as files, fax, email, etc. Today, computers, more powerful than the original enterprise servers, are being carried around by people in their pockets or on their wrists in the form of smartphones and smart watches. These devices are more powerful than the first supercomputer, Cray-1, the NASA computer that shot the first space shuttle into orbit, or original common server processors like R3000. These modern personal servers also aren’t waiting around anymore for calls to service from clients. Instead, the new personal servers are actively seeking them out. Anytime you enter a store, unlock the door to your house, or take a drive, your phone is searching for information to make life a little easier.

The personal server isn’t the only thing making moves in this relationship; the client ecosystem is changing as well. Clients have always been associated with your laptop or desktop, big clunky things that needed to be carried not concealed. But, today’s clients aren’t your personal computers. They are the things talking to your smartphone, talking to that little device occupying the space between your hand and forearm (and increasingly, in your purse or bag, not even needing to come out. The use of a Bluetooth earbud is just the first example of this). One only needs to look at companies like Samsung, with its SmartThings platform (that is now compatible with nearly 200 other devices) or Google’s Nest which hosts a wide variety of devices from energy conservation to home security, to understand the boundaries of the new client-server relationship and its distinction. Real soon, Google, Apple and others are expected to release the equivalent or better of the Samsung SmartThings platform.

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Here are a few examples to get you up to speed on where things are headed for client-servers.

Smart Homes: Have you ever come home from a long day and still had to cook dinner, do laundry, and shuffle through hundreds of channels to find something to watch on TV? Have you also come home and realized there’s nothing to eat, no detergent for the wash, and your favorite TV show isn’t recorded. What if you could have avoided all of this? That’s the power of interoperability and hub thinking for client-servers. It allows you to not only accomplish the above, but also adjust your home thermostat to save energy during the warmer hours, turn the lights on before you get home, water the lawn, order some more detergent and get more milk delivered (same day) if you are out. Samsung’s SmartThings supports third-party products including Belkin WeMo devices, TCP smart LEDs, Philips Hue color-changing bulbs, the Sonos home music system, and the Ecobee thermostat. Eventually, everything in your home will be considered a client, all powered by tiny sensors smaller than a dime.

Wearables, Health, and Security: The watch is about to make a huge comeback, both as a client and as a personal server—and you thought the choice of a 100 phones was amazing. Thousands of “watches” ranging from the utilitarian Fitbit and Sunnto to the aesthetic Apple and Samsung appropriates are hitting the market. That’s just devices for the wrist. Think of all the other things that a person wears that could double as a client, especially if it doesn’t need any human interaction or UI while being worn. The client device, Tōd, is a beacon the size of a quarter that can track the location of your child or beloved pet discreetly. ICEdot’s Crash Sensor is another client device that attaches to your bike helmet and will contact emergency personal and send GPS coordinates if an accident happens. Health will be a huge factor in personal clients, tracking everything from your blood pressure to measuring all sorts of things through perspiration, body heat, et cetera.

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Car: Speaking of something doubling as a server, what about your car doubling as a client and creating a Wi-Fi hotspot? Or monitoring all of your car’s functions through on board computers in real time?  AT&T’s new gadget called Mobley plugs into your car’s on-board diagnostics port. The next time you turn on the engine, you’ve got a hotspot. Your passengers can stream music and movies as you navigate traffic. Instead of buying a smart car for that large price tag, you can effectively turn your 1996 or later model into one. The Automatic adapter plugs into the same port as Mobley to unlock the data in your car’s onboard computer. The Automatic diagnoses engine problems, displays trip logs, and can even call for help all via your smartphone. Viper SmartStart is another client device that lets you locate and control your car from your phone, it will even give you your vehicle’s status to make sure everything is running soundly before you hit the road.  Sounds like we’re going to need the equivalent of a USB hub extender!

Retail: Perhaps, the most inevitable thing that will develop from the new client-server relationship will be the saving grace of retail stores. I have multiple presentations dealing with “the last 100 yards or how mobile will save retail” on SlideShare. With online shopping replacing store fronts at the spellbinding speed that Walmart replaced Mom & Pop shops, the urgency to get people back inside the brick and motor has become paramount. Smartshopping will do just that. Stores, using a multitude of sensors pinging off of your server will have your itemized shopping list or prior purchases generated on your phone as you enter. It will design the most efficient way to navigate the aisles, alert you to sales, make suggestions, and even recall your purchase timelines so you never run out of anything again. If there is something out of stock, a shipping prompt will be activated immediately: no more—do you work here? Did I mention there are no (or fewer) clerks? Each item will be recorded once it is placed into your smart cart and off you go; the sensors will relay your purchases to the store on your exit.

It is evident that companies and businesses are starting to reconsider the potential of these new technologies and are expecting big things from this idea of products communicating with or without us. Reportedly, $3 Billion is projected to be spent on IoT technology by 2020. Entities that were once staying away from interoperability standards have now begun running toward the benefits of the IoT. Consumer demand may actually result in iOS, Android and MS devices communicating with each other. While the consumer does not think about personal client-server relationships, marketplace attention to the concept could pay out in a huge way.

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