The Fundamental Challenge of Ubicomp

September 16, 2008

Ubicomp is an explicitly applied field of research. It strives to improve everyday life through technology.

A technology or cool idea cannot improve life unless people use it.

People will not use something unless it provides more value for them than it costs them.

A company will not manufacture and distribute something (for long) unless they can make more money than it costs them.

There are three major business models that get technology into wide use. One is to sell a technology for more than it costs. (Microsoft Office, Dell Computers, Televisions.) Another is to provide it at low cost and sell an associated service or product. (Red Hat, ArsDigita, MySQL.) The third is to provide it at low cost and sell the user to someone else (Google, Air Miles, Mozilla Firefox.)

The fundamental challenge of Ubiquitous Computing is to create applications that add more value than they cost.

To achieve a vision of the future that requires the holistic integration of multiple technologies, each step on the path to that vision must add more value than it costs.

The greatest challenge is not to make cryptographic privacy systems or strings that vibrate when you have voicemail or badges that know who you are and tell the room to turn down the thermostat by half a degree centigrade because you’re picky like that. Without a business model that creates value greater than cost for purchasers, these are just exercises in intellectual masturbation.

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