Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Give My Smartphone More Sensors

I've been thinking about what the mobile revolution means. Paul Graham has been too, and I agree with him. Mobile devices are our constant connection to rest of the world, and their capabilities will continue to expand. The question is.... how?

Hardware is the Final Word
While software can do some pretty crazy stuff, the capabilities of a device are fundamentally limited by their hardware. The hardware can improve in a couple ways: the data rate can get faster, coverage can get broader, the battery can last longer, and we can introduce fundamentally new sources of information. The last is the most interesting and revolutionary. From the end of Paul's essay comes the validation of that idea:

It has turned out to be a great thing that Apple tablets have accelerometers in them. Developers have used the accelerometer in ways Apple could never have imagined.

Personal Data Hubs
Mobile phones accompany us almost everywhere we go, and I believe that in the next decade they will become hubs for a host of sensors and other devices in our clothes, bags, glasses... Every new sensor added to this growing hub will create a miniature revolution in our daily lives.

Biomedical Sensors
What if you could track your heart rate, levels of glucose, leptin, hormones, temperature, blood pressure... all from a bracelet, that communicated via bluetooth to your phone and a web service, providing you with instant and constant health information. There are all sorts of cool things you could do with that! It would certainly create some changes in the health care industry.

Sensors, sensors, sensors, sensors...
The future is in more sensors. It will lead to context-aware helper-devices. We will call it a HALper... or maybe a halp. It will be awesome.


  1. Here's a cool application of just a simple camera used to check pulse and possibly blood pressure in the future.

  2. After reading Paul Graham's take on tablets, I think he might be giving them a bit too much credit. While they can do a variety of things, they are not very good at doing most of them. And the cost of such devices is rather staggering. Unless they can dramatically lower the cost and improve the functionality, I think tablets will remain a niche device, while devices that are cheaper and better suited for their task will continue to be refined. That's not to say that the smartphone won't continue to improve, but I don't think it will ever replace the bathroom scale.

  3. Next time you're at MIT we can go check out this mirror in the Media Lab that tells you your blood pressure when you walk up to it. It's insane.

    Yeah the bathroom scale thing is ridiculous, and even the stuff about tablets being super important is probably hype (most venture capitalists and angel investors like him ride the hype). However, I think the bit about the accelerometer is a crucial point.