Ambient Information
January 13, 2003 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Ambient Information (NYT reg. required) Ambient information can be defined as material objects, such as computers, watches or furniture, which interact with digital information and react in certain ways such as sound, color, or light. Apple has filed an intriguing patent for a computer that could change color when you get an e-mail, for example. So, is this concept the next “new thing” or the next pet rock?
posted by jeremias (15 comments total)

The way I see it, there will be certain uses of it that will totally rock, and others that will make no sense whatsoever. Just like the Internet, or electricity, although this isn't quite as revolutionary as either of those.

And I remember seeing something somewhere about a mail notifier that worked by dropping marbles from one bowl to another... Anyone know where that was?
posted by wanderingmind at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2003

Agreed, wanderingmind. Comparing Bill Gates' keynote and Steve Jobs' keynote against each other, I'd offer this: Microsoft will create a fossil watch that ebbs and vibrates at the top of every hour, and Apple's future laptops will have a side panel that will glow at different intensities based on how strong an airport signal is.
posted by jragon at 12:56 PM on January 13, 2003

pssht. my phone has had a blinking message indicator for years. "ambient information"'? ambient marketing bullshit.
posted by quonsar at 1:00 PM on January 13, 2003

"Who needs faster processors. My laptop turns cerulean blue when someone on my buddy list is nearby!"
posted by machaus at 1:02 PM on January 13, 2003

I’ve seen a video about the ambient room and it is definitely a neat concept. The only problem right now is that the applications they show are next to useless. If I’m sitting at my computer, I don’t need it to start glowing when I get mail. The taskbar icon is already a very good ambient method of showing me that.

However, it would be useful if my lamp downstairs could change colour when I get e-mail.
posted by Gary at 1:06 PM on January 13, 2003

I disagree Quonsar, there is most definitely a need for ambient information. The Times article was dead on with its examples. There is a great need for casual observers to be able to see general trends in information, whether that is stock market prices, traffic info, signal strength, glowing email indicators, etc. I'm not creative enough to come up with original applications, but am convinced they are out there. In fact, ambient information like this seems very "Snowcrash" or "Diamond Age" to me.
posted by pjgulliver at 1:07 PM on January 13, 2003

I love the forced questions at the end of FPPs.
posted by Satapher at 1:51 PM on January 13, 2003

Pet rock, mostly, but the idea does have application. Most notably, deaf people would find things that change color in reaction to certain events particularly handy.
My computer makes a sound when I get e-mail. It's non-intrusive, but my hearing is still good enough that I catch it four rooms and a 90degree turn away. I'll pass. I'd rather the computer just went into a cabinet in the wall and I didn't have to look at it at all.
posted by Su at 2:07 PM on January 13, 2003

This somehow makes me think of the Laboratory for Ephemeral Investigations and their interactive sculptures where sound and motion alter material objects. It'd be interesting to have these hooked up to incoming e-mail.
posted by snez at 2:30 PM on January 13, 2003

I remember hearing about this a while ago....wasn't Apple in talks with another company, then pulled out of the talks, then filed a patent? I think the other company is considering a lawsuit....wish I could remember the names....

[/obvious plea to MeFites to research it for me]
posted by lazaruslong at 2:42 PM on January 13, 2003

[0115] While this invention has been described in terms of several preferred embodiments, there are alterations, permutations, and equivalents, which fall within the scope of this invention. It should also be noted that there are many alternative ways of implementing the methods and apparatuses of the present invention. It is therefore intended that the following appended claims be interpreted as including all such alterations, permutations, and equivalents as fall within the true spirit and scope of the present invention.

Oooooh....I wonder if apple just shut down a small, 3rd party light up computer tower company thing.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2003

Does anyone know if other companies sell a similar device for less than $300? Wireless network or not, that's a crazy amount of money to spend on a light bulb.
posted by Gary at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2003

Ha, it's a good idea, again, enough to have been one of the best, despite how strongly it was ignored and shouted down.

Seems pjgulliver agrees, though I thought it was more Gibsonian.

Su, Deaf people have a similar set up now. When the phone rings a regular desk lamp plugged into a special adapter will blink or flash each time the phone rings, whether the lamp is on or not, both ambient and functional. I don't think the computer changing color is a good idea myself, maybe a ring that changes color instead?

Satapher, if you can't say anything nice in the thread, then please, sit next to us.
posted by yonderboy at 2:55 PM on January 13, 2003

A simple "mail received" indicator isn't the best use of ambient technology, because your mailbox can be in one of two states: new mail, or no new mail. If I read the article correctly, ambient technology comes into its own when expressing a complex system in a general way, as pjgulliver's stock market/traffic/etc examples point out.

We live our lives surrounded with a hell of a lot of information lately, and I'd appreciate things like this to give me a general idea of how my portfolio is doing/how long my commute will be/what the Homeland Security status is without having to a.) pause, b.) look up the data, and c.) analyze it with respect to my position. Kind of like how an analog speedometer/clock/temperature gauge can tell you more at a glance than their digital equivalents.
posted by Vidiot at 9:54 PM on January 13, 2003

The number of system states which can be mapped to easily differentiated environmental cues is tiny - so tiny, in fact, that these devices will never be of much greater service than tri-state, or maybe quad-state annunciators.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...It's just that I don't see any paradigms shifting here.
posted by Opus Dark at 11:26 PM on January 13, 2003

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