Beneath the Surface, a Digital World Blooms

Window With Sky Behind

courtesy aturkus/flickr

Google Wallet May Be Lame…

Many of Google’s projects have earth-shaking potential (see here and here), but at first glance, Google Wallet doesn’t seem to fit the bill.  Here’s a news article if you need to catch up. The short version is, it replaces all your credit cards with a smartphone.  You load your bank accounts into the app, and then pay by tapping your phone at the checkout (assuming your smartphone has a near-field chip inside – so far only a handful do).

It’s lame, because credit cards are already just about the most convenient thing I own.  Tiny, flat, nearly weightless and I can pay for my burrito with just a swipe and a smile.  Not a lot of room for improvement there.

But It’s a Portal to a New Digital Era

How?  By popularizing the underlying technology, namely those near-field chips (NFCs) I mentioned.  NFCs are short-range, wireless transmitters.  The “tags” they interact with need not be powered, and no syncing is necessary.  As such, they carry vast implications for the way we interact with the world.  Some are alluded to in the article above, but let’s really dig in and imagine that NFCs become a standard feature.  What would you do if you could tap your mobile phone anywhere?  Here are a few simple applications:

  • Grab information on the spot.  Get ingredients and nutrition info, technical specs and instructions, or access product news and recommendations.
  • Location-dependent social networking.  Check-ins, as with Foursquare, or posting reviews, as on Yelp.
  • Direct user-to-user connection.  Share photos and files with your friends, or tap to join a multiplayer game.
Binary digits

courtesy grafixar/morguefile

Another Dimension

Many of the effects above can be duplicated by existing tools, like barcode scanners and tap-to-share.  But by using NFCs to create a consistent architecture for all of them, an entire “locative” ecosystem will spring up, allowing for even more novel applications.  Eventually, the future (urban) landscape will have a full-on parallel dimension: every location, object and display of interest in the real world will have a digital counterpart, perhaps even connected to the internet (à la the internet of things).

This parallel dimension will intersect with the real world in many ways:

  • Caches.  Imagine leaving advice for future hikers at the head of a mountain trail, or signing a virtual guestbook on your way out and leaving some photos.
  • Distributed information.  A grocery store could offer recipes with their vegetables, personalized deals near your favorite products, or allow you to check items off your virtual shopping list.
  • Seamless media interaction.  Imagine that passing through Times Square, you’re intrigued by a video display but don’t have time to stop.  Just tap to start streaming it on your phone, and take it with you onto the subway.
  • Private Communication.  Say, tap at an ATM to see your account balance, or tap at a bulletin board to leave a private message for a particular group or individual.

Whew, that’s enough wild speculation for one day.  What do you think – have I fallen off the deep end here, or is the digital world about to seep into the physical one in a major way?  And would that really be a good thing?  Take a stand in the comment section below.

2 thoughts on “Beneath the Surface, a Digital World Blooms

  1. Very cool! It raises the obvious question of theft of course. Someone could steal my phone and my bank account incredibly quickly!

    I especially like the grocery store idea. Imagine you’ve got some mushrooms left over in the fridge and want some quick ideas how to use them, WHILE you’re at the store. *TAP* A few recipe suggestions and you didn’t waste the produce!

    • True about the theft! Perhaps the phone could be PIN-locked in some way. And I’m with you, any technology that reduces mushy mushrooms has to be considered a good thing.

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