As one of the top emerging technologies at CES 2014, contextual computing is about to make an impact. So what is contextual computing and how can it benefit you?
Contextual computing – it’s so new that you may not have even heard of it. But as one of the top emerging technologies, along with the likes of wearables and big data, many experts are predicting that consumers will be happily opting for this user-friendly and efficient technology in the years ahead.
So what exactly is contextual computing and how can it benefit you?
Contextual computing refers to a computer’s ability to change its available options depending on the context of a user’s actions.
TechRepublic global editor in chief Jason Hiner coined the term in his pre-CES predictions, but it's also been referred to as 'predictive computing' or 'adaptive computing'. As Hiner explains, contextual or predictive computing, "takes your history and your preferences and your location and triangulates it to present information to you right as you need it, or even before you realise you might need or want it."
Pretty cool huh?
One of the first laptops to feature this exciting new technology is the ThinkPad X1 Carbon with its Adaptive Keyboard. While upon first inspection the ThinkPad X1 Carbon looks like a regular Ultrabook, you’ll see that instead of the usual row of function keys, it features a row of illuminated virtual keys instead.
These keys can “rotate” through four different function rows to expose the right utilities for the user, depending on which programs are opened. For example, if you’re using Skype, the Adaptive Keyboard will rotate to a control of the speaker, microphone and camera for easy access. Conversely, if you were to open Internet Explorer, it would expose web-browsing controls such as the back and forward keys, reload, home and new tab keys.
To see contextual computing in action, check out thisvideo.
As Lenovo executive Tom Butler says, the point of the new adaptive technology is to “focus on more of a natural user interface or interaction with the device so it’s presenting out the right utilities, the right tools for you based on what you do at that time.” A user can also manually toggle through the four different function rows by pressing a button, effectively overriding the keyboard’s functionality.
In addition to the Adaptive Keyboard, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon also has built-in software technology that sits on top of Windows 8 that can allow you to use certain features of the laptop in completely new ways. For example, you can turn on ‘camera gestures’ that will allow you to control your music simply by waving your hand in front of the camera, eliminating the need to reach for your volume control, fast-forward, etc. keys.
While still relatively new, the time savings, convenience and efficiency presented by contextual computing is bound to radically change the way people interact with their laptops and other devices – so expect to hear a lot more about contextual computing in 2014 and well into the future.