Gearheads and Gizmos
Jul 1, 2002 12:00 PM, NATHANIEL HECHT
MY FIRST EXPOSURE TO A BUSINESS-RELATED WIRELESS DEVICE WAS WHEN my dad brought home a first-generation pager one day. Being a physician and a gadget freak, my dad often indulged his love of electronic gizmos. The pager was all business, a clunky silver metal device with a big belt clip that was so loud that it scared the neighbors and was downright embarrassing when it would go off in quiet places such as houses of worship. This first-generation model was replaced within a couple of years with a smaller, dark-textured plastic model with an added vibration feature to avoid having your heart skip a beat at those quiet moments. When my dad misplaced this new model — set on vibrate mode — it made for another hair-raising experience. A strange sound like a bellowing bullfrog could be heard all over the house, which proved to be the thing going off on the glass top of the end table next to the bed. That allowed us to locate the lost device, and it served as a good lesson in vibrational translation.
When wondering about the future of wiring, I can't help but think about wireless applications. Take a look at the average business person, and you'll notice the array of gizmos they use on a daily basis: cell phones, wireless headsets, pagers and digital organizers, all of which allow them to remain connected. These devices are here to stay, but what form will they take in the future? According to a J.D. Power and Associates study from September 2001, 52 percent of U.S. households in the 25 largest urban markets have at least one cell phone, and in some areas of Europe that number is more than 75 percent. On the digital organizer front, worldwide sales have been estimated at 12 million units in just the past year.
How will this seemingly pedestrian consumer technology affect us in the professional sound and video contracting industry? As more of the devices are used, they will ultimately fall into regular use in both business and home technology applications. I'm not the first person to say this; folks like Bill Gates come to mind. The first generation of digital organizers married to cellular telephones has already appeared, and many new gizmos in prototype support those claims. One example is the new Handspring Treo, which provides voice communications, e-mail and instant messaging in one device. As the devices increase in power and become easier to use, it seems likely that they will become the number crunchers, system controllers and remote touch screen interfaces for everything from corporate boardrooms to concert sound systems. The $64,000 question is the available spectrum. How much space will be available so that a large number of the devices can work without stepping on each other? That problem will probably be solved by creative data compression schemes combined with digital encoding and decoding, or maybe even a standardized “device-net” similar to what the cellular industry uses. Only the future will tell what new technologies will advance to meet the demand, but in the meantime, wire is certainly not going anywhere. For many applications, it will never be completely replaced.