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Quick and easy access to services through physical browsing


Physical browsing is a new method for providing direct access to services without the use of complicated menus or inputting long addresses; all the user needs to do is touch an object with a mobile terminal (such as a mobile phone) or point the terminal at the object. A child can call ‘Granny’ by pointing a mobile phone at the grandmother’s photo; a teenager can order a new ringing tone by placing the phone on the tone in a newspaper advertisement; a door can be opened by touching it with a mobile phone. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a technology that enables physical browsing, has as well studied the usability and the opportunities the technology offers.

Physical browsing is based on the use of identifiers, or tags, and mobile communicators. Together, tags and the readers installed in mobile communicators make it possible to produce and use novel kinds of information related to objects and ambient space. They transform our physical environment into a website, whose links provide access to electronic information or services related to our environment. Physical browsing is an easy and agreeable way to employ IT applications irrespective of time and place. With the ‘point, touch’ method, the opening of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) pages is significantly (up to two or three times) faster than entering the WAP address manually.

The tags may be optical, such as bar codes used in commerce, or more advanced matrix codes, which can be read with a camera phone, for example. Infrared links may also be used to transfer tag information. RFID tags based on radio frequencies, and high-frequency remote tags are a rapidly growing field. Current research subjects include remote sensors, which not only provide measurable information about the object but also enable new kinds of interfaces. Near Field Communication (NFC), short-range touch-free communication technology based on radio frequencies, will also be applied in mobile phones in the future. All these technologies may also be used to open device-to-device connections, continuing the communication through Bluetooth or WLAN network, for example.

The new technology will benefit consumers as well as device manufacturers, operators and companies. The first devices based on physical browsing are already on the market. They are expected to gain popularity over the next few years and be widely used by 2010.

Heikki Ailisto, Research Profess | alfa
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