IBM unveiled yesterday details of how its Universal Client will help consumer devices connect to the Internet and perform general computing tasks.
Lots of different devices such as portable phones, smart phones, handheld computers, television set-top boxes and PDAs are being developed to connect to the Internet.
As the majority of these new devices will be manufactured by consumer electronics companies, compatibility problems will occur as consumer products are not standardised in the same way as PCs. The companies instead rely on innovate features to differentiate their products from their competitors'.
The challenge, as IBM sees it, is for these products to behave in a universal way despite differences in operating systems, interfaces and core uses. It will not manufacture any of the devices but will instead ?work with partners and within consortiums to embed software and components into the new devices,? said Tony Occleshaw, software strategist for IBM Software. By being involved in "pervasive computing" at the component level, IBM aims to supply small, low-cost components in lots of these Internet-enabled devices.
The Universal Client will have what Occleshaw described as "practical standards" so the devices are compatible but retain individuality. IBM has developed a "transcoding proxy" to act as an intermediary between Web servers and a wide range of devices. The technology will allow applications written for a PC as the end client to be read by non-PC devices. It transcodes or changes the Web content to best fit the resolution, colour depth and size constraints of various non-PC devices. This way the developer only has to write the application once for it to be used on lots of different devices.
IBM has been working with Japanese mobile phone manufacturers in Japan to build a range of Web phones. Available now in Japan, the phones have email, diary and browser capabilities.
IBM has formed Bluetooth, an industry alliance with Ericsson, Nokia and Toshiba to create a chip allowing laptops, mobile phones, PDAs and printers to communicate with each other without the need for compatible networks, serial ports and cables.
While 70 million PCs were shipped in 1997, 100 million cellular phones were sold. With 55 million vehicles being built every year IBM found the temptation to get involved too strong to resist and is working with Mercedes Benz to produce a Web-enabled car.
Last year there were three times as many cable TV subscribers as home PC owners and with set-top boxes currently at $99, the entry-level cost of getting connected is constantly falling. ?It is no longer restricted to the privileged classes,? said Occleshaw.
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