hacking

BagoGames/Flickr

The rise of context-aware apps is slowly changing how we use portable devices. What does this mean for the future of mobile technology?

Siri, write this article. Siri? Are you there? Fine, I don’t need you anyway.

Although Apple’s automated, voice-activated software is not yet capable of executing such a broad command, the day may soon come when that changes. Programs like Siri and Google Now self-update based on location, search history, and, in some cases, even more specific things like available light.

The use for this information varies from app to app, but this type of technology is ideally streamlining operations and making user experience more enjoyable. Google Now will automatically inform you of restaurants that are nearby, update the weather whenever you switch neighborhoods, and sync the Maps and Calendar app so you know what time you have to leave to get to work on time.

At their best, these programs are efficient and useful, and a new report from Juniper Research predicts that in the next five years, [tweetable alt=”The number of #contextaware #apps in use will jump from 2.8 billion to 7 billion in the next 5 years, says @juniperresearch” hashtag=””]the number of context-aware apps in use will jump from 2.8bn to 7bn[/tweetable]

Gerwin Sturm/Flickr

Gerwin Sturm/Flickr

Streamline Your Life

The potential impact such growth in context-aware apps could have on daily life is massive. One of the most interesting of Apple’s ongoing projects is iBeacon, available on iOS7 and later versions.

Most location services use longitude and latitude to work out an exact geographical coordinate, but iBeacon creates a point on the map, relative to which a phone recognizes its proximity. While originally created for retailers, it has since been adapted by creative developers for various tasks.

One such team of developers created Launch Here (formerly Placed). Launch Here reacts to iBeacons in the home, and brings up a shortcut to the app you’ve associated with it on the lock screen, such as a remote control with your TV, or a grocery list with your fridge. This perfectly embodies the great ideas behind context-aware technology–simplify user experience and allow them to customize it the way that works best for them.

Secure Your Life

There are, of course, still concerns. As cited in the Juniper report, the most prominent fear people have are concerns about privacy, and such scruples are not without merit.

While in theory, context-awareness exists almost entirely for the convenience of the consumer, the reality of the situation is that by running one of these apps you allow your smart device to collect a large amount of data about your personal life and habits. Many critics argue the importance of being able to choose to opt in and manually enable the continuous collection of their activity.

The future of this technology rests almost entirely in the hands of the public’s changing opinions regarding privacy and it’s importance when compared with convenience.

With so many cyber crimes and cases of online harassment figuring prominently in recent news–most notably the recent penetration of Apple’s iCloud and consequent illegal sharing of female celebrities’ nude photos–people are less trusting of apps that request access to private information.

This viewpoint came to the forefront when many people called for a boycott of the new Facebook Messenger app because of the access to user information it required. Its permissions were nothing out of the ordinary, as Softonic notes, [tweetable alt=”Users worried about invasive behaviors of the new @facebook #app, though @Softonic says its premissions are normal” hashtag=””]but people remained unenthusiastic about it because they are worried about invasive behaviors in a general sense.[/tweetable]

Facebook’s current iteration of Messenger may not be unusual, but if context-aware apps grow as projected, they may find themselves in new territory that will spark renewed debate.

Ultimately, the question is whether these handy tools pose a looming threat to our personal accounts and information, and whether the public is willing to sacrifice their security for the potential benefits. It will be interesting to see what these apps have in store for us.

The future is ripe with opportunities for newcomers to strike that elusive balance between access and privacy, and Infinite Monkeys has the tools to help you make an app that achieves it.