Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Seamlessly copying data between adjacent machines

This morning on the train I wanted to work on a document that was in a draft email that I could access from Google by 3G on my Android phone. But I wanted to work on the document on my laptop, which doesn't have 3G.

After my 25 minutes journey was done, I still hadn't solved the problem - how do I easily and reliably move data from the device in my hand to the one six inches below it?

Even the fact that I had to think about all the ways means it's just not something you do in any instinctive way.

I'm not asking for answers, by the way, I know about all the options (Bluetooth, hotspot, tethering). It's their reliability and ease of use that's part of the problem.

On the way back, there was a massive video advert in Waterloo station for the Audi car company. It said (I think; I was rushing past) "Number of Audi drivers in the station: 4567", and it was slowly incrementing. I presumed that they made that up - it seemed high - or used Twitter or something.

Then I thought, well, it'd be fun to offer iPhone-using Audi drivers an app which could be a beacon saying: "I'm an Audi driver!". Then if they were told to walk past the advert, well, you get the idea.

These two incidents got me thinking about commodity technologies for easy and reliable proximal data exchange.

And it's really still too hard to seamlessly move data between machines and devices that are right next to each other!

In our workplace, faced with the need to get a file from one PC to the one next to it, even techies have been known to send the data across the Atlantic via the US, because it's easier to email it thousands of miles than figure out a direct route of three feet.


I've listed some commodity wireless technologies already: Bluetooth, Wifi and Mobile data. You could add QR codes, NFC and RFID to those, of course, but they are still less common.

Now I've got a low tolerance for poor usability, but surely everyone hesitates before considering the buggy and unreliable, and cognitively complex Bluetooth approach. I can't even think how I'd do it, to be honest. I know it involves some kind of "pairing", and lots of failed transfers.

Wifi requires you to be logged in to a network with complex passcodes, and even then you'll probably need to play with IP numbers to do local file transfer.

Mobile data is not always available, is slow and unreliable when it is, and requires some or other proprietary intermediary.


So, back to the Audi example: what if it was as easy as (a) being near and (b) setting the intent to share something, anything?

I should be able to pull up the draft email I had on my phone, hit "Copy to adjacent device .." and enter a 3-digit number (to prevent others being able to see it casually; say only one transfer is possible and it times out after a minute, to make it even more secure).

Now if I hit "Look for local data" or something on the other machine (laptop), I just need to enter the 3-digit number and it's there in seconds.

Similarly: PC #1: right click on file "Copy to adjacent device .. ". 3-digit number. PC #2 "Look for local data". 3-digit number. It's there.

The 3-digit number would be all you needed to confirm the particular transfer, perhaps when others were active around you, you wouldn't need to see or choose the filename being offered or anything.

I should be able to pull up a photo of myself that I use in public, or enter details into a profile document - including the car I drive - the hit "Publish to adjacent devices ..". No 3-digit number this time, of course. The peer device will "Look for local data" and suck it all in, then filter out the interesting stuff to stick up onto that 12-foot screen.

That should be built into every single smart device we use.

We could implement it in BT 4, WiFi Direct, whatever. It just needs to always be there, always work, and be that simple.

No comments:

Post a Comment