Context awareness is the ability of computing devices to sense and react to their environment. A straightforward example would be how your mobile phone changes its screen orientation depending on where you tilt it. It automatically switches from portrait (taller than broader screen) to landscape (wider than taller screen) orientation if you turn the device 90 degrees to the left or right.
A more complex example would be how your mobile phone adjusts the current time and date depending on your location. If you travel from Malaysia to the U.S., for example, the time and date shown instantly change when you turn it back on once the plane lands.
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Computing devices have several built-in context awareness features that aim to improve user experience. We named a few of these features below.
What Are Common Context Awareness Features?
Context awareness is typically expected from mobile devices since their owners rely on them wherever they may be. Apart from screen orientation and date and time adjustment, here are a few other popular context awareness features.
- Location: Apart from automatically adjusting the time and date displayed on your mobile device when you move from one time zone to another, it also changes the data on your map application. Each time you turn on a map app, your device immediately senses where you are, giving you the right directions to wherever you want to go.
- Weather: Your mobile device also instantly gives you weather forecasts meant for your current location, allowing you to adjust your wardrobe or plans.
- Text spelling: Today’s computers and mobile devices also predict what you’re typing and suggest the next words or phrases, speeding up the process. All that’s left is for you to choose among the suggestions and get the responses.
- Health statistics: Smartwatches and fitness bands have built-in sensors that track your heart rate, number of steps, and more, telling you if you need to move or take a break.
- Environmental state: Internet of Things (IoT) devices used for farming, for instance, alert you when it’s time to water your crops and so on, allowing you to optimize yields.
There are a lot more, of course. Any feature that relies on sensors and triggers to make recommendations for the next steps is connected to context awareness.
How Does Context Awareness Work?
Context awareness involves three steps—data inflow, interpretation, and action.
First, your device gathers information about your environment using its built-in sensors. A smart car, for instance, senses nearby obstructions (other vehicles, roadblocks, etc.) in its path. It then identifies these objects using a database that tells it what options are available for you. If you’re too near to the vehicle on your left, your car will advise you to move a little to the right. You then take action, so you don’t bump into the other vehicle.
What Are Popular Context Awareness Applications?
Context awareness is applied to various industries, including:
- Social or situational awareness: Context awareness can help individuals work and collaborate more efficiently with one another. An example would be software that can collect contextual information (e.g., location, video feeds, and status) from users. Chat apps like Facebook Messenger, for instance, tell your contacts if you’re online or not via your status. A green dot on your profile pic tells them you’re available.
- Healthcare: Context-aware solutions can eliminate unnecessary manual interactions for busy medical professionals. Instead of returning to the nurses’ station for updates, doctors on their rounds can just use their smartphones to automatically:
- Obtain up-to-date patient data
- Record patient observations
- Issue prescriptions and remind patients about upcoming tests and checkups
- Industrial production: Context awareness lets production line staff communicate with production control for immediate feedback, such as identifying parts that need to be manufactured first because they’re currently out of stock and how many need to be produced to satisfy the demand.
- Museum tour guidance: The Tate Modern Museum in London uses multimedia mobile devices to serve as guests’ tour guides. These context-aware devices use the user’s current location, interactions, and graphs of connected objects to customize the information presented to him or her. In some instances, the devices can even point the user to artifacts or exhibits he or she may likely be interested in based on his or her previous interactions.
As you’ve seen, context awareness has been making yesterday’s mobile devices smarter than ever. It satisfies our need for personalization.