Visionary ideas aid knowledge navigation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 March, 1993, 12:00am

FIVE years ago, Apple's chief executive Mr John Sculley put forward a vision of things to come; a five-minute video called the Knowledge Navigator. It simulated the possible working environment of the future.

A typical morning's work that involved reviewing schedules, making contact with colleagues, researching, retrieving and manipulating data from remote databases, printing, and even fielding phone messages, was all conducted in 21st century-style - without lifting a finger.

This was due to a slim electronic pad, The Knowledge Navigator, that acted as the desktop of the future.

The device was host to voice recognition and video-conferencing capabilities and even a personal animated ''assistant''.

That was Mr Scully's 1987 vision of the future. His Knowledge Navigator epitomised the perfect synthesis of computer and secretary; of a multi-function, intuitive and responsive electronic assistant.

The video was received by industry pundits with a mixture of awe and ridicule, it was considered too Californian; too much of a pipe dream, yet it was both revolutionary and challenging.

What has continued to surprise analysts about the video, is that it depicted a scenario that may not be that far around the corner.

The Knowledge Navigator may not arrive at your local computer shop for at least a decade, but the principles underlying it are clearly finding their way into the minds of designers.

Mr Scully's vision - then and now - of a convergence of computer, consumer electronic, communication and information industries, is an idea increasingly shared by and demanded by the modern consumer.

The modern consumer sees himself as more than a business person; he is often an ambassador for his company who needs to communicate text, data, voice, graphic and sometimes audio-visual information.

He is also a traveller wishing to contact personal and family friends; a busy individual who would appreciate a personal, portable and integrated means of communication. If it was available, he would buy the Knowledge Navigator.

The 1990s have brought us all closer to that vision. We are beginning to see the first generation of integrated portable communication devices. Portable computers that incorporate a combination of pagers, mobile phones, faxes and modems.

It is when these products are fully pen-based with wireless fax-modem and network capabilities that we can say the truly personal communication device has arrived.

Apple's PIE (Personal Interactive Electronics Division) has been developing this concept for a number of years.

Apple calls this new breed of product PDA's (personal digital assistants), and the core of this family of products is called the Newton technology.

The Newton communications architecture provides support of telephony, fax, paging, personal computer (PC) connectivity, and other wired and wireless communication options.

The Newton products are being touted as ideal devices for accessing and communicating digital information. It will include products aimed at several markets, including the corporate, professional and consumer sectors.

The ARM 610 RISC (reduced instruction-set computing) chip, which consumes less power than a small flashlight yet performs at the rate of a high-performance desktop system, will provide the processing power for Newton products.

The credit card-sized Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) technology has also been incorporated into the Newton family of products. This should provide add-on capabilities, like industry specific data, maps and directories.

According to Mr Gaston Bastiaens, Apple's vice-president and general manager of Apple's PIE division, the Newton products will benefit from several agreements signed over the past few months.

Motorola will provide a radio-based receiver to allow Newton to receive wireless messages.

Apple's partnership with Sharp will give Newton an edge in terms of miniaturisation and mass marketing.

We can anticipate the release of the first Newton product by the middle of this year at a cost of about US$1,000. Perhaps the desktop of the future may be closer than we thought.