the next version of Apple's iOS includes a unique option in the settings to turn on push notifications for earthquakes. This is probably just the beginning of a paradigm that could spread to other places and other functions where real-time push is a valuable utility - many use cases we can't yet imagine until multiple intersecting systems of technology evolve further.We've written many times about modern mobile phones acting as a network of sensors to detect what's going on around their users - but what if those same phones were set to watch existing networks of more traditional real-world sensors? That's what's happening in Japan, where
Japan struggles with earthquakes as much as any country on earth and has an extensive network of sophisticated seismological sensors distributed around the country to try to detect big ones on the way. With the push of a slider (screenshot below), iOS5 users in Japan will be able to receive push notifications from those government sensors automatically (though probably via the mobile carriers). This could be what the future looks like, at least in part.
Push notifications have expanded from Blackberries to iPhones to Android phones and beyond. OS X Lion offers a new push notification API for desktop apps as well. The ability for background apps on any platform to come to the fore at important times is a paradigm shift towards more sophisticated, more capable computing - potentially in use scenarios we can't even imagine yet.
The earthquake alerts in the Japanese version of iOS5 is "a natural extension of notifications," says Scott Kveton, CEO of Urban Airship, a leading provider of push notifications and analytics as a service and in-app sales infrastructure. "The fact that Apple is doing it at the OS layer is just plain cool and forward looking," Kveton says.
"We see this today with SMS, but network limitations make it hard to send the most effective notifications. SMS gets you reach but push notifications could drive you to a page that shows evacuation routes from your current location, etc. It's part of the inevitable shift to smartphones and the impact that's going to have on everything we do."
Rich, location-aware, real-time mobile push notifications when sensor networks detect activity that crosses a certain threshold could be offered in all kinds of settings: when traffic down the road gets jammed, when weather alerts are available, etc.
65% of kids in grade-school today may grow up to do work that hasn't been invented yet, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition's director said this Summer. In other words - there could be lots of uses cases in the future for sensors plus push notifications that we can't even imagine yet. Baked into the OS and built on real-time public data? Why not?