Device Symbiosis       


 Chandrasekhar (Chandra) Narayanaswami photo

Device Symbiosis - overview

Device Symbiosis 2003-2008

To predict the future of mobile devices, we borrow some ideas and models from biology and look at our current computational environment as a jungle where multiple device types compete for market survival. As in nature, the fittest devices rapidly increase their presence and succeed. In this jungle, success is measured by how useful humans perceive a device to be. In nature, organisms pursue many different survival strategies, but we explore one survival mechanism that biological organisms use: symbiosis. Initially defined by Anton de Bary in 1879, symbiosis describes a mutually beneficial relationship between dissimilar organisms.1 Normally, we can distinguish three types of symbiotic relationships:

• mutualism, in which all organisms benefit from their relationship to each other;

• commensalism, in which one organism benefits with minimal cost or benefit to the others; and

• parasitism, in which the benefits that one organism achieves come at a cost to all others.

Common usage applies the term to just commensalism, even though researchers understand symbiosis to refer to the entire continuum.

Mobile devices offer several advantages, namely, they are more likely to be with the user, offer a private display, and are personal devices. Compared to stationary devices, their shortcomings include limitations in user interfaces (small displays and speakers, difficult data input mechanisms), limited computational capability and software applications, fewer peripherals, small amount of energy available in the device, lower network bandwidth, and the risk of loss of the device. Stationary devices on the other hand have better interfaces (large displays, speakers, full keyboards, etc.), more powerful processors, are typically connected to electrical power outlets, and can be shared among several users. Shortcomings of stationary devices include lack of personalization, need for protocols to access and share the device, lack of mobility, not always being available to the user, etc.

Symbiosis between mobile and stationary devices can benefit the user. For example, a user may be notified of an email with subject and summary on a mobile device. The user can then comfortably read the email along with attachments on a large display and simultaneously save power on his mobile device. The user may listen to music on a portable MP3 player with a headset while on the move and may switch to high fidelity sound system when at home. Stationary devices may include software transcoders, filters, etc., which the mobile device can leverage when it does not have the appropriate software to render a particular type of content. SoulPad is an example that leverages the CPU, memory, display, peripherals of the environmental device.

More information about the different forms of symbiosis are available from the links on the top and in the following publication

Fostering a Symbiotic Handheld Environment, Mandayam Raghunath, Chandra Narayanaswami, Claudio Pinhanez, IEEE Computer, Sept 2003, pp. 55-65. [Authors ordered by coin toss.]