By Theodore Forbath
FORTUNE -- We have entered a new age of embedded, intuitive computing in which our homes, cars, stores, farms, and factories have the ability to think, sense, understand, and respond to our needs. It's not science fiction, but the dawn of a new era.
Most people might not realize it yet, but we are already feeling the impact of what's known as the third wave of computing. In small but significant ways it is helping us live safer, healthier, and more secure lives. If you drive a 2014 Mercedes Benz, for example, an "intelligent" system endeavors to keep you from hitting a pedestrian. A farmer in Nigeria relies on weather sensors that communicate with his mobile device. Forgot your medication? A new pill bottle from AdhereTech reminds you via text or automated phone messages that it's time to take a pill.
Technology is being integrated into our natural behaviors, with real-time data connecting our physical and digital worlds. With this dramatic shift in our relationship to technology, companies can adapt their products and services.
We already see cities growing "smarter" by installing sensors to automate the management of parking spaces. To enhance urban security, acoustic sensors coupled with audio and GPS analytics "listen" to pinpoint the location of gunfire. Within 30 seconds, dispatchers can determine the number of shooters, the shots fired, and even the type of weapon used.
Consider health care. Wearable devices allow us to monitor our steps, our sleep patterns, and our calorie intake to ensure we are following doctors' orders and meeting our personal goals. Parents of newborns can try a diaper that has a humidity sensor that tweets when it's time for a change.
To understand how revolutionary the third wave is, we ought to consider how far we have come. The first wave began when companies started to manage their operations via mainframe computer systems over 50 years ago. Then computing got "personal" in the 1980s and '90s with the introduction of the PC. For the most part, computing remained immobile and lacked contextual awareness.
In computing's second wave, mobile computing and the smartphone took center stage. Billions of people, some who might not have had access to clean water, electricity, or even housing, were connected. Developers created apps and provided consumers with access to just about everything through their phone at the cost of a monthly data plan.
As the third wave gains momentum, designers must meet the demands of clients who want to experiment with new tech.
Historically, designers have focused their attention on a product's form and function. While that still matters, of course, the definition of a meaningful user experience has expanded significantly and will continue to do so. Instead of creating a single product, designers will need to imagine a suite of connected products and services that have awareness of each other and their surroundings.
Stake a claim now, we tell companies, in the space where digital and physical disappear, and products and services mimic and react to our natural behaviors.
Theodore Forbath is a vice president in charge of innovation strategy at frog design, a global product design and strategy firm.
With its core business in decline, wireless tech company Garmin tries to move into the dashboard.
By Erik Rhey, contributor
FORTUNE -- Remember KITT, the loquacious in-car computer on the television show Knight Rider? David Hasselhoff's digital friend has nothing on a new generation of dashboard "command centers," which combine smartphone docking stations with navigation systems once dominated by standalone GPS (global positioning system) products.
In response to this competition, Garmin (GRMN), the MOREMar 8, 2012 5:00 AM ET
A My Tracks user was given a ticket for driving over the speed limit. His Android phone disagreed. So did the judge.
Here's an interesting story of how an Android smartphone was able to help a man get out of a speeding ticket. Sahas Katta was driving through a 25 mph school zone when he was pulled over for speeding. The officer said he was going 40. He took the ticket MORESeth Weintraub - Feb 22, 2011 2:32 PM ET
Vodafone is selling its '845' Android phone for £70 ($108) with £10 top up included on a Pay-as-you-go plan.
It looks like we are entering into the age of the $100 Android smartphone. I talked a little bit about what this would mean for consumer adoption of smartphones last week. In short, many more people will be moving from featurephone to smartphone and carriers get to compete for tight budget handset buyers.
The MORESeth Weintraub - Dec 31, 2010 1:10 AM ET
Companies are experimenting with adding AR layers to real-world scenes. So far, it's not doing much to boost business.
By Kristina Grifantini, MIT Technology Review
While enjoying a game at Yankee Stadium, you take out your smart phone and point its camera at the field. If the resulting image on your screen shows a giant Quiznos toaster floating above the grass, does that make you more inclined to go get a MORENov 12, 2010 3:00 AM ET
Every day, the Fortune staff spends hours poring over tech stories, posts, and reviews from all over the Web to keep tabs on the companies that matter. We've assembled the day's most newsworthy bits below.
"For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field, we know that 7-inch tablets will actually be a big portion of the market, and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 20, 2010 7:08 AM ET
The mystery company helping GM's OnStar isn't a mystery anymore.
Google I/O is turning out to be a pretty interesting conference this year with GM now acknowledging the speculation that they are working with Google.
(I'll be dropping in at Google I/O and dropping posts on location tomorrow and Thursday).
Today, GM announced that they'd be showing up at Google I/O to demonstrate the new Android app that will accompany the Chevy Volt and MORESeth Weintraub - May 18, 2010 12:44 PM ET
Also, Google notes that they will start offering an encrypted version of Google Search starting next week.
Alan Eustace, Senior VP, Engineering & Research, posted some bad news for privacy advocates today on Google's Official Blog.
Those cars (right) that go around collecting images for street view use local Wifi hotspots to help map the world. It turns out that they've also been collecting and storing data from those MORESeth Weintraub - May 15, 2010 8:15 PM ET
Much ballyhooed satellite navigation system suffers technical setbacks and paucity of devices. Who will guide Father Frost?
By Julia Ioffe, contributor
Late last month Moscow celebrated the birthday of Father Frost, the Russian iteration of Santa Claus, with a new-fangled announcement: Father Frost's retinue would move through the holiday skies aided by Glonass, the Russian answer to GPS.
Eagerly waiting children could track his movement online, while he could simultaneously improve his gift-giving MOREDec 1, 2009 11:08 AM ET
New software transforms your phone into a GPS device – and a pretty good one, too
As my wife will tell you, I have a comically bad sense of direction. I once got lost driving home from the mall.
This makes me a prime candidate for a GPS device. I've used a few for brief stints, mostly on long road trips, but never got into the habit of using one for everyday errands. MOREJon Fortt - Oct 30, 2009 7:00 AM ET
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