These apps look at your calendar appointments and suggest when you should leave to make to them on time (which Apple's forthcoming OS X Mavericks and iOS 7 will do as well, according to Apple's public previews). They work great when you're driving somewhere, but they can't handle local traffic in an office or academic campus: If you have a meeting in one building from 10 to 11 and the next meeting is two buildings over from 11 to 12, these travel-time prediction engines can't figure out when you should leave. But make no mistake: The capability will come eventually.
The promise of contextual computing is so much more than getting you to your appointments on time. It is the Holy Grail of having your Girl Friday, who anticipates every need and whim you will have before you even have them.
You wake up in the morning, and as you get up, today's weather is displayed next to your schedule, so you can figure out what to wear. You're running a little early but the car has less than a half a tank of gas, so your navigation system directs you to a gas station with the best price that is on your way into work. You sit down at work and start a proposal, and the Word doc that you began yesterday opens up and is ready for you to use. You step into a meeting and your minor alerts are automatically silenced, but yet when your wife calls with an emergency it rings straight through. In the middle of the meeting, you get a lunch request from one of your mates, and since you are both free at the same time, it automatically sets the calendar appointment for that time.
Contextual computing isn't limited to your smartphone or tablet; it extends to all the other items you use in your daily life. It works with the health bracelet you've been wearing to remind you to get up when you've been sitting too long or to grab some water from the cooler because you're starting to get dehydrated. Because you have your daughter's football game on your calendar, it checks the batteries in the camera to make sure they're charged and there's enough space on the memory card (it learned from previous games that you usually take 200 photos per game), so you don't run out during the game, and it moves older pictures to your online storage to make room.
Contextual computing isn't new, but it hasn't been all connected before. Those connections are now happening.
A version of this article, "If you think phones, tablets, and computers are smart now, just wait," originally appeared at A Screw's Loose and is republished at InfoWorld.com with permission (© Brian Katz). Read more of Brian Katz's The Squeaky Wheel blog at InfoWorld.com or at A Screw's Loose. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.