Definition

contextual computing

Contributor(s): Colin Steele

Contextual computing, also called context-aware computing, is the use of software and hardware to automatically collect and analyze data about a device's surroundings in order to present relevant, actionable information to the end user.

Today, PCs, smartphones and tablets offer some contextual computing capabilities. Wearable computing devices such as Google Glass smart glasses can further the experience, providing the end user with an augmented reality experience or contextual marketing messages. Contextual computing relies on stored data about the user's preferences and previous actions as well as data gathered in real time, such as the time of day or the device's location. Web browsers, cameras, microphones and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers and sensors are all potential sources of data for context-aware computing.

Although the concept of contextual computing has been around for decades, the technology still faces two major challenges: it can be difficult to federate data that has been gathered from multiple sources and it can be difficult to convince end users to sacrifice privacy in exchange for a more contextually-aware user experience (UX)).

This was last updated in January 2014

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