In general terms, an information appliance or information device is any machine or device that is usable for the purposes of computing, telecommunicating, reproducing, and presenting encoded information in myriad forms and applications. The common technical usage of "information appliance" (IA) is more specific — i.e., an appliance that is specially designed to perform a specific user-friendly function —such as playing music, photography, or editing text.
Typical examples are smartphones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Information appliances partially overlap in definition with, or are sometimes referred to as smart devices, embedded systems, mobile devices or wireless devices.
Appliance vs computer
The term information appliance was coined by Jef Raskin around 1979. As later explained by Donald Norman in his influential The Invisible Computer, the main characteristics of IA, as opposed to any normal computer, were:
- designed and pre-configured for a single application (like a toaster appliance, which is designed only to make toast),
- so easy to use for untrained people, that it effectively becomes unnoticeable, "invisible" to them,
- able to automatically share information with any other IAs.
This definition of IA was different from today's. Jef Raskin initially tried to include such features in the Apple Macintosh, which he designed, but eventually the project went a quite different way. For a short while during the mid- and late 1980s, there were a few models of simple electronic typewriters with screens and some form of memory storage. These dedicated word processor machines had some of the attributes of an information appliance, and Raskin designed one of them, the Canon Cat. He described some properties of his definition of information appliance in his book The Humane Interface.
Walled gardens versus open standards
In an ideal world, any true information appliance would be able to communicate with any other information appliance using open standard protocols and technologies, regardless of the maker of the software or the hardware. The communications aspects and all user interface elements would be designed together so that a user could switch seamlessly from one information appliance to another.
Some vendors are attempting to create "walled gardens" of closed proprietary content for information appliances, leveraging existing proprietary technologies. However, with the exception of NTT DoCoMo's i-mode and Apple's App Store, these efforts have been less successful than predicted, due to the willingness of most vendors to work together within open standards frameworks, and the pre-existing widespread adoption of open standards such as GSM, IP, SMS and SMTP.
- Computer appliance
- Embedded system
- Internet appliance
- Mobile web
- Technological convergence
- Ubiquitous computing
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- Benyon, David; Turner, Phil; Turner, Susan. Designing Interactive Systems: People, Activities, Contexts, Technologies. Addison Wesley Publishing Company. p. 18. ISBN 0-321-11629-1. Retrieved 2008-05-06.
- Bergman, Eric. Information Appliances and Beyond (Interactive Technologies). Morgan Kaufmann. pp. 2–3. ISBN 1-55860-600-9. Retrieved 2008-05-06.
- Allan, Roy (2001). A history of the personal computer: the people and the technology. London, Ont.: Allan Pub. p. 49. ISBN 0-9689108-0-7. Retrieved 2008-05-06.
- Norman, Donald A. (1998). The invisible computer: why good products can fail, the personal computer is so complex, and information appliances are the solution. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-64041-4.
- Walters, E. Garrison (2001). The essential guide to computing. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall PTR. p. 13. ISBN 0-13-019469-7. Retrieved 2008-05-06.
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