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Context Aware Computing Explained

        posted by , November 23, 2011

Chances are you've used several context aware applications today. In fact, you might have used a context aware search engine such as Google to find this article.

What is it?

Old school applications behaved the same way every time you used them. Context Aware applications change their behavior based on information about your situation:

Who are you?

Where are you?

What are you doing?


It's as simple as that.

Location Example

Let's say your walking down the street in Tokyo and you search for sushi. A context aware search engine can use your location and include nearby sushi restaurants in results.

User Profile Example

Let's say that you don't speak a word of Japanese. When you search for sushi in Tokyo — you're really looking for a restaurant that has an English menu.

A context aware search engine might use your user profile to recommend nearby restaurants with English menus.

Activity Example

Let's say your living in Tokyo and studying to be a sushi chef. One day you're in class and you search for sushi on your tablet device. The last thing you want to see is a list of nearby sushi restaurants.

A context aware search engine might understand your current activity — participating in a sushi chef class. The search engine could then provide more suitable results.

Business Applications

Context aware computing isn't just about search engines. The business applications are endless:

Improvement of operational processes

Marketing and advertising

Product development and research

Building brand loyalty and customer relationships

Decision support (e.g. analytics)


Context Aware Technology

Context aware applications require contextual data. This can come from many sources:

GPS location data from mobile devices

Geographic information systems

User profiling (i.e. tracking user behavior over time)

User input

Business data

Third party information services (user and business data)


All this data must be combined to determine a meaningful context for the application. Determination of a context can involve complex algorithms.

Contextual data can be big. Contextual applications may deal with petabytes of data.

Potential Legal Issues

Context aware applications often use a great deal of information about you. In many cases it's still unclear how privacy laws will be applied to context aware applications.

context aware computing

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