Lord of the Rings (cont.)

The iButtons bear more than a passing resemblance to watch batteries, and they also use the same single-contact design. “Signal, power, address, and data . . . all of these work over a single wire,” added Bolan, “with 25,000 volt electrostatic discharge protection.”

The future of iButtons really took off when Dallas Semi decided to license Java, specifically for its JavaCard technology. While, as its name implies, this was designed for so-called Smart Cards, there was no reason that intelligent buttons couldn’t be used as well. A crash program led to the first chip rolling off the assembly line just seven months later: a chip that ran a Java applet on its first try.

That was a scant 7 weeks ago, and since then, Java-enabled iButtons have been made into rings, Fossil watch bands, money clips, and key fobs. The decision was made to give thousands of Java Rings to an audience that could not only appreciate the technology, but hopefully do something with it too–the attendees at JavaOne, each a professional software developer looking to write the next “killer app” for the Internet. After all, “a conference is a digital roaming network that is constantly redistributed,” said Bolan.

This strategy has clearly worked. I haven’t personally developed software in quite a while, but I instantly came up with half a dozen ideas for applets that could be put to good use on Web sites, and even a way of hooking the Blue Dot receptor to my PalmPilot for easy examination, editing, and logging of changes to the Java Ring’s contents. I was told about one fellow who downloaded the development kit in New York the other day and had a working application by the time his plane landed in San Francisco.

While obvious applications include identification, secure access, storage of sensitive data, and even digital photos, Bolan knows there will be plenty of new ideas that nobody’s even thought of yet. That’s why the ability to update not only the data, but the programs contained within is so important. Heck, the network’s not the computer anymore, the ring’s the computer now.

And therein lies the appeal of the iButton and the Java Ring. It’s something that’s so much more intimate than any card, even a smart card. It’s with you all the time, and sits there reminding you of its power. When I typed in my badge number at a workstation, touched my Java Ring to the dot, and saw my contact information downloaded into the ring, I was hooked.

If you happen to be a Java developer, it’s going to be really difficult to resist the temptation to write a little applet that anyone else wearing this ring might find useful. And there are a lot of things that a Java-based computer can do. Especially one that’s constantly at your fingertips.


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