A recently-published patent application titled "Personal area network systems and devices and methods for use thereof " gives us clues as to how such a system would work. Small devices that don't have access to long-range communications protocols, like the iPod in your pocket or your wristwatch, could still be equipped with short-range protocols, like Bluetooth or WiFi. From there, they could be set up to communicate with devices that do have long-range protocols, like your mobile phone or a some other wireless network.
What would be the benefit to this? For one, the smaller, less-capable gadget could take advantage of the protocols built into the more-capable device(s) near you, allowing you to do things like get online or make phone calls. "For example, a user may place or take a telephone call using the host device by wirelessly communicating with the long-range communications device via the short-range communications protocol. Thus, an advantage of the invention is that the host device can serve as the interface for performing functions on both the host device and long distance communication device," writes Apple.
Apple points out that the user may keep a number of RF modules on his or her person already, or in the home. "This way, a user need not worry about having to carry a long-range communications device wherever he or she may go, as a RF module may be kept in locations frequently visited by the user." When that user moves around from one locale to another, the communications devices can connect to new modules in order to determine what's the best way to make that call or send that text message.
The other obvious benefit to the system is that all of your gadgets are now talking to each other and can interact in ways that we have only just begun to explore in the consumer space. One example that Apple provides is being able to sit down in your car and browse your contact list—stored on your phone—via the car's navigational controls without ever having to plug anything into anything else. You could also change songs on your iPod by fiddling with your wristwatch, or perform any number of other small tasks between devices depending on the functionality of each one—like, say, getting readings on your iPod about the abysmal condition of your running shoes. [via arstechnica]