A device to replace your phone (musings)

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I was reading a comment by a poster on another tech site, and they made a comment about phone design that got me thinking. The gist was that phones are kind of like pistols… their entire design is an exercise in extreme compromise in order to achieve portability. Pistols are total crap compared to rifles even if they use the same cartridge, but we put up with them because they’re convenient. Same thing with phones… we tolerate the small screen because we have to for portability, not because it’s some grand virtue of enlightened design.

They went to discuss folding screen technology, comparing and contrasting the Galaxy Fold with Surface Duo. Fine, we can have that discussion. But that’s still a compromise… even with the folding screen and all its associated engineering issues, that’s still a pretty little screen. So what if you wanted to stop making that screen-size compromise while maintaining portability? What would that look like?

I’m thinking it would look like AR glasses. Stop, stop, don’t hit the back button, hear me out. We know from Hololens and other AR technologies that you can achieve fairly decent-sized virtual displays when the projector is close to your eyes but the utility of such a thing has so far been limited because frankly, the UI is terrible for anything with significant bandwidth. Hand/finger tracking is great, but it’s not good enough, and I don’t believe that it will be for years, if ever. Why do we never see demos of HMD products where the user has a bluetooth mouse and keyboard? Seriously.

Think about it. We heard endless complaints about the mailslot in the original version of Hololens, but step back and think… even if you are using two 24″ monitors side by side for productivity, doesn’t that look like a mailslot to you? What if you had a pair of smart glasses that could do no more than overlay two 1080p screens as if they were 24″ displays viewed from normal distance? That’s not immersive, but that’s not really the idea. Now add some hand/finger tracking for phone-like interactions (let’ say this device runs Android) when out and about (perhaps you use a Swype keyboard in the air, on an arbitrary surface, or on the palm of your other hand if you don’t like voice for composition – I don’t, personally). And then when you need to be productive, you pullout a keyboard and bluetooth mouse, or bluetooth keyboard with built-in trackpad if you’re a real sucker for punishment.  

I’m not talking about a transformative computing experience here, simply a way to get around the main compromise of the smartphone. Thoughts? What problems do you see?

Comments (17)

17 responses to “A device to replace your phone (musings)”

  1. Avatar

    simard57

    things evolve and we rarely see where they are going but it is sometimes amusing to see where we came from. in another generation or two will we look back at today mystified by all the attention we paid to small screens in a handheld. Also the future may be stumped how that worked much like the teens in this great video.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OADXNGnJok


  2. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    Tablets and PCs aren't rifles to phones pistols?

    Historically, pistols were the first firearms not to require manual and rather laborious reloading after every single shot. In close quarters, an officer with a 6-round revolver could fire 6 shots in less time than it'd take a private to fire 2 shots with a breach-loading musket. Point: it wasn't just convenience, historically speaking. Also intruding more history, WWI officers only carried pistols. WWII officers from battalion commanders down carried carbines or submachineguns, at least in the US Army. Point: at some point, convenience be damned.

    Ever seen the movie The Saint with Val Kilmer? If not, do so.

    • Avatar

      Daekar

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      I love that movie... still so cool all these years later. I love how mysterious they made the technology. Gotta dig the laptop from the "spider and fly" scene that gets shot up.


      And yes, I think you're exactly right, tablets and PCs are the rifles, phones are the pistols. The idea, ultimately, is to get as much PC in your phone as possible, and the primary interface is the screen so that's the logical place to start.

  3. Avatar

    Lordbaal

    AR and VR will never replace phones.

  4. Avatar

    waethorn

    Why not just buy a [dumb]phone instead of these pocket money-counter spy machines for Big Tech?


    Use a real computer to do computing.

    • Avatar

      Daekar

      In reply to Waethorn:

      Because the definition of "real computer" keeps shifting, and will continue to do so. And because I hate laptops, the screens are so freaking tiny. To me, this device could be a laptop replacement when used with a bluetooth keyboard, but it would be better because you'd have something better than the tiny tiny screens that laptops seem to all come with nowadays.

      I'm not giving up my desktop, for the record. While you can often get away with using a SmartCar, sometimes you need a truck. Personally, I frequently need my computing truck.

  5. Avatar

    anoldamigauser

    Why do we have to be connected all the time? Why do you think AR glasses are an answer? What is the problem that they solve for everyday use?

    Remember, when Google Glass came out, so did the "gl-asshole". I cannot imagine that the rest of the population is going to be any happier with people using AR glasses now, than they were before. If I noticed someone's glasses blinking when they looked at me, I would be tempted to rip them off their face on the spot...I might be tempted to rip their face off on the spot. That is the type of device that just invites abuse. They have real use cases, but everyday wear in public is not one of them.

    If you need to get work done, then a larger screen, keyboard and mouse will get you done. If you are out and about, then the current crop of phones are far more than enough to handle your communication needs, and the information gathering needs of our digital overlords.

    Pistols and rifles serve different purposes as well; the OP on that forum was using a dumb argument. It is always a case of choosing the right tool for the job.

    • Avatar

      Daekar

      In reply to AnOldAmigaUser:

      Anyone who has ever used pistols and rifles for any period time knows that rifles are vastly superior at putting bullets on target at any range and in any power envelope. At the end of the day, they don't serve different purposes, they exist for the same purpose - putting rounds where you want them. If you can, you always bring a rifle to a gunfight. You only use a pistol when you can't have a rifle. That's a generally accepted principle in the firearms and law enforcement community, and we have decades of data to prove why it's true.

      It's interesting that you immediately assumed that the AR glasses would have a camera when I specifically didn't say that they would. That's a good indicator of how some folks would react to such technology. Hand tracking can be done via other means than a visual range or IR camera, though, and I agree with you 100% that adding a camera would be a problem, even this many years after Google Glass and the nonsense that Snap has come out with in the intervening time.

      As for your other questions... I'm thinking you didn't actually read my entire post.

      • Avatar

        jules_wombat

        In reply to Daekar:

        Oh I guess that is why police always take rifles with them. Oh wait a minute. Duh

      • Avatar

        anoldamigauser

        In reply to Daekar:

        Of course a rifle is better at putting rounds down range accurately. That is not why pistols were developed. The pistol was developed to provide a portable, short range weapon. They are not compromises, but design parameters that lead to the difference. For the purpose for which they were designed, they do the job.

        Law enforcement carry pistols for a reason; in the normal course of their duty, it allows them to bring a firearm, but leaving it holstered, it does not escalate a situation. If they approached every situation with a rifle, community relations would be a bit harder. I regularly pass through Penn Station, New York, where there are rifle (really carbine) armed police. The thought of them sending 5.56mm crunchy goodness around a crowded venue does not make me feel any safer.

        I stand by my statement that the OP in the other forum was making a specious comparison.

        Oh, and you did not mention that the AR glasses would not have a camera. I cannot imagine they would be produced without one, since if they did not, they would not really replace the phone, would they?

  6. Avatar

    wright_is

    One of the biggest problems with AR is the camera. A lot of people react badly to having cameras in their vicinity, especially if you are talking to them and they are being "filmed". There are enough problems without adding that to the mix. If they are camera -less, it might work, but you have the problem of it just being a display and not AR.

    I mainly use my phone for playing Audible and podcasts. I find i get a stiff neck and shoulders and a headache if I spend a lot of time looking at the display, because I tend to hold it down in my lap - holding it up and eye level, I get sore shoulders.

    In general, I use the phone for "emergencies" when out and about. If I need information on-the-hop, I'll use the phone to do a search or to read an email. But unless it is an emergency, I'll wait with a reply to an email until I can sit in front of a real screen with a real keyboard.

    An iPod Classic with a phone keypad and phone functionality would probably cover 95% of my needs.

    • Avatar

      Daekar

      In reply to wright_is:

      I agree with you about the camera issue. I specifically didn't enumerate that it had a camera, and it's possible that the hand-tracking might be achieved by some other mechanism.


      I am with you on the primary use of your phone. Podcasts, audible, soundcloud. YouTube and Nebula are in there too, for me. But let's assume for a moment that the smart glasses addressed the problem you have looking at your phone display, would your use of the device change? What if they offered "a real screen" and you could use a real keyboard?

  7. Avatar

    minke

    In general, it is best to use the correct tool for the job. Smartphones are remarkable adaptable, but they can't do everything well. I think we are a long way from a wearable that will replace a smartphone and a laptop. There are certain physical problems with wearables too. What about people that need to wear eye glasses, for example? It's hard to touch type on a virtual keyboard with nothing to touch. Etc.

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