A device to replace your phone (musings)


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?

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