I wrote a few posts last year which talked about the near(ish) future of computing, devices and so on, but I never really gave a detailed description of where I think the hardware side of things is going. A couple of things I've seen recently supported my personal theory on this, and I read an article that I think misses the point, so I thought I'd take some time to share it.
The things I've seen
1. PlayStation Move WonderBook of Spells
Santa delivered this as a joint present for me and my six-year-old daughter. Of the games console motion-control offerings, the PS3 Move add-on has been the least compelling to me, but the WonderBook system is very impressive. It's "just" an augmented reality application, where the PS3 Eye camera sees the book with its various AR tags printed on the various pages, and overlays it in the video displayed on your TV with an animated book. It also overlays the Move controller with a magic wand. The thing is, it does it amazingly well: the pages of the on-screen book turn with the pages of the physical book, and the wand is consistently overlaid on the controller, even showing your fingers wrapped around it. I tried to get it to glitch, to show the real book or controller, but it resolutely maintained the illusion.
2. Project Glass
If you're reading my blog, then you're almost certainly the type of person who knows what this is, so I won't patronise you by explaining it. Google's project is the one that is the most publicly visible, but Microsoft are also (probably) working on "Kinect Shades", and I would be amazed if Apple weren't engaged in some R&D in this domain too.
3. The article that misses the point
Wired.com posted this article about what they predicted for 2013 ten years ago, which includes new or updated predictions for tech in 2023. In it, they predict variable-size displays using technology like Samsung's foldable OLED prototype. The funny thing is, they also mention smart-glasses. They've just failed to put two and two together.
What I reckon, right, is...
Technology moves at an incredible pace. In 2003, smartphones were hideous, bulky things with resistive screens and styluses and the first version of Windows Mobile. Ten years later we have devices that easily out-perform the high-end gaming PCs of 2003.
So in ten more years, we'll have had several iterations of the smart-glasses concept, and it seems reasonable to predict that what they have become in 2023 will make Project Glass look like Windows Mobile 2003. Smart-glasses will be affordable, common-place, and very, very powerful. They'll have built-in cameras; motion-tracking; eye-tracking; they'll probably be tracking things we haven't even thought of tracking yet. They will also have extremely high-resolution displays, and they'll be able to render 3D objects, and hold them steady in the user's perception of what's in front of them, so that they appear to be real. And the motion-tracking will allow the user to interact with these objects.
The final piece in the puzzle will be pervasive, high-speed, wireless internet access, with bandwidths and latencies that are to LTE what Google Fiber is to ADSL. The only place on earth you won't be able to access the internet wirelessly will be my house, if you're on O2.
Augmented reality – proper augmented reality – will just be reality, at least for the majority of western society.
OLED – the O is for "obsolescent"*
In this world, there is no need for foldable display technology, nor indeed for "devices" of any kind. What point is there in cramming all that technology into a phone or a tablet when you can just pick up any piece of paper or card and have your smart-glasses overlay anything you want on it, and track your interactions with it? And even that is really just skeuomorphism; the display could be projected in empty space, but it's easier to interact with something you can physically touch and feel. We may still have physical keyboards for writing and programming and so on, but they'll be empty shells, used only as a reference point by our motion-trackers, and the displays floating above them won't really be there.
You know in Iron Man, in Tony Stark's lab, he pulls up all those floating 3D schematics and throws them around? That's impossible, unless the entire lab is an insanely advanced volumetric display, or something. But stick a pair of smart-glasses on our hero and make it clear that we're seeing what he sees, and suddenly you've got something that's just a few easy, obvious steps from where we are already.
* I suppose OLED technology might be used in the smart-glasses lenses. But you know what I mean.
By 2023, smart-glasses will have rendered all other types of display obsolete, there'll be virtual 3D stuff everywhere, and your computer keyboard will be hollow.