Apple - beyond the i-Slate?
There seems to be a lot of talk about Apple's new tablet computer. It is certainly very long overdue - I've been writing and talking for almost two decades about magazine tablets sitting on our coffee tables or propped up as a smart recipe tablet against a bag of flour in the kitchen or being read in the bath or stuck with magnets on the fridge door. We need lightweight touch-sensitive, flexible, wipe clean displays all over the house. They really need to cost less than $100 each to reach their potential, preferably less than $50. That price point with reasonable performance is entirely achievable for a perfect tablet, but not for the i-Slate. I rather suspect that this being Apple, and having used Apple computers every day since 1981, the i-Slate will be underpowered, under-equipped and overpriced, crash frequently, but be very pretty and do useful things in fairly intuitive ways, so will sell well. I like Apple, even though I find them very frustrating.
But there is already loads of analysis on the i-Slate out there. What will Apple bring out next? Well...
We need a proper solution to augmented reality. That means lightweight semi-transparent video visors. We are half way there, but today's video visors aren't semi-transparent, and the resolution isn't great either. But with the right market guaranteeing sales, as augmented reality would, we will surely see excellent visors coming to the market, that people will wear in the high street, overlaying anything from cyberspace onto their field of view according to context. Apple will be a big player in augmented reality where they can leverage their skills in intuitive interfacing to complex systems such as everyday life in ways far beyond the capability of Microsoft or even Google. The iPhone is an OK platform to start with but it is far too small and isn't always in front of your eyes, so they can't stop there. A bluetooth eyepiece will be a useful stopgap, but there is really no substitute for a full 3D immersive overlay. Visors that use lasers to raster-scan an image onto your retina will work very well. In a decade, this can be shrunk down to a contact lens. Crude prototypes already exist, but use a primitive solution of one led per pixel as per my original 1991 idea. It will be far more sensible to use my later 1995 solution of 3 lasers and a micro-mirror to do the job.
Next, we need a proper 3D physical interface to interact with it. Microsoft are working on gesture recognition and finger-tracking, which is fine to a point. It will enhance the x-box, but I suspect, like the eye-toy on the PS2, it won't be precise enough to be really useful. In 1992 I had an insight into the perfect 3D interface. I called it the stick, and later the wand. It has some stuff in common with Nintendo's Wii-mote, but theirs is big and clumsy and needs your whole hand to use it, and is expensive and still not precise enough. Mine was basically a pencil with a marble on each end. It would cost 5c to make, and be precise enough to write or draw with fine detail. But its main feature was that it uses 2 million years of human evolution where we learned to use tools, and almost any tool can be approximated to some sort of stick. A few tools need a third point, so the deluxe stick would have an extra marble in the middle. As Nintendo has discovered, a stick can be converted into a bat for playing tennis, golf, baseball etc, or a gun, or a steering wheel. It can also be a paint brush or a pencil or a chisel, or scalpel. Or it can move to the office and be any precision design tool needed. Apple doesn't have a stick yet, but they will soon need one, so it will be on their priority design and build list for the next few years.
The final item on Apple's priority development list should be the ego badge. This is a piece of jewellery that acts as a personal wireless web server. Any sort of jewellery will do, even an ear-stud. With electronics already at 30nm and falling, an ear-stud can hold millions of transistors, so could hold your entire website or Facebook account. As you walk past other people or buildings, it exchanges information about you. It is this that will enable context to develop fully, and context is a basic ingredient of a useful augmented reality platform. When you look at someone, you may see them as they are, or as their avatar, selected according your profile. The same with buildings, we will have personalised virtual architectural overlays on everything. And your ego-badge enables a digital bubble that shields you from the flood of data being broadcast at you from every direction, and lets through a tiny trickle of really useful data. That will enable social networking sites to do their job on the move, introducing you to other people, or not, as your profile and context dictates (and theirs of course).
These bits of digital jewellery will evolve quickly, adding video cameras to lapel pins, stereo sound recording to the ear studs, and an obvious body-based reference frame for tracking your fingertips, stick, or even your eyeballs, hence your contact lenses.
Together, all these simple and tiny devices add up to a highly intuitive mixture that enables the full convergence of the real and virtual worlds to be achieved.
These will be the priority items if Apple knows what it is doing. Further down the list we might see other items such as cyber-compasses, active make-up and active skin, but those are other stories and you can check them out on www.futurizon.com
And of course there is still room for surprises. Us futurologists predict the bits of the future we have surveyed or even pre-invented, but Apple has some smart people who invent their own ideas too, and I won't have spotted some of their best ideas.