Last week, Qualcomm made what might seem to be an obscure announcement for their XR1 Smart View Reference Design — one that marks the potential obsolescence of every PC and smartphone in the market. Yes, we are talking about the onset of a hardware revolution that could slam PCs and smartphones together into a single class of computer. That computer would be wearable, and if connected to a cloud service like the Windows Virtual Desktop, it would be revolutionary.
Let’s explore this possible revolutionary new PC this week.
Qualcomm announced a significant improvement to mixed reality headsets that would initially be wired but eventually be wireless. The result, however, would be a very high-resolution, head-mounted display that could replace the one on your phone or PC. Smartphones, tablets, and laptop PCs sizes are defined by their displays. You can build tiny keyboards, but anything under 12in. in a PC, 8in. in a tablet, or 5in. in a smartphone is just too small to use today.
However, if you could remove the display, the device’s size can be defined by the keyboard, which we can shrink, take external, or even project to reduce the size of the connected computing device. CPUs and GPUs also currently define PCs, but as we move to the cloud for desktop performance, the related thermals and size requirements also move.
Qualcomm has been exploring smartphone technology in their joint Always Connected PC designs with Microsoft. However, these designs emulate X86 PC hardware in the market and use far less power and generate far less heat. With a reliable 5G connection and a service like Windows Virtual Desktop, you could have all the performance you need in a smartphone with a bigger screen.
High-resolution, head-mounted displays can virtually create a screen of any size. And, we’ve been experimenting with cameras in these displays to capture hand movements to eliminate controllers. But why eliminate the keyboard by upgrading sensors tied to a keyboard rendered and projected into the head-mounted display?
Another path would be to wirelessly connect a keyboard to the computing device and then use the platform’s power to place a virtual screen above it while passing through the image of that keyboard. You’d end up with a portable, wearable solution that would not only always be with you, but it would also supply (as long as you had a 5G connection) any level of power you are willing to pay for from the cloud service.
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A Use Case
Almost two decades ago, Sony loaned me their $20K head-mounted display solution, and it was terrific. Initially, I watched movies on my laptop on the plane, and the stewardess asked if I worked for the CIA. My answer should have been, “No, but then I’d have to say that anyway.” Instead, I gave her a goofy grin. These glasses were cutting edge at the time and used primarily for surgery and medical training. You could adjust them for image passthrough so, when used with a PC, you could still see your hands on the keyboard or see people moving around you.
I used that device for several weeks, and not only was it a hit with my co-workers, but I took it to a Lan Party (where people would get together for eSports before we called it eSports) and they went nuts for it. While the technology wasn’t where it needed to be to replace a monitor, it showcased the promise if it evolved to a point where it could.
Qualcomm’s announcement showcases just such an evolution, suggesting we are very close to a revolutionary smartphone/PC design that could render them both obsolete.
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We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Every previous revolution has created solutions that obsolesced much of the technology that came from the prior cycle. This latest revolution is expected to be bigger than all that came before it because we are developing artificial intelligence and finding ways to blend humans with machines that just haven’t been possible before.
One of the anticipated changes is a more connected personal computer. Not more connected to the internet, though, that will be part of it, but more connected to its users, more integrated with how they think and interact, more natural to use, more helpful, and undoubtedly more invasive. We are on a path to integrate technology into the body, but the interim steps will be finding ways to create new interfaces that better bridge the real world with the virtual world.
A massive step in that direction is this latest Qualcomm announcement of advanced mixed reality display capability that will lead to a future blended smartphone PC that is wearable and paves the way for integrating technology into our bodies to come. It is one big step toward a future technology and human hybrid. It begs the question: Who will be the company to pull an Apple and disrupt the personal technology market during this latest revolution?
I can hardly wait.
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