Add another device to the future Xbox peripheral lineup: the “environmental display,” a device that sits on top of a television that, along with a future version of the Kinect, would project peripheral environments on the walls and furniture of the play-space.
Microsoft states that while the example primary display and environmental display shown in FIG. 1 includes 2-D display devices, “it will be appreciated that suitable 3-D displays may be used without departing from the scope of the invention.” Furthermore, Microsoft states that in some embodiments, “the user may enjoy an immersive 3-D experience using suitable headgear, such as active shutter glasses configured to operate in synchronization with suitable alternate-frame image sequencing at primary display and environmental display.”
I don't see how Microsoft would get this into one simple device that sits in front of the user without creating a blinding light directly in view. But using projection mapping in conjunction with Kinect could provide some interesting, if ultimately gimmicky experiences.
Ever since Kinect became available, I've wondered why Microsoft hasn't commercialized a wireless, networked version that could operate as an adjunct to the low-latency primary Kinect that must be hard-wired to an Xbox or PC, allowing the possibility of 360° tracking or motion interface outside of the living room. An environment projector wedded to an ancillary Kinect placed at the sides of rooms would be a better (and more expensive) experience.
Anyway, all patent-filing dreams, not something to expect in Xbox 3.
To sum up: the new HP Spectre One all-in-one PCs are heavily influenced by Apple design. Influential bloggers Marco Arment and John Gruber openly accuse The Verge of pussy-footing around discussion of design similarities because of fear of reprisal from HP or fear of angering commenters, respectively. The Verge Editor-In-Chief Joshua Topolsky rebuffs their accusations, then is pilloried in his own comments for being too sensitive.
Many years ago, when I first started working for Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, I found myself being angered by something someone wrote or said about my work. I don't recall what. (It doesn't take much.)
Or maybe we were discussing someone else's public flame out. I don't remember. But I do remember what Denton–the internet's William Randolph Hearst , and someone who has fired off his fair share of dirty accusations–said one should do when the yellow, crooked finger points one's way:
“Just shut up.”
That's it. It doesn't feel good. It goes against instinct and causes the ego to howl and run its tin cup across the bars of its cage. But most of the time, it's not only the most prudent option immediately, it's the option that results in the least repercussion and anxiety over time. People will forget. Sangfroid will outpace schadenfreude. Snipers hiding in the bush will have a target-lean environment and will move to happier hunting grounds. You will seethe and your teeth will wear to powder, but you'll eventually be happier you kept your mouth shut.
(The internet has also inculcated this wisdom as “Don't feed the trolls.”)
It sucks to have to do this, no matter how right or righteous you feel. (It also feels wonderful to ignore this doctrine, even as the sting of blowback is a constant reminder of the wisdom of silence.)
As an admirer and near-daily reader of Marco and Gruber's blogs, I am always disappointed when I see them set up a rhetorical trap for professional journalists like Topolsky and the Verge team: civil criticism can be tempered with generosity and inquiry. It is extraordinarily easy to presume the motivation and machinations of an entire industry–tech journalism, in this case–from the hazy distance being a lone pundit provides.
In the anastomosis of media that blogging and internet publishing has provided, tipping both streams into the swamp in which we're all croaking today, it's not fair for Marco or Gruber to flick their tongues against the work of publications like The Verge and to feign surprise when Topolsky gets upset. It's a mean trick, a bad look. (And to be fair, Marco and Gruber have not gloated publicly over Josh's post this morning–I'm irked largely by the tenor of the comments telling Topolsky what The Verge should or shouldn't have done–but you can infer a lot by previous tone.)
I hope for better from those I admire. And I find the cake-and-eating-it-too criticism from Marco and Gruber, who have the luxury of being respected tech journalists or plebeian pundits at their leisure, to be wearisome. But even if those two mellow out, Topolsky & Co. can expect similar slag to be levied again, and the Denton Doctrine–bitter as it may taste, I know all too well–is currently the best policy those who work in public can follow.
From “The Master Key,” a short story for boys that augured the invention of the taser, personal force fields (rather like “Dune”), a PDA with a Google-like database and live video streams, an automatic translation machine, and a wireless phone, all granted to an American boy who inadvertently summons a Demon of Electricity:
“The third and last gift of the present series,” resumed the Demon, “is one no less curious than the Record of Events, although it has an entirely different value. It is a Character Marker.”
“What's that?” inquired Rob.
“I will explain. Perhaps you know that your fellow-creatures are more or less hypocritical. That is, they try to appear good when they are not, and wise when in reality they are foolish. They tell you they are friendly when they positively hate you, and try to make you believe they are kind when their natures are cruel. This hypocrisy seems to be a human failing. One of your writers has said, with truth, that among civilized people things are seldom what they seem.”
“I've heard that,” remarked Rob.
“On the other hand,” continued the Demon, “some people with fierce countenances are kindly by nature, and many who appear to be evil are in reality honorable and trustworthy. Therefore, that you may judge all your fellow-creatures truly, and know upon whom to depend, I give you the Character Marker. It consists of this pair of spectacles. While you wear them every one you meet will be marked upon the forehead with a letter indicating his or her character. The good will bear the letter 'G,' the evil the letter 'E.' The wise will be marked with a 'W' and the foolish with an 'F.' The kind will show a 'K' upon their foreheads and the cruel a letter 'C.' Thus you may determine by a single look the true natures of all those you encounter.”
“And are these, also, electrical in their construction?” asked the boy, as he took the spectacles.
“Certainly. Goodness, wisdom and kindness are natural forces, creating character. For this reason men are not always to blame for bad character, as they acquire it unconsciously. All character sends out certain electrical vibrations, which these spectacles concentrate in their lenses and exhibit to the gaze of their wearer, as I have explained.”
“It's a fine idea,” said the boy; “who discovered it?”
“It is a fact that has always existed, but is now utilized for the first time.”
“Oh!” said Rob.
L. Frank Baum writes in his introduction: “These things are quite improbable, to be sure; but are they impossible?” (Via David Pescovitz.)
A writer called Ventakesh Rao recently used the term “manufactured normalcy” to describe this. The idea is that things are designed to activate a psychological predisposition to believe that we’re in a static and dull continuous present. Atemporality, considered to be the condition of the early 21st century. Of course Venus isn’t a green hell – that would be too interesting, right? Of course things like Google Glass and Google Gloves look like props from ill-received science fiction film and tv from the 90s and 2000’s.
That, by the way, is what Steve Jobs meant when he said that iPads were magical. The central metaphor is magic.
Oh, we have so much to talk about when it comes to magic. And magick.
Brandon Boyer's Venus Patrol, a new site about games and video game culture that is the spiritual successor of Offworld.com, Boing Boing's indie video game site I had a small hand in launching, has achieved a stable altitude after a healthy time-to-orbit.
Already this gives you instant access to every character in a way that a virtual QWERTY keyboard can't. And the cool thing about this lotus is that it's not awful. In fact, it's actually kind of great. It's intuitive and quick. Seconds after picking up the controller and playing around with the interface, I was writing sentences at a solid, if not perfect pace. It can't quite match a physical keyboard, but it's better than any other virtual typing I've ever tried. A Valve team member proudly noted that when people have tested it out, “they're almost instantly faster than [when using] QWERTY.”
While the big news is that Valve has added a mode to its Steam software distribution platform designed for a “10-foot experience” on a television, I'm most eager to dink around with their new Lotus text input, which combines selection from an analog thumbstick and four front-face buttons.
Mr. Brin was wearing a pair with a turquoise stem that made him look as if he had stabbed himself in the eye with the straw of some tropical frozen cocktail. But that was not all. Some of the models wore them, in pink or white variations, and even Ms. von Furstenberg, who had nothing to do with the design of the glasses or the color choices, wore a pair when she took her bow, pointing at audience members to let them know that she could see them through her magic glasses. What’s more, that footage will be turned into a short film that will be shown online next week.
Looks like I was mistaken: the runway models at the DVF show yesterday did wear Google Glass, as did Sergey Brin and DVF herself.
I don't hate it? As a gimmick, it'll only work once. But it's not overly distracting.
Finally, there’s a wild card that could change the long-term balance between AR and VR dramatically. My thinking to date has assumed that AR will be a major platform shift that fundamentally changes the way we interact with computers, while VR won’t, except to the extent that VR-like experiences are part of the AR future. However, it’s possible that that VR will be a major platform shift all on its own; we could all end up spending our time sitting in our living rooms wearing VR headsets and haptics, while the traditional movie, TV, and videogame businesses wither. (In fact, I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case someday, but I think it’ll be a long while before that happens.) We all know what that would imply, since we’ve all watched Star Trek – that way lies the Holodeck. If that happens, VR is more than interesting; it’s a big part of the future.
It seems clear that gamers are going to push VR forward in the near term. (And projects like the Oculus Rift are certainly game-centric, by dint of the first software available alone.) But one of the most compelling things about VR for me–the thing I think will take VR from a niche within video gaming and into a, well, larger niche within computing at large–is the notion of using VR headsets for productivity.
A decade ago, users started switching from desktops to laptops, largely because laptops were powerful enough to be a user's only machine, but also because the displays on laptops had grown large enough to suffice for all-day use. (And hey, you can always plug in another, larger screen when you're at your desk.) Five year ago, the mainstream users started adding smartphone displays to their field of view. Two years ago, tablets.
We've already decoupled our displays from our workspaces. But because the displays are physical objects, with requisite power and silicon needs, there's a limitation to how those displays are arranged in our workspaces. Sure, you can buy stands and swing-arms or DIY little pedestals for your extra screens until your desk looks like a Christmas tree, but you still have to buy all that hardware and equipment, keep it charged and connected, and tear it all down when you want to move it.
But with a nice VR headset, you can just create those displays virtually.
Want five monitors? Create five display rectangles in your virtual desktop OS, arrange them how you see fit. Maybe you prefer one giant main viewport, virtually placed about 10 feet in front of you, pushing up out of a grassy hillock like an informational gazebo, with an array of tiny widgets flittering at the edges of your peripheral vision. (If you use Mac OS X, you may already do something like this with Spaces, which has an entire “layer” to the “left” for the Dashboard; just imagine that instead of sliding the current desktop out of the way, you could just turn your head to the left to see that weather forecast or FedEx tracker.)
Or maybe you don't want any distraction. Like, none. All the finest text editors have full-screen modes these days, the better to let you get down to the business of writing or coding. But no full-screen mode can block out the world outside the bezel of your laptop screen. A full-screen text editor inside a VR productivity environment, coupled with noise-cancelling headphones, would be the most existentially distraction free writing environment possible–just your mind and your words, floating untethered as glowing glyphs over a field of infinite possibility. (Try not to write any poetry. Or the opening crawl of A New Hope.)
This works just as well for watching video–every YouTube cat projected in virtual IMAX.
Perhaps best of all–and I think this is going to happen sooner than most might think–this virtual desktop experience is going to be relatively portable. While you need a pretty powerful computer to build video-game-quality 3D experiences (at least a laptop), the horsepower to create these relatively low-polygon (if high-resolution) spaces is very nearly already available in mobile devices. I think we'll start seeing passengers wearing VR headsets on airplanes within a couple of years. Sure, they'll look a little dorky, but that's a small price to pay for being able to completely shut out the miserable reality of commercial air travel.
(We're going to have to invent a new social protocol for tapping people on the shoulder at coffee shops to steal their attention from their VR coma.)
There's one thing holding this sort of VR interaction back in the short term: display resolution. We can handle a less-sharp image in a cartoon-like 3D world; we don't want to have to squint to make out the text in a web browser window. Even if the Rift ends up shipping with a 1080p panel (split into two 960 x 1080 pixel fields–one per eye), it won't be able to create virtual desktops with any more fidelity than its native, real-pixel resolution. There may be ways to design around this using Z-plane tricks in the short term, but obviously the real solution is higher-density displays.
There's one other thing that virtual displays have over real ones: potential for less eye strain. I hesitate to even bring it up, simply because I do not yet fully understand the science , but it is my current understanding that much of the eyestrain that comes from staring at a computer screen all day isn't from the light coming from the pixels themselves–our eyes are designed to absorb light, after all–but from the fixed focal depth we must maintain throughout our work day. (A couple of feet for laptop displays; maybe a foot or two more for desktop displays.) A virtual display, even if the screen itself is just an inch away from one's cornea, could be configured in a way that the eye's ciliary muscles are actually focussed at a distance far away, approaching infinity, and are more relaxed.
September 9, 2012 — Glass is a bold, beautiful and wearable new technology that lets you interact with the digital world without distracting you from the real world. It also allows you to effortlessly share your perspective. Glass is still in its early stages and we’re excited about how it will evolve.
Today we’re thrilled to collaborate with the visionary and celebrated designer Diane von Furstenberg. For the past week, we’ve been using Glass to capture the DVF creative process from entirely new perspectives.
They'll be debuting a short film on Thursday about the preparation of a fashion week runway show, shot by DVF using Glass.
I was really hoping there would be runway models wearing Glass. Not for the fashion angle–for video showing the perspective of a model on the runway.