Jules Urbach is the brilliant founder and CEO of OTOY, a rockstar virtual reality and 3D company. But reading this, I did fear at first that he’s taking a bit too much of a Magic Leap (pun intended) here:
When I ask him how virtual reality will be able to encompass our increasing habit of watching videos on our smartphones, he has one answer: sunglasses.
“You’ll be done with any other screen,” he says. “You won’t need it. It will be generated on a surface in the air. Put your finger over your palm, it’s a phone. Your desk becomes a laptop.”The resolution two generations from now will give you a 4K experience, so you probably won’t go to a movie theater. Why would you buy a wall-sized TV?”
I wouldn’t disagree with the glass approach (or, a bit more far fetched: contact lenses, like Vernor Vinge proposes in Rainbows End). But the “done withy any other screen” sounds like funky hyperbole. Screens are getting bigger for a reason. Not just because they can.
It’s not primarily a matter of technical feasibility. Engineering the super shades might take a bit longer that folding a Google cardboard, but hey the Magic Leap guys are on it. And the promise is right: no more weird little screens on microwaves, printers or fridges. Even your phone could probably live without it’s main screen. And your personal Netflix will do nicely without a non-virtual big screen on the wal.
But what’s with all those non-core watching use cases? Let’s take television. Watching TV implies somewhat that somebody is attentively following what’s happening on a screen. Which, most likely, you won’t. One of the primary use cases of any TV set (not just wall-sized whales) is the animated wallpaper. TV’s main job is to de-dull any room.
Well, seems like Magic Leap has fixed this, by enabling you to fix any virtual device spatially in any real place. Just watch the first 15 seconds of the video and see what’s happening with the YouTube screen. This might be how a future TV set behaves:
Case closed? Maybe not. TV sets do augment our physical reality in a very social kind of way. It’s an experience which may be flat but is inherently a shared, for good or worse. The question will be: why do we really put moving images on a wall-sized TV? We will have to look at the proper use cases more diligently. When I watch a movie with my daughter, projected on a wall, she watches me watching. Don’t I dare to check my Facebook while we sit together. Will I then become a glasshole, secretly overlaying the movie with my Twitter feed?
It might be more obvious with the movie theatre case. How much of going to the movies is the large screen? How important is the social aspect of a dedicated public room, a cinematic cathedral? What’s the significance of mostly going in a pack or at least a twosome, but rarely alone?
And, as a matter of practicability, you will not wear your glasses 24/7. Maybe not even the far fetched future scifi lenses.
That’s why, most likely, we’ll be surrounded by even more screens, big or small. But wearing your magic holodeck/-lens leap glasses, you might be able to easily replace what’s on those screens.