real virtuality

Every little gadget has a screen nowadays. Isn’t that wasteful?

It’s more natural to use one screen for all purposes, a screen that’s cheap and uses little power, a screen that’s always visible because it is next to your eye. Today a near-eye display isn’t that cheap, because not many people want one, but it will be.

Simple devices with information to display shouldn’t need any more hardware than an infrared signaling LED and a controller to blink it on and off. That’s so cheap that it can go into every powered electronic device. Your personal display is more complicated, because it has to support multiple devices simultaneously and it should be able to locate them in space so it can render the device’s display in the right place, overlaid on reality.

The hard part will be getting everyone to agree on the communication protocol. I’ve been wishing my camera had a near-eye display for years, but manufacturers don’t even have that feature on the radar.

That accounts for output. The next step is to remove the need for buttons and mice with a corresponding personal input device. By the time we want it, the hardware will probably be unobtrusive, maybe something like a ring that can see the positions of your fingers. At that point we have the goggles and the gloves, and we all live in the classic virtual reality. Though we won’t call it that; already people prefer “augmented reality”.

This is the kind of vision that pioneers are working toward—universal remote control that truly is universal—and most people have no inkling.


This is a forecast of the endpoint of one line of development, but the specifics are only meant to be an example, not a part of the forecast. I don’t intend to predict what the technology will look like—will it use signalling LEDs as I suggest is possible, or perhaps nearfield electromagnetic communication, or something else? And I don’t intend to forecast the order of events—will we get the screen before the free-space gesture input?

I believe it’s possible to predict the outcome in rough terms, and I don’t believe it’s possible to predict the timeline or details. See low end growth curve for how I learned that!

Original version, May 2010.
Updated and added here January 2012.