Microsoft predicts the future

4/4/2012 5:41:03 PM
Microsoft predicts the future

When we imagine future technology, we envision better versions of what we already have. But changes will sweep away almost all the products we use today. Mike Elgan explains.

Description: Microsoft predicts the future


Ten years ago, there was no phone, Android phone or anything like it. The original iPod was brand-new, and there was no iTunes. There was no Xbox, YouTube, Flickr... Google was a search engine. Google Mail, maps, Docs, Calendar, Voice, Talk, Reader and the like didn’t exist.

In fact, virtually every aspect of today’s consumer electronics was non-existent or beyond the imagination. So what will life be like in another 10 years?

Office Labs is a Microsoft think tank. It comes up with working concepts, many of which would require technologies and computing power that aren’t yet available. The researchers create special-effects- laden videos and demos to communicate ideas.

In Microsoft’s vision of the future, connected computers and displays are built into everyday objects. A woman’s glasses whisper real-time translations of a foreign language in her ear. A coffee cup shows the drink’s temperature and has a display that indicates how high the liquid is inside. An electronic newspaper is as thin and flexible as paper, but functions like an e-reader.

A businessman uses a clear-glass display that’s controlled with a touchscreen and gestures. Both display and touch input devices look like clear glass until they come to life with gestures. In some scenes, touch gestures become in-air gestures, as they extend beyond the screen.

Onscreen buttons, dials and other controls appear as needed, then vanish when no longer required. A clear-glass stylus is also used, suggesting a role for a pen. Keyboards are depicted, but there’s a lot less typing in this future - It’s replaced with voice assistance and dictation.

See-through glass displays are ideal tar augmented reality. A mobile version is held up to a green plant, which is visible through the glass. The device recognises the species, and offers up information about it onscreen. The window of a taxi also turns into an augmented-reality screen, painting out to the passenger the building where her meeting is scheduled to take place.

In many cases, surfaces that used to hold analogue information tools themselves replace the tools. Instead of a whiteboard mounted on a wall, the wall itself is now a digital whiteboard. Instead of a tablet on a table, the table is the tablet.

In one scene, two businesspeople each place a smart object on a smart table - a key fob and a flat phone or smartcard of some kind. Data spills out from these devices, and can be manipulated on the table. Data and documents can be transferred from anything to anything else. One example involves a drag-and-drop gesture from a desktop to a mobile device, while the same mobile device later becomes a virtual keyboard for a desktop computer.

Another example shows a man using a gesture to capture data using a clear-glass remote control, then moving that data from a wall-mounted device to his e-newspaper.

A smartphone is a card-like gadget s thin that a woman uses it as a bookmark. This card function as a boarding pass, an airport map, a calendar, an augmented-reality window, a 3D holographic display and more.

The phone splits into two halves about the size of playing cards, with one displaying live video and the other held up to the ear for video conferencing. It even projects some kind of laser beam arrow on the ground, telling MR Future Businessman where to go.

Everything we’ve described is being worked on, refined and developed. If you follow current trends for computer power, display technology, networking speeds, device miniaturisation, flexible displays, touchscreens, gesture technologies and others, you get this Microsoft future.

The intelligent displays are advanced versions of what’s already possible with Microsoft Surface. The in-air gestures are advanced versions of what we already see in Kinect for XboX 360. Displays are getting bigger, while devices are getting thinner and lighter. We already have clear displays and augmented-reality systems. The past four years later ushered in thin tablets supporting gestures and intelligent voice technology. The next 10 years?

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