Screen real estate

June 16, 2012 | 2 comments

I’ve found that I work much better if I have two very large monitors – but because I travel a lot, I’m often constrained to my 15″ MacBook Pro screen. I’m not alone:

So here’s a crazy idea. We’re used to carrying around headphones to act as surrogate speakers for when we’re unable to sit in a room with properly-positioned full-sized units. Why not apply the same principle to monitors? It sounds very silly, but we have the technology to make it work.

Products like Google’s Project Glass show that augmented reality glasses are very much within our grasp. As well as creating exciting new interfaces that interact with us in more intimate ways, we could also use this technology to generate the screen real estate we need in virtual space. It’s not big or sexy, but there’s no reason at all why you couldn’t use augmented reality headsets to create, for example, two 30″ monitors in places where carrying physical monitors would be impractical. Sit at your laptop, mobile device or other workstation, put on the glasses, and get to work.

For many of us, this is a more compelling use case than some of the wilder applications that have been bandied around. And it has other benefits, too:

  • Privacy: there’s no need for your actual laptop screen when you’re using augmented reality to generate artificial screens. So nobody can look over your shoulder.
  • Simplicity: the glasses could, potentially, be tethered to the laptop via a cable. There’s no need to have a wireless, augmented reality laptop without the laptop – at least in version one.
  • Practicality: you’re no longer limited by the laws of physics or affordable engineering when designing displays. Minority Report style UIs become a more interesting possibility when you don’t actually have to manufacture the glass. Update: and as Steven Livingston points out, the desktop could extend in an unlimited way, over 360 degrees.
  • Productivity: the glasses immerse the user in their working environment. Remember in The Social Network how the developers were portrayed (inaccurately) as being “plugged in”? Sometimes that’s necessary. Add sound, and you’ve got an instant distraction-free environment.

I realize this is a slightly different kind of post to my usual. All I’m trying to say, really, is: hey, I’d buy a pair.