In Part 1, we looked at a concept video for a future phone, packed with amazing technology, and we considered the possibility of virtual “projection” keyboards. In Part 2, we’ll look at the other two features: the thin design, and the holographic display.
2. Thin Design. The video doesn’t specify a thickness, so I examined a still frame and estimated it to be 3 credit cards high, or about 3mm. Even in the mobile device market, whose obsession with thinness is on par with Madison Avenue’s, this is absurdly ambitious. The current iPhone is three times that, and the newest record-holder for “thinnest phone in the world” is the Fujitsu Arrow, clocking in at 6.7mm. True, this record is very breakable: hemispherical antennas, tiny SIM cards and shrinking cameras are all on the way. But the most limiting factor of all may be consumer demand. Is there really a market for a phone that feels like it’ll snap in a strong breeze?
Plausibility: Low. It might be technologically feasible in 5 years. But today’s phones are thin enough for the average consumer, who will prefer to spend money on new and better features, rather than further miniaturization.
3. Holographic Display. This is the big one, the holy grail of mobile technology. A virtual display, unshackled from the prison of a clunky, physical screen! But is it real? The answer is complicated. A company called Light Blue Optics produces the closest thing I could find, a very cool holographic projector (click through to check out their video, it’s great). The device produces 2D images by precisely diffracting, then interfering, laser light, and is therefore truly holographic. Holographic projectors can be made much smaller than traditional lens-based projectors, and are many times more energy-efficient. The company takes it one step further and incorporates motion sensing technology, essentially transforming any flat surface into a touchscreen. There are two caveats. One, it still requires a surface to project onto, so no mid-air holograms here. And two, the device itself is significantly larger than a cell phone.
A group at University of Southern California has developed a 3-D, mid-air holographic display, but it depends on big spinning mirrors. Zebra Imaging, meanwhile, has created impressive holographic prints on a flat surface, but they don’t move.
Plausibility: Depends. Mid-air holograms might eventually appear in your living room. But they require a lot of macro-sized parts, so putting one in a mobile phone is pure science fiction, barring an unforeseen discovery. On the other hand, 2D holographic projectors, like Light Blue’s, are much more plausible and could be equally revolutionary. Flat surfaces are easy enough to come by, and seem a small price to pay for a weightless virtual screen.
Conclusion. Taken together, all of this points to the video being a clear fake. That said, I wouldn’t classify it as a hoax. The intention seems to be simply to illustrate some radical concepts, and strain our notions of what a mobile device can do. And it’s quite successful at that. Make no mistake, your future phone’s interface will be untethered from physical considerations. Your keyboard and screen will be as large as you wish, no matter the actual size of the device.
That will also eliminate one of the last remaining advantages of full-size computers, ushering in an era where there is no laptop, nor desktop nor smartphone, but only an all-purpose, portable computing device. Fake or no, any video that can conjure up a future like that is worth a look.