by Tom Kaneshige

Is This the Future of the iPhone?

Oct 26, 20113 mins
Consumer ElectronicsInnovationiPhone

Concept video shows the possibilities of the iPhone. But getting there won’t be easy.

A friend brought this iPhone video to my attention. Posted a couple of months ago, it touts the potential future of the iPhone, a computer-generated “iPhone 5.” It appears the conceptual video was put together by Aatma Studio, a 3D animation and digital content company in San Francisco, as a kind of visual rumor.

It’s not from Apple.

My thoughts about the technology follow the video:

The three future features of the iPhone are super slimness, laser keyboard and holographic display. Talk of the first two possibilities has been swirling around Silicon Valley for years. The holographic display seems to come straight out of Star Wars. (Think: R2D2 projecting an image of Princess Leia saying, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”)

[ Check out my blog about the iPad’s starring role in sci-fi movies. It includes images showing the cozy relationship between sci-fi and tech gadgets. ]

The laser keyboard has been the most appealing possibility due to its practicality. Imagine what Starbucks and other coffee shops would look like, everyone scrambling for table space (maybe even floor space) to project their laser keyboards.

Alas, the laser keyboard has so far been a pie-in-the-sky idea because of limitations in technology.

In the video, the super-slim iPhone projects a keyboard. Since the projector is close to the ground rather than from above, the keyboard image would need to be corrected or else appear in a trapezoid shape.

The biggest hurdle would be recording finger presses. Light would have to reflect off of the fingers and the surface to determine that a finger has touched the surface. Then the iPhone would have to correct for distance to know which key was pressed.

In some ways, the recording of the fingers could be similar to re-constructing 3D images. From reading Wikipedia’s entry on holography, I think you would need a beamsplitter and an alternate recording device or photographic plate. This method doesn’t bode well for the laser keyboard in the video.

Another way might be placing sensors on the fingertips. Two years ago, I wrote a story about Pranav Mistry, an MIT grad student, working on SixthSense, a project to create a wearable gestural interface. (Think: Tom Cruise searching for future killers in Minority Report). I think this method for a laser keyboard holds the most promise.

The last part of the video shows the future iPhone displaying a 2D holographic image, as opposed to 3D in the Star Wars example. This would probably require a photographic plate (or multiple projectors) to construct an image in the air.

Could a photographic plate be built into the slimmed-down iPhone? Not yet. There’s just not enough room for this kind of mirroring system. The 2D holographic image is probably a ways off.