When I look at this problem and the effort going into it, I wonder if we are just a couple years away from a hardware solution that makes much of it obsolete.
To see what I mean, let me dive back to a year ago when I was enjoying an excellent talk at UW CS by Patrick Baudisch from Microsoft Research. The talk, which is available for download, asked:
How can we display complex documents on displays the size of a stamp? How can users interact with such documents?Pat proposed summarization and attention-focusing techniques as the solution:
"halo" helps users perform spatial reasoning on large maps; "summary thumbnails" and "collapse-to-zoom" allow users to make sense of web pages by compressing them to the size of the phone screen.It is a fascinating subject, summarizing information and focusing attention on small devices. But, after watching this talk, I wondered how much of this problem is a real, long-term problem or a temporary one created by our current hardware.
For example, I could imagine a small, monocular-like device that I hold up to my eye. Looking through this, I could see what would appear to be a massive screen covering most or all of my field of vision, not that much different than sitting 12" away from a 20" flat screen display.
Even better, maybe the form factor could be sunglasses and the image could be drawn on the glass or projected directly on the retina.
I tried to get at this with an e-mail question to Pat after the lecture, asking:
Is the problem actually the small screen? Or is it really the low resolution of the small screen? If, for example, screens on cell phones had 1280 x 1024 resolution in a screen only a couple inches on each side, would this change the problem?I may have failed to describe the idea well. Pat responded that he was concerned about people with poor eyesight being able to focus on and read a tiny but high resolution screen. However, I am fairly sure that, if the device is held up to the eye, the image could be displayed so that the eye should be focused at infinity, not on the device an inch away.
As you said in the talk, the problem seems to be centered around readability. If the resolution was high enough that the screens were readable if held close to the eyes, would that change the nature of the problem?
The idea here is fairly obvious. Small displays do not appear small if they are held close to the eye. A virtual display can appear massive even if coming from a small device.
I suspect all we need is the ability to display at high resolution on a tiny screen.
So, is the problem of optimizing content for tiny screens a real, long-term problem? Or is it one that soon will disappear as hardware improves?
Update: About a year later, the NYT reviews the Myvu Universal, virtual display glasses where "the picture appears to float a few feet in front of you."
Update: Fourteen months later, the NYT reports on "the Pico Projector ... a card-sized device that connects to a cell phone or other gadget and uses a laser to project an image at the equivalent size of a 60-inch television screen."