Why Microsoft's Vision of the Future Will Really Happen

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Microsoft released a video in 2008 and another one this week that together predict the sleek, wireless, connected gadgets we'll all enjoy by the year 2019.

Called Productivity Future Vision and Future Vision 2019, the videos fascinate in the way that science fiction does. But what's even more interesting is that this vision will almost certainly come true.

When you see them, you may be surprised by my conclusion. Will technology really move that fast?

Just remember how quickly things moved in the past 10 years.

Ten years ago, there was no such thing as a multitouch consumer device -- no iPhone, Android phone or anything even remotely like it. The original iPod was brand new, and there was no iTunes store for buying music. There was no Xbox, no YouTube, no Flickr, no Reddit. Google was just a search engine. Gmail, Maps, Docs, Calendar, Voice, Talk, Reader and many other Google services didn't exist.

Facebook? Ha! Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school, and even MySpace was still years away.

In fact, virtually every aspect of today's consumer electronics scene was nonexistent or even beyond imagining 10 years ago. Almost everything Apple sells right now -- the iPad, iPhone, Siri, Apple TV, iMac, MacBook Air and other products, would have seemed like science fiction in 2001.

When most people imagine the future of technology, they envision better versions of what they've already got. But changing technology will sweep away almost all the products and services we use today.

Microsoft's videos brilliantly capture what is likely to replace them.

Where did these videos come from?

Office Labs is one of Microsoft's in-house think tanks. The initiative comes up with working concepts, some of which can be downloaded and experimented with (you need to be running Microsoft Office). Some of them are created by employees in their own time (similar to Google's 20% time projects).

Many of the Office Labs concepts would require technologies and computing power that aren't available yet. So the researchers create special-effects-laden videos and demos to communicate ideas. Microsoft also maintains an "Envisioning Lab" where close business partners can see and discuss the prototypes on display.

What to look for in the videos

In Microsoft's vision of the future, connected computers and displays are built into everyday objects.

A woman's eyeglasses 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 actual paper, but it functions like a wireless connected multitouch text-and-video e-reader.

"Monitors" in the video are often depicted as clear smart glass. Call 'em "Microsoft Windows." What the heck.

A businessman uses a clear-glass display that is straight-up Minority Report, controlled with both touchscreen and "wave your hands in the air like you just don't care" gestures. Both display and touch-input devices look like regular clear glass until they come to life with gestures. In some scenes, touch gestures become in-air gestures, as they extend beyond the screen.

On-screen buttons, dials and other controls appear as needed for the task at hand, then vanish when no longer required.

A clear-glass stylus is also used in one scene, suggesting a role for a pen.

Keyboards are depicted, both the onscreen and physical variety. But there's a lot less typing in this future, as Siri-like voice assistance and dictation replaces most typing.

See-through glass displays, of course, are perfect for augmented reality. A mobile version is held up to a green plant, which is visible through the clear glass. But then the device recognizes the species, and throws information about it on the screen.

Next Page: more visions of the future...

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