10 enthralling visions for the future of computing

Check out what's coming: Virtual and augmented reality, gesture and facial recognition, holograms and more.

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Peering further into the future

Bendy tablets

I’m a sucker for those Microsoft concept videos that show where the company thinks the future of computing is going. Not so much because I think what they show will ever become a reality, but because it indicates how the company is thinking about the products it’s working on now.

In 2011, Microsoft conceived of a modular card system that would replace your smartphone by 2019. The latest video, called Productivity Future Vision, still has the smartphone cards, and adds some other deeply enthralling concepts.

One of them is a tablet made of a mousepad-like material that you can bend and fold. It basically looks like a thick color e-ink touchscreen with no bezel.

plastic logic

Plastic Logic’s bendable e-ink screens.

The idea of a flexible display has actually been around for a while now. LG was talking up a bendable plastic for displays as early as 2010, and Samsung had a similar technology around the same time that made it into an actual product in 2013 called the Samsung Galaxy Round, though that phone’s slight curve was far from being a truly flexible display.

And who can forget the impressive Plastic Logic e-reader demos that popped up at conferences and tradeshows around 2008-2009? Plastic Logic even gave its e-reader a name, Que, but the product ultimately failed to make it to market.

Microsoft Band Futuro edition

microsoft vision smart bracelet Microsoft

Another product from Microsoft’s latest concept video reveals a slick potential far-future evolution for the company’s Band fitness tracker. In the future, Microsoft Band isn’t just a rubbery step-tracker, but a full wraparound display that turns into a stylish piece of jewelry when not in use.

This theoretical wearable can also display email, calendar invites, and maps; accept gesture input; double as a digital key card; and unfold to work as—you guessed it—Microsoft’s infamous smartphone card.

Data toss

microsoft vision screen throwing Microsoft

Who needs USB cords, email, or apps like AirDroid? In Microsoft’s future (which clearly takes some cues from Intel’s vision of a wire-free PC), sending data from your tablet to a wall-sized computer display will be as simple as a flick, Minority Report­-style.

You may not be able to do an actual fling gesture today, but sending certain kinds of data between devices seamlessly and wirelessly already exists. You can send content from a tablet or laptop to your Xbox with just one tap via the Xbox SmartGlass app, for example, and Google’s Chromecast as well as the upcoming Chromecast Audio perform similar tricks.

Life in 3D

Don’t worry, children of the 1980s: The future may still rock holograms and 3D displays.

A California-based start-up called Ostendo is working on a product called the Quantum Photonic Imager that promises to be as futuristic as it sounds. The technology, according to a 2014 report by The Wall Street Journal, is capable of taking six chips laid together to produce a glasses-free 3D image of green dice spinning in the air.

That’s a long way from real-life Dejarik (the holographic board game in the original Star Wars movie) but it’s a start. Ostendo had originally hoped to roll out its 3D chip in the second half of 2015, according to the WSJ, but that goal was a little too ambitious.

dejarik falcon Wookieepedia

R2-D2 and Chewbacca playing Dejarik in Star Wars.

First, Ostendo plans to release a pint-sized projector for large 2D videos in 2016. Its ultimate aim for market-ready holographic 3D applications is a little further down the road.

That, of course, could be said for pretty much every ambitious computing vision detailed in this article. Nevertheless, the future is coming and it looks awfully exciting—even if holograms and virtual worlds aren’t quite reality yet.

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