Some seriously cutting-edge tech is cresting the horizon, ready to take your Apple devices and other gear to the next level of awesome. We’ve searched out the breakthroughs on the verge of becoming reality to discover how Macs, iDevices, and other tech are about to become even more impressive.
If you’re a regular reader of Mac|Life, you know that every January we look at the fanciful future of Apple, ranging from the prototype cars to the VR goggles that might emerge from Cupertino one not-so-soon day. This is not that story. This story is about real tech that genuinely works–it’s visible on the horizon, and it could be in your Apple gear in a year or three. Think of this story as a preview of the near future.
Of course, we can’t say for sure that all this technology will end up in future products (we’re good, but we’re not psychic). Some of it may never leave the lab. What you can rely on is that old standards will hit their technical limits, and progress will march on. But for a reasonable-guess preview of how Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPods, and other tech will grow, evolve, and improve in the coming years, continue reading.
The Display’s the Thing
Since the original Macintosh, our screens have been passive windodws into Apple’s machines. That’s about to change.
3D in Your Home
Three-dimensional TV has been a glimmer in the eye of television and movie studios since House of Wax and other 3D features first popped out at audiences in the 1950s. But the gimmick never caught on, thanks in large part to clunky technology that sacrificed picture quality. As James Cameron would be happy to explain to you, times and tech have changed, and in 2010, 3D is making the jump from the big screen into our homes…and hands.
Despite technological advances, the principles behind 3D haven’t changed much in 60 years. When a 3D image is displayed, two pictures of the same scene taken from different perspectives are shown. Those spiffy glasses make sure each is sent to only one eye, then our brain combines the two images into one, complete with the illusion of depth. A more mysterious part of the brain is responsible for deciding if it’s worth paying 10 bucks for popcorn at the multiplex.
But really, we can’t picture Steve wearing those dorky glasses at the introduction of the iMac 3D (but when we do, it always puts us in a good mood). Simplicity is Apple’s mantra, and what’s simpler than 3D screens that do the filtering for you, providing a 3D picture while eliminating the need for special eyewear? Such screens–called autostereoscopic displays–exist today. Some are peppered by tiny lenses that direct images to each eye; others use a layer of fine slits to split the display’s light in two. One of these technologies is about to get a boost from Apple’s biggest mobile-gaming rival, Nintendo. Announced this March and due for release in spring 2011, the Nintendo 3DS will be nothing less than a shot from the House That Mario Built across Cupertino’s bow. This next-gen upgrade to the popular DS handheld will sport sophisticated dual touchscreens, motion control, and–mamma mia!–autostereoscopic 3D.
Competition is another Apple mantra, and it’s no secret that Apple sees games as a big part of the success of its Multi Touch devices. Steve won’t sit still if competitors like Nintendo can gain an advantage that draws gamers away from Apple and back to the Mushroom Kingdom. If Cupertino can improve on the 3D experience offered by Nintendo’s next handheld, you can bet that App Store games–and maybe even the iPhone and iPad OS–will enter the third dimension too.
Today we watch videos everywhere from the living room to the hotel room on our HD TVs, MacBooks, and iPads. As great as those devices are, couldn’t they all stand to have even thinner, brighter, and more energy efficient screens? Trick question–of course they could. The good news is they will, thanks to OLEDs, an acronym for organic light-emitting diodes.
OLED screens aren’t grass-fed, free-range displays sold at Whole Foods, but they do use organic material (that is, material derived from the element carbon) to produce a picture. Unlike traditional LCD screens that require power-hogging backlights to project their images, OLEDs generate their own light when electricity passes through the organic polymers sandwiched between layers of film in the display. Because those layers are only about 500 nanometers thick (that’s even skinnier than a human hair) and don’t require much else besides a power source to work, OLED screens can be dramatically slimmer and lighter than conventional displays now on the market.
Better still, large OLED displays are relatively easier to make than LCDs, and their gorgeous picture makes your spiffy plasma TV look like a 1950s Zenith. That’s because there’s no need to grow sheets of fragile crystals. Instead, organic molecules are sprayed onto film in a process much like inkjet printing, and that film can be transparent, flexible, or even foldable. An OLED screen’s flexibility and toughness make it suitable for use in a wide range of gadgets, most of which haven’t been invented yet. From giant HDTVs and miniaturized smartphones to futuristic heads-up displays in cars, OLEDs can potentially be incorporated into almost anything–potentially even woven into clothing. And because of their brightness, vibrant colors, and wide viewing angles, you’ll always look great in your 720p iSweatshirt Pro.
But don’t camp out in front of your local Apple Store for certified-organic MacBooks or casual wear just yet. While OLED screens are popping up in more and more devices (perhaps most famously in Google’s Nexus One smartphone), the technology’s best days are yet to come. Manufacturing OLED screens is still an expensive proposition, leading to high prices and tepid consumer interest. But as OLED’s momentum builds and costs drop, expect to see a gradual shift in the computer and electronics world away from LCDs, much like the transition that phased out bulky, inefficient CRTs. And expect to see Apple jump on the OLED bandwagon when the time and money are right. With its combination of energy efficiency, size, and image quality, we think OLED has a bright future in Apple’s Macs and its growing line of sleek mobile devices.
Popularized by e-readers like the Kindle, e-paper has plenty to offer a company focused on mobile devices. Its slim design is durable, lightweight, and legible in bright sunlight. The secret lies between the sheets–plastic sheets holding tiny wells filled with black and white particles suspended in liquid. When the wells are charged, the particles move to the screen to appear as text. No backlight is required, and because electricity is only used once to draw the contents of each page, e-paper sips power compared to the LCDs in Apple’s portable lineup.
Color e-paper is so hot, you gotta wear gloves. Metaphorically speaking, that is. Photo: LG.Phillips LCD., LTD.
But while e-paper does monochrome well, most of today’s e-readers use filters to colorize their black and white text with pictures–and they simply can’t compare to LCDs. That will change. Philips is working on new technology using colored particles in a process much like blending ink dots in traditional print. The results should finally make good on e-paper’s promise, but they’re still years away.
Even then, will Steve subscribe to e-paper? The iPad’s LCD screen would seem to be the last word on the subject, but Apple could always use multiple displays in its devices. For instance, e-paper battery monitors could offer much more information than the little green lights they use today.
The Wireless War
If you’re like us, your living room entertainment setup is the second most precious collection of gear in your home (next to your beloved Mac, of course). Every night, you’re on the couch with a bowl of popcorn in front of an HD screen complete with a Blu-Ray player and 7.1 sound. Trouble is, that sweet setup means fistfuls of wire to fuss with. But those knots may not stay tangled much longer.
As home entertainment setups get more complex, something has to give. If two competing wireless standards–WirelessHD and Wireless Home Digital Interface(WHDI)–have anything to say about it, that something will be our HDMI, DVI, and other AV cables. Both standards promise something like Wi-Fi for multimedia. Compatible devices (laptops, game consoles, and mobile phones) will use them to find your HDTV automagically over the air in a system that “just works”–and the whole idea of ditching all those cords works in a big way for us.
WirelessHD devices may be available from Panasonic, LG, Vizio, and other manufacturers by the time you read this. WirelessHD delivers uncompressed video up to 1080p, multichannel audio, and other data–including Hollywood-approved DRM–at speeds up to 4Gbps, with a theoretical ceiling of 25Gbps. That’s a lot of data, but WirelessHD will only carry it up to 33 feet. The WHDI standard will move your movies as far as 100 feet, but at only up to 3Gbps. You’ll be able to compare how the two standards fare against each other when WHDI devices hit stores late this summer or early fall. Only time will tell which of these standards will be a hit with consumers or whether Apple will adopt one or play a waiting game. Let’s hope we’re not kept waiting for the release of Avatar 2 before we can stream movies, games, and more from our iPads to our televisions.
» Future Apple Devices: iPad 3, iMac 3D, Cinema Display
» Expected Arrival Date: 2013
» You’ll Also See It In: HDTVs, handheld game consoles, displays
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Deeply Awesome
Fab It Yourself
Teleporters and matter replicators may be the stuff of science fiction, but with 3D printers, you can create physical objects with your Mac out of thin air (and a lot of plastic). Apple hasn’t sold printers since 1997, but if anything could get them back into the game, 3D printing is it.
For decades, 3D printers have been used to create “rapid prototypes” for manufacturers and architects. The idea is much the same as conventional printing–you design something on your computer, and the printer produces a hard copy. But these hard copies need time to cool. 3D printers take designs built in 3D modeling programs and melt plastic to “print” them with thin strands built up layer by layer into a finished product. The idea is about to get a big boost from HP, which will begin selling 3D printers this year at “bargain” prices expected to start under $15,000. So much for 3D printing for the rest of us, right?
Not quite! If you have a techie DIY streak, 3D printing can be yours today for under $1,000. MakerBot‘s compact Cupcake printer is available as a kit that, once assembled, lets you manufacture objects up to 4x4x6 inches using Lego-quality ABS plastic. The idea is catching on, and other low-cost 3D printers (like the RepRapand Desktop Factory) are poised to slowly do what HP’s high-end offerings probably won’t–make 3D printing the desktop publishing of the next decade.
Of course, it will take a while for 3D printing to catch on, but if it does, expect Apple to take note. After all, our Macs have helped us make things since 1984. There’s no reason to stop now.
An Inkless Job, But Someone Has to Do It
Let’s face it, next to Mafia Wars and Farmville, printing is one of the biggest energy hogs in an office. The paper and toner cartridges required by today’s printers consume a lot of energy to use and recycle. But greener workplaces may be one step closer to reality thanks to two new inkless, reusable printing technologies that are poised to send old-fashioned hard copies sailing on a one-way trip into the wastebasket of history.
Late last year, Japan’s Sanwa Newtec company introduced the PrePeat 3100 II, a compact black-and-white printer that prints using heat instead of ink. The secret’s in the “paper”–flexible, waterproof, recycled plastic that reacts to the PrePeat’s thermal mechanism. Best of all, when you don’t need a page any longer, you can just feed it back into the PrePeat to erase it or print a new document as many as 1,000 times per page. Right now this green new world will cost you (the PrePeat retails for $5,600), but expect prices to drop if the technology becomes more widely adopted.
Meanwhile, researchers at Xerox are using ultraviolet light to develop a technology called Erasable Paper. The process hits specially coated paper with a specific wavelength of UV rays to print your document to the page, and you can erase and reuse a sheet whenever you need to. If that sounds like a tanning bed for interoffice communications, you’re more right than you know. Like a tan, these printouts fade away over time, and within 24 hours, a UV-printed page will be blank again. While self-destructing Mission: Impossible documents are cool (and well-suited to sharing data with short lifespans), the limitation is one reason Erasable Paper is still being refined in Xerox laboratories.
» Future Apple Devices: iLife ’13
» Expected Arrival Date: 2013
» You’ll Also See It In: iLife ’13
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Fit To Print
Current technology can only take CPUs so far. But don’t worry–tomorrow’s breakthroughs are being designed today.
More Cores for Your Buck
Smaller processors offer greater speed and improved energy efficiency, but engineers racing to make the best chips possible are running afoul of the laws of physics. Conventional manufacturing methods can only make circuits so small, and even the power of Steve’s reality-distortion field can’t change that. But some amazing new technologies might.
For years, multi-core technology has given us Apple chips that pack the power of multiple CPUs into a single chip. Intel’s Xeon, Core i7, and venerable Core 2 Duo processors deliver up to six cores, and eight-core machines are coming soon. We hate to break it to those processors, but a new prototype from Intel unveiled late last year promises that a lot more muscle is on the way to the Mac.
Intel calls it the single-chip cloud computer (SCC), and it boasts a whopping 48 cores on one processor…with room to grow to over 100. Computers derived from the SCC will bring the brawn of today’s massive data centers (the “cloud” of the chip’s name) to desktop-sized machines, paving the way for smaller, greener clusters. Initially, Intel is planning to build only 100 of these experimental chips so engineers can figure out what to do with all that power before it lands on the market. Intel is just one of the companies now developing “many core” processors, but given its relationship with Apple, it’s a good bet that the first Mac with the power of the cloud will have Intel inside.
Meanwhile, another company is taking a radically different approach to building tomorrow’s processors. Last year, researchers at IBM announced a chipmaking breakthrough that uses something called “DNA origami,” and it’s as cool as it sounds. The process arranges strands of DNA into shapes used as scaffolding for carbon nanotubes and silicon nanowires, the tiny structures that could one day move data through really, really small processors.
DNA origami is a “bottom-up” approach to chipmaking that builds the chip’s circuits, as opposed to more conventional “top-down” methods that carve silicon away, and it has a promising future. DNA designs could potentially deliver chip circuits as small as 6 nanometers–that’s just dozens of atoms wide! So Apple has good reason to keep an eye on how its story unfolds. They’ll have to be patient. The technology is still evolving and likely won’t produce commercial chips for another five years at the soonest.
» Future Apple Devices: MacPro Extreme
» Expected Arrival Date: 2015
» You’ll Also See It In: Windows PCs, Skynet
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Sheer Genius
Our future gadgets will do more wirelessly than ever before. But they’ll be able to do even more with wires.
It’s USB’s World, We Just Live Here
Once an upstart newcomer, USB has become an elder statesman in the electronics world with a presence in almost every device on Earth. But USB’s data-transfer speeds, last boosted by USB 2.0′s introduction in 2001, haven’t aged gracefully. Thankfully, USB 3.0 is here to breathe new life into an old favorite.
USB 3.0 cables definitely lose the beauty contest to Light Peak (below).
At first glance, USB 3.0 (a.k.a. SuperSpeed USB) doesn’t seem like a radical departure from its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. It’s backward-compatible with USB 2.0 and even uses the same rectangular port we all know and love, so your old devices will work just fine with the new standard. So don’t worry, you won’t have to buy a new USB beverage warmer for your cubicle.
But USB 3.0 brings two new tricks to the table. The first is speed–its transfer rates reach up to 5Gbps, or 10 times USB 2.0′s performance. The second is improved power management, which means reduced power consumption and more juice for devices that need it. USB 3.0 gear is already on the market, so it’s only a matter of time before Cupertino rolls out the first Macs with the SuperSpeed standard. We hope they come soon–we’ve got HD video to import!
One Wire to Rule Them All
Fiber optic cables, long used by telephone companies to connect landline phone calls, have numerous advantages over traditional copper wires. So why haven’t they made it to the desktop yet? Intel hopes to put that question to rest with a new technology called Light Peak.
Light Peak is Intel’s answer to…well, just about every cable in use today. From HDMI to USB, if it carries data, Light Peak can replace it. That’s because Light Peak’s bandwidth starts at 10Gbps, and its theoretical ceiling is a whopping 100Gbps. And since Light Peak’s flexible fiber optic cables transmit light, not electricity, they can carry data up to 100 meters without a hitch. That’s plenty more meters than we need, but some room to grow can’t hurt, right?
However, despite a planned 2011 rollout, don’t expect to sync your 5G iPhone with Light Peak. Intel is still working out ways to combine power with Light Peak to charge devices while beaming data at warp speed. One thing’s for sure, though–when Light Peak finally strikes, it’ll be fast.
» Future Apple Devices: Almost all of ‘em
» Expected Arrival Date: 2011
» You’ll Also See It In: Every gadget on Earth
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Blazing Hot
Reading, Writing, Revolutionary
Say goodbye to your old drives. Say hello to a new world of speedy storage.
It’s RAM! It’s a Hard Drive! It’s Both!
There’s nothing New Age about “universal memory,” but it could usher in a new age of computers and electronic devices. Universal memory is any next-gen storage that combines the speed and affordability of today’s DRAM with the permanence and capacity of flash memory. Two technologies are fighting to rewrite the rules, and the winner may be coming to the Mac sooner than you think.
Phase-change memory (PCM) gets our vote, if only for its cool name, which is derived from the use of chalcogenide glass that changes from a crystalline to an amorphous state with heat. It’s the same material used to make rewritable optical discs, but in PCM, the two states represent different electrical charges, or a zero and a one. PCM represents a major leap in durability over flash memory, and can be written to up to 100 million times versus flash’s upper limit of just 100,000 read-write cycles. Samsung has already begun producing 512MB PCM modules for use in mobile phones, but 1GB modules are still on the way. Looks like phase-change doesn’t happen overnight.
The race for better memory is run on a tiny field, though, and IBM’s racetrack memory may have the inside track. It uses something called spintronics–don’t you want to hear Steve say that at a keynote?–to manipulate electrons into moving magnetic bits down nanoscopic, U-shaped “racetracks” to read and write data at blazing speed. Yet racetrack memory’s biggest asset may be its scalability, theoretically allowing HDD-size capacity to be squeezed into a much smaller area than competing technologies allow. But until racetrack memory is ready to leave IBM’s labs, this dark-horse contender will be one to watch, not buy.
Kind of Blu
Steve famously quipped that bringing Blu-Ray to the Mac was “a bag of hurt,” but Sony’s multimedia power-platter is still rolling along after years of Cupertino’s cold shoulder. Movie lovers–and anyone who wants to share giant files–can take comfort that when Blu-Ray finally arrives on Macs, it’ll be better than ever. Having long shed its 25GB limit, Blu now boasts capacities of up to 400GB, and 1TB discs are coming in just a few years. The promise of this year’s 3D Blu-Ray players is just one more feature that will keep Mac fans gazing longingly–sigh–at Big Blu’s bag of tricks.
» Future Apple Devices: MacBook nano, Apple TV Blu
» Expected Arrival Date: 2013
» You’ll Also See It In: Smartphones, PCs
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Memorably Cool
Network It Out
Tomorrow’s wireless communications will be more important than ever. Good thing our networks will be able to keep up.
4G or Not 4G?
Poor AT&T. Just as it’s getting the hang of supporting the iPhone on its 3G network, 4G networks will begin popping up from Sprint this year and from archrival Verizon in 2011. What does that mean for us, besides catty PR fights among the carriers? A blazing fast mobile internet with enough bandwidth for HD movies, video chats, and–we hope–fewer dropped calls.
Like 3G wireless networks, 4G isn’t a single new technology. It’s a blanket term for a range of technologies and specifications that add up to the same thing: speed. Current 3G offers downloads of roughly 1.4Mbps. Compare that to 4G’s promised bandwidth of at least 100Mbps, and you’ll see what the fuss is about. 4G works its magic in part by using MIMO (Multiple In Multiple Out) technology to broadcast using several antennas simultaneously on multiple frequencies.
4G’s strengths make its eventual adoption by Apple a no-brainer, no matter which carrier has the iPhone next year. Apple is serious about establishing the iPad as a mobile media device, and it’ll want a big pipe to carry movies and music to cellular customers. That’s just what 4G provides. As for the iPhone, who knows? Steve may decide to stick with AT&T and its 4G network expected to roll out alongside Verizon’s in 2011.
Crank Up the 802.11AC
Closer to home, we’ll use 802.11n Wi-Fi, but at faster speeds than we’ve seen before. Apple has sold 802.11n devices since 2007, but the protocol’s final standard was only approved in 2009. Happily, that means the business of making Wi-Fi as fast as possible can begin in earnest. Like 4G, 802.11n uses MIMO to improve performance, but manufacturers couldn’t take full advantage of the technology before the protocol was complete. Now that it is, devices can officially support maximum speeds between 400 and 600Mbps…if your hardware has the antennas to deliver the boost. Expect that hardware to start arriving in stores later this year.
But the Mac life is never a simple march of progress, and there’s always something new on the horizon. Sweet! Work drafting the next Wi-Fi protocol, 802.11ac, has already begun. Devices supporting the new standard aren’t expected until 2012 at the earliest, but they’ll boast speeds of up to 1Gbps when they’re available. At press time, Ethernet’s agent was unavailable for comment.
» Future Apple Devices: 2G iPad, Airport Express Plus
» Expected Arrival Date: 2011
» You’ll Also See It In: Smartphones, netbooks
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Wildly Wireless
More Power to You
Apple is going power mad. Its future devices will charge up almost anywhere.
Powered by the Sun
Solar power is overdue for a makeover, and if anyone can do it, it’s Apple. In 2008, it applied for a patent to slip solar cells beneath a device’s LCD screen, and early this year, it applied for another patent to cover portable devices with solar collectors.
Solar-powered MacBooks? Yes please!
Wilder still, a March 2010 patent describes a MacBook with a solar panel that folds to collect sunlight or even to illuminate the LCD screen without drawing power from the battery. We’re still waiting for these designs to see the light of day–ha!–but it’s clear someone at Apple has spent a lot of time looking at the sun.
Besides flying cars, wireless electricity is the ultimate in futuristic convenience. Today’s charging mats come close, but the magnetic induction they use keeps devices tethered to one spot. That’s why we hope Apple adopts WiTricity’s technology for truly wireless power up to several feet away from the base station. The science involved would baffle the DHARMA Initiative, but it involves something called sharply resonant strong coupling to generate an oscillating magnetic field that’s captured and converted to electricity by a sensor in your device. Or it will, anyway, when WiTricity-powered gear reaches stores sometime in the future.
Wireless power? As in, electricity beamed through the air? Shocking.
» Future Apple Devices: iPod solar, ElectroMagneto MacPro
» Expected Arrival Date: 2015
» You’ll Also See It In: Nice weather, mad scientists’ lairs
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Simply Electrifying
Your Valuable Input
No matter how cool Apple’s upcoming products are, they’ll only be as good as what we can do with them. Here’s how we’ll interact with the future.
The mouse has plenty of life left, at least according to Microsoft. It’s produced some stellar mice over the years, but Redmond’s recent Multi Touch prototypes could be the best yet. The FTIR (Frustrated Total Internal Reflection) Mouse’s high-res camera tracks finger gestures through a curved piece of clear acrylic so you can scroll, swipe, and pinch around on the acrylic in order to manipulate onscreen objects. The Orb Mouse works on much the same principle, but offers a whole hemisphere to interact with in your hand.
The shrunken Side Mouse looks more like a wrist rest than a traditional rodent–its tiny camera tracks your fingers as they move across your desk or whatever surface you happen to be working on. Best of all, these mice incorporate the Multi Touch equivalent of keyboard shortcuts to perform zooms and other common commands quickly. Cupertino, start your copiers!
But the coolest input technology on the horizon for Apple’s gear lies in–big surprise–touchscreens. Future Multi Touch devices will sport haptic feedback, or the sort of physical response you’ve gotten for years from vibrating gamepads and cell phones, to help make input feel more natural. In 2011, Artificial Muscle is bringing to market its EPAM (Electroactive Polymer Artificial Muscle) technology, which tenses and relaxes touchscreens in response to input. That sounds pretty fascinating all by its lonesome, but Apple’s recent patent applications show it has something more subtle in mind–a layer inside the touchscreen that delivers vibrating feedback localized to specific onscreen buttons and switches. That level of fine-tuned feedback would make typing on the iPad’s large screen even more satisfying and could pave the way for MacBooks without physical keyboards.
» Future Apple Devices: Majestic Mouse, MacBook Touch
» Expected Arrival Date: 2012
» You’ll Also See It In: Microsoft’s mice
» Future Awesomeness Rating: Terrifically Tactile
Too Wild for Apple?
Some of these technologies may seem out there even for Apple, but yes–chuckles aside–they’re real. Besides, today’s head-scratchers could be tomorrow’s game-changers. Maybe.
Huff and Puff into the Mic
You’ve finally gotten your mind around Multi Touch, but are you ready for Multi Puff? Zyxio’s Sensawaft technology lets you control a mouse cursor, scroll through text, or do just about anything else with your electronic devices using only your breath. The assistive possibilities for disabled users are obvious and awesome, but breath control could have other, less practical uses, too. Imagine blowing into your earbuds’ microphone to control music playback, skipping an annoying voicemail with a hiss, or puffing on your iPhone to zoom in for a kill while playing your favorite shooter. Apple’s engineers could do so much with this, it’s breathtaking.
Keep Your Finger on the Pulse
An iPhone fingerprint scanner makes a lot of sense, especially considering that Apple has so many intriguing patents out on the idea. Sure, a fingerprint-savvy screen would simplify security–and make “slide to unlock” really mean something–but we like to think about the possibilities for everyday iPhone control hinted at in Apple’s patents. With the iPhone of tomorrow, specific fingers could be used for certain functions, letting you change settings without even looking at the screen. You could use your thumbprint to play a song, your index-finger print to rewind, and your middle-finger print to…er…emphatically skip a song for those tunes so bad that a one-star rating just doesn’t cut it.
You might not be able to remember a passcode that unlocks your iPhone, but we’re betting you’ll be able to remember your fingerprint.
Project Your Ideas
Pico projectors–low-power, handheld projectors–are handy for quickie presentations or impromptu slideshows with the family. Some of them even project with RGB lasers instead of white light for a picture that’s always in focus. But the image of these mini projectors will really improve if Apple ever makes good on recent patents to integrate them into MacBooks and iPhones. Sure, you could strike up a Keynote presentation on the go with a MacBook Pico, but throwing up movies, music, iTunes visualizations, and photo albums anywhere sounds like a lot more fun.
Wii Want Our Apple TV
Motion control brought gamers flocking to the Nintendo Wii, but can it do the same for Apple TV? Someone in Cupertino must think so, judging by a patent for a Wii-like motion-controlled remote to go with Cupertino’s set-top box. Sounds good to us. Apple’s Remote iPhone app is great, but it’s always seemed very “un-Apple” to require another device to deliver a satisfying Apple TV experience. Motion control–especially with the enhanced precision and reliability brought by the floating magnetic compass noted in Apple’s patent–would be a slick solution, and not just for easier navigation. Apple’s patent also describes using the remote to draw on the screen and manipulate photos with the flick of a wrist. That could give Steve’s favorite hobby product some much-needed pizzazz to help it catch the public’s eye. After all, the day will come when Cupertino will update the Apple TV again, and when it finally does, you may not even recognize it. What can we say? We want to see the little guy make good.
Apple’s patents are tea leaves that portend what technology’s cutting edge will look like for years to come. Here are some of tomorrow’s ideas Cupertino thinks are worth protecting today.
Nine Lives, Three Dimensions
OS X is the big cat that makes Cupertino’s products tick, but it’s Apple’s hardware that usually captures the public’s attention. That oversight will finally be corrected if a patent for 3D OS X becomes a reality.
The 3D in question depends on parallax, the effect by which objects appear to change their position relative to each other as a viewer’s perspective changes. By keeping tabs on your position (likely with a head tracking iSight camera), this “OS parallaX” would alter the appearance of onscreen objects to form a simulated 3D space in which you could interact with files, study 3D objects, and more. While this could open up exciting new ways to use your Mac, it would also require complex new hardware and software, so don’t count on peeking behind alert boxes anytime soon.
An iPhone Gamepad
Judging by a recent patent, the iPhone and iPod touch might have more than just high-tech improvements in their future. Thanks to a unique accessory, someday soon we may be gaming old-school–with a twist–on our Multi Touch devices.
In a few years, near field communication will let your iPhone be the boss of your videogame console, TV, and even your sprinkler.
We love playing games on the iPhone, but sometimes we pine for the 20th century simplicity of physical controls. Call Apple’s potential solution the “GameFrame,” a shell that fits around your iPhone to add a D-pad, buttons, and other handy moving parts to the iPhone experience. Too old-fashioned for you? The device could also communicate wirelessly with HDTVs, opening the door to big-screen App Store gaming on the go. Hero of Sparta 3 on a 40-inch flatscreen? We’re so there!
“Home Screen” Gets a New Meaning
The iPhone’s superpowers seem to be growing by the day, but you haven’t seen anything yet. In the future, you won’t think twice about using it to lock the door, turn on the lights, and even water the lawn of your personal fortress of solitude.
Apple’s recent home-control patent hinges on a technology called near field communication (NFC), a short-range wireless technology that’s slower than Bluetooth while offering a much quicker pairing time. That’s just the thing to control the Xbox, DVD player, and garden-sprinkler system shown in the patent application. Unfortunately, this remote-control magic requires NFC-enabled devices that are, like the iPhone that will interact with them, years away.
Slice the Mac into Pieces
To create, sometimes you must destroy, and the most intriguing Apple patent we’ve come across yet takes apart the familiar Mac we’ve used for decades and scatters it into…well, something else. We’re not sure if what it describes is a portable computer, a desktop machine, or something in between, but we call it the “MultiMac.” And we want one.
The “MultiMac” splits a Mac into its component parts, which live where you’ll use them.
If it was built today, MultiMac’s components–a projector display, input devices, and a CPU–would be separate components, each powered wirelessly and communicating with each other over the air from wherever you wanted them to be. You could tuck the CPU on a bookshelf, surf from the couch, and project a movie on the wall as if using one device. Apple’s focus (pardon the pun) seems to be on the projector, which would do more than just show vacation pictures. The patent describes it as a networked device with multiple sensors controlling focus, color, or even built-in cameras. What are the chances those cameras could power a 3D OS X? Hey, we can dream.
Will MultiMac be a novel new computer that ties together exciting new technology, a sophisticated Keynote presentation system, or a hub to synchronize a home full of mobile devices? We’re not sure, but that’s half the fun of being a Mac fan. Only Apple knows what’s coming next, and they’re not telling…yet.