Awhile back I noodled on the idea of a device that was simply a portal to the Internet and nothing more. Yesterday I was reading this post and that combined with my own reassessment of my portable computing needs brought the idea to mind once again.
To some degree these devices exist. The Litl Webbook (and later, the Chromebook) function in this way however both have the trappings of their personal computer ancestors and therefore disregard any innovation that could be had by eschewing the old forms and re-engineering the device and experience in light of this new way to interact with information via the device.
Boot 2 Gecko is a project closer to this ideal, and while it’s currently feasible to do so, I believe that marring this device to the Web is too limiting for my application (additionally B2G is designed with the limitations of current devices in mind, which make sense for its goals, but which make it non-ideal for for what I am describing).
In the early 90’s I was drawn to the work of Jaron Lanier and other pioneers of Virtual Reality (in fact that was what I told the counselor I wanted to work on after high school, and they suggested technical college…?). For a couple of years I worked on a personal computer operating system centered around the Virtual Reality experience (Virtual Reality Operating System or VROS, creative name I know…) but continually bumped-up against the cost and limitations of interface hardware at the time.
The cost of head-mounted displays has been steadily dropping since the initial excitement about them in the 1999’s and the quality has been improving well (in fact I was very close to backing a Kickstarter project for a very nice display and now I’m kicking myself for missing it).
Non-physical interface devices are also becoming more viable, there has always been experimental interface devices that use EEG or other biological signals for input to computer software but recently there have even been consumer- grade devices of this sort. Additionally, speech and gesture recognition have improved to the point where they are good enough to be used on a daily basis and are incorporated in many consumer devices.
Finally, starting with the iPhone, embedding an array of sensors (proximity, acceleration, gyroscopic, etc.) has become commonplace in many devices and developers are getting very creative with ways to leverage these inputs in software applications. I think everyone was surprised at how quickly software developers embraced these new forms of input and the impact it has had on user interface design.
The availability of these interface technologies, combined with a market interest in in the idea of a device that provides a transparent connection to the Internet indicates to me that the time may be drawing near for a personal computing experience akin to what I was working on in the early 90’s but was beyond both the technology and psychology of the time. It may finally be the right time to resume that work.