Trend: Mini-projectors and Mobile Devices

17 May 2010|Added Value

A few years ago, I met with a mobile device manufacturer who showed me a prototype of a small projector. It didn’t work very well – it was way too large for any mobile device and the image was small and faint. But it was exciting and clearly had potential. Now it appears its time has come and in much more innovative ways than I imagined.

As a keen photographer, I’ve always wanted an enhanced way of sharing photos with others in the same room without the inconvenience of moving my photos to computer.

Last year, Nikon introduced the first camera with a mini (pico) projector built into it – the Nikon Coolpix s1000pj. It can display images up to 40 inches and the quality is not as bad as you might expect. It’s not without its issues though – the image quality needs to improve for broader acceptance; the technology needs to be less demanding on the device (especially the battery) and the price point needs to come down.

However, the technology is improving all the time and we’re seeing pico-projectors appear in a broader range of devices. For example, LG recently incorporated a projector into the LG Expo phone. It is a clip-on accessory so that it can be removed when not needed and it can generate images up to 66 inches.

Moving mini-projectors onto connected mobile devices, like phones, opens up new usage scenarios. For instance, it is possible to view documents and web pages in a larger and more useful format. In scenarios like this, the projector can address a dilemma that is starting to appear for mobile devices. That is, how do you make screens bigger and more viewable without increasing the size of the phone itself? The iPhone already has a pretty big screen for the size of the overall form factor and larger screens like the HTC HD2 are bringing us close to the maximum. The HTC screen is 4.3 inches diagonal on a phone that is 122 x 67mm!

Adding interaction
Mini-projectors help us move beyond the boundaries of our hardware and view images that are much larger, engaging and useful.

This is very exciting and it’s great to see how the technology is introducing us to new user experiences. For this reason, I was particularly excited to learn about a project from MIT called Sixth Sense.

In this project, researchers are not only investigating ways of projecting and viewing images, but interacting with them as well. For example, they can project the image of a web page and enable people to manipulate it – they can scroll it, highlight portions of it, cut and paste it, and so on.

googlepage.JPG

In scenarios like this, mini-projectors are changing the way in which we interact with our environment. They are merging together the computer-based world and the real world; they are enabling an augmented reality – an enhanced blending together of the Physical with the Digital.

In another example, users get supplementary info while shopping by using a projector that “sees” a product and then overlays digital images onto it to display further details. Dial pads can be projected onto surfaces and users can make phone calls by pressing the images of keys. Photographs can be taken by framing an image with the finger tips; and so on.

handpad.JPG

This video of Sixth Sense shows you some of the opportunities that mini-projectors are offering us. Mini-projectors have certainly come a long way since the prototype I saw a few years ago. I am particularly excited to see how the usage scenarios are moving from “simply” viewing larger images and into the realms of augmenting our reality. The potential for mini-projectors seems huge.

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