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The virtual screen PC is virtually here!
Apple may announce a virtual reality macOS simulator in two weeks. And one startup started selling an "AR laptop" just yesterday.
After a decade of rumors, leaks and speculation, Apple will unveil its first-ever VR-AR goggles in around two weeks. To be called Reality Pro (as I was first to predict in this newsletter), and running on a new operating system called xrOS, the product will no doubt be "magical" and Tim Cook will be "so excited" to unveil it.
The expensive, bulky and tethered facewear next month is a prelude to the main event in a few years: glasses that look sorta kinda like ordinary prescription glasses that you can wear all day and which enable you to see the real world, plus holographic objects added by the embedded electronics.
The big Reality Pro goggles will do virtual reality: It's a VR headset, hardware-wise. But Apple will insist that developers use it for video-passthrough augmented reality. It will show you a video of the real world, with virtual objects superimposed on that video.
The eventual product (which I hope will be branded: iGlasses) is at least 6 years in the future — probably ten. This is the product category that will finally replace the smartphone as everybody's main device, I predict.
But it's VR goggles for now. The question is: What will people use them for?
The virtual-screen PC idea
One idea espoused by Mark Zuckerberg is that people will sit in their home office with VR goggles on and work in a virtual home office in virtual reality. The difference is that the virtual office will have unlimited giant screens.
As a digital nomad, this idea appeals because it's easy to imagine people will real jobs (developers, graphics designers, financial analysts, etc.) living abroad as digital nomads seeing giant virtual screens but using hardware that fits in a regular backpack. (Personally, I'm a journalist, and don't need a ton of screen real estate. But my son, Kevin, who is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, needs his giant screens and also likes to travel.)
Virtual PC screens is actually an interesting solution to the age-old mobile computing problem -- everybody wants the biggest screen possible in the smallest device possible. That's why we have big phones, folding phones and 16-inch screen MacBooks.
While Zuckerberg talks about what he calls the "metaverse," Apple patents it. Apple has patents for a virtual PC screen computer experienced through VR headsets.
My friend Mark Gurman, who is currently the leading reporter for solid unannounced Apple information, says Apple may introduce a virtual Mac screen feature. Gurman wrote:
The device will also have productivity features, including the ability to serve as an external monitor for a Mac. With that feature, users will be able to see their Mac’s display in virtual reality but still control the computer with their trackpad or mouse and physical keyboard.
Apple's Reality Pro headset may inject excitement around AR and VR. And if they announce a virtual display feature, they'll probably validate that idea. But they won't be first to market.
A company called Sightful (the Israeli startup formerly known as Multinarity), has been working on what they call an "augmented reality laptop," called the Spacetop, for three years with engineers poached from Apple, Microsoft, and Magic Leap. (CEO Amir Berliner and COO Tomer Kahan both worked at Magic Leap.)
They came out of stealth mode just yesterday.
Sightful is partnering with laptop maker Wistron for the computer stuff, while Sightful focuses on the AR bit. They're using customized goggles from NReal and a Sightful-designed spacial environment called Canvas.
What's interesting about this product is that, in a world where AR and VR are promoted as solutions for medicine, manufacturing, design, gaming and social interaction, the Spacetop is promoted as a PC replacement. The only virtual objects are computer screens.
In other words, users don't have to wait for special-purpose AR apps. They'll be using their regular online cloud applications.
The virtual screen computer is virtually here. The question is: Do you want one?
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