Beyond the PC toward virtual and augmented reality

PC sales have entered a slow decline. Today, you can literally work on your Microsoft Office documents no matter where you are, no matter what computing device you have.

Predicting the short-term future is easy: the next smartphones will be more powerful. The laptops will look more and more like tablets.

For a living, I write software… this used to require powerful PCs with large monitors. Today I get most of my work done on an ultrathin laptop with a relatively weak processor. I have more pixels than my dual-monitor setup from 15 years ago and a lot of extra computing power.

But using a laptop in 2016 feels antiquated. No matter how good my monitor gets, it is still a dumb flat piece of plastic. You can add a touch interface, but that’s at best a minor benefit. Still… programming on a tablet is not really possible.

So what is the future?

The PC is dying. Even Microsoft has accepted that. Tablets and smartphones are nice, but they can’t fully replace PCs.

What will?

I think that virtual reality (VR) and, ultimately, augmented reality (AR) is the answer. Imagine getting in your office, putting on your glasses and “seeing” not only the silly windows that your monitor currently shows you but a whole interactive interface that surrounds you.

Want to stand up and stretch your legs? Your work can follow you around.

Think I am crazy? Virtual Desktop is a working prototype of this idea that allows you to operate Windows using a VR system.

I don’t think I will be able to trade my laptop for a VR system this year, or even the year after that. There are significant hurdles to overcome.

  • Operating systems and applications are designed for PCs or mobile devices. Without VR-aware application and operating systems, we cannot hope for productive work.
  • The current VR hardware is maybe well suited to games, but probably not to office work. We need goggles that we can wear for hours, we need the equivalent of a usable keyboard. The screen resolution of the current VR systems might be too low for productive work.

How long before we can overcome these obstacles? I cannot tell, but I also cannot imagine how we could possibly continue indefinitely with laptops. As PC sales continue to fall, there is a strong incentive for entrepreneurs to offer us the next big thing. Billions of dollars stand in the balance.

Daniel Lemire, "Beyond the PC toward virtual and augmented reality," in Daniel Lemire's blog, February 11, 2016.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

4 thoughts on “Beyond the PC toward virtual and augmented reality”

  1. You will came to regret the PCs that YOU actually own, doing business (virtual or not) on someone else computers will bring hazards and misery.

  2. even though it sounds fancy, VR is only for fun. I cannot imagine working 8 hours straight wearing a gadget to my eyes. May be some form of 3D holographic monitors like they show in movies are much needed than some occulus rift like gadget that turns humans into wall-e like creatures. sad but true!

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