In 2002, Hollywood imagined that we'd have the cool 3D computer systems Tom Cruise used in "Minority Report" by the year 2054. Now it's only 10 years later and a patent application from Microsoft reveals it has not only invented the foundation of such technology, it's gone a step further and made it portable.
The recently published application for a device with a transparent display was detailed by Patent Bolt and looks to be the portable version of a desktop with a transparent 3D display seen from Microsoft in February. The demos for that system focused on the use of 3D gestures and head-tracking to navigate through files and applications a la "Minority Report."
While it certainly seems that the same would be possible on this new portable version as described in the patent application, the emphasis is more on the potential to use a transparent display on a small laptop, phone, tablet, or other handheld device for augmented reality.
The patent application describes several configurations for a device with a transparent display. One could be something like an ultrabook -- a lightweight system with a keyboard and a transparent display, or the keyboard could be replaced with a touch pad, virtual keyboard, or with a second display. In the two-display configuration, when the transparent displayed is folded over to cover the second display, it would be possible to view content in 3D.
As in most augmented-reality concepts we've seen so far, words and images could be overlaid on the environment visible through the transparent screen. Possible uses vary, from run-of-the-mill concepts like trying on clothes without having to physically try them on, to smarter applications like using geolocation and recognition software to bring in all kinds of information about your environment, to pointing your transparent screen at a chess board to get a little "help" on your next move.
The resemblance between the concept in Microsoft's patent application and an ultrabook might not be a coincidence. Microsoft is reportedly playing an active role in developing the lightweight systems, and Intel showed off a laptop with a transparent touch screen at this year's CES.
Could Microsoft be planning a mobile coup d'etat to unseat the iPad by making the argument that the ideal way to view the world is through a transparent screen with Windows 8 and Metro overlaid on top? We shall see, but one thing is for sure -- the epidemic of texting and other digital distractions now seen in public is just the beginning.