For years, our personal computers were made up of monitors, keyboards, and a big beige box. Then laptops came along and changed everything—until a small, flat plate of glass encased in metal, dubbed the iPhone, showed up and changed everything again, followed shortly thereafter by an even larger plate of glass called the iPad that changed things even more.
As exciting as the iPad was, the original came to us five years ago. Today, we once again face major shifts in for computing. What will that future look like, both in the near term and the slightly further-off future?
Peering into that which hasn’t happened yet is a perilous business, but here are some new visions for computing that technology companies are rolling out soon—as well as a few radical, yet compelling dreams that are still years away from becoming tangible.
The near term
We’ve already got basic virtual reality headsets in the form of Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. But these two models are limited because they rely on a smartphone to double as the VR display, and the software they run are mere mobile apps that offer a fraction of what’s possible with a full PC’s power.
Soon, the real heavyweights of VR will make their long-expected debuts, bringing with them dedicated displays, positional tracking, and newly designed made-for-VR controllers.
The long-awaited Oculus Rift will finally show up by the end of March 2016, the SteamVR-powered HTC Vive is launching in very limited numbers by the time the holidays roll around, and at some point after both of those, Sony should release PlayStation VR, also known as Project Morpheus.
Virtual reality promises to change the way we play games, do business, train soldiers, and perceive the very world around us. For all that promise to live up to the hype, however, these kits need to be affordable. Right now all we can say is that Oculus might be priced affordably, the Vive’s room-scale experience probably won’t be, and we have no idea about the PlayStation VR.
A close cousin of virtual reality, augmented reality is something we’ve been playing with on smartphones for years. The easiest way to think of the difference is that virtual reality immerses you in a 100-percent digital experience, while augmented reality creates a digital overlay on top of the physical world.
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