Desktop Equivalent Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is available on all relatively modern smart phones. I’ve played with it on my Android phone but it hasn’t delivered the benefits that I hoped, there is a game where you can walk through a virtual maze which didn’t work for me, and a bunch of programs which show me the position of stars, pizza restaurants, and other things which are cool but not really useful.

It has been proven that larger screen size can make a surprising difference in productivity for increasing monitor size. The general concept seems to be that ideally everything you are thinking about at one time should be on the screen at once. I’m not aware of any research comparing phones to desktop monitors but it is obvious that some tasks become extremely difficult or nearly impossible when attempted on the tiny screen of a phone. One significant example is coding. One noteworthy thing about coding is that the amount of typing is often quite small when compared to the amount of time spent looking at code, so the lack of good keyboard options on phones isn’t always a serious problem.

The iPhone 4 has a resolution of 640*960 which seems to be the best available phone resolution (with 480*854 being the highest resolution that is available in many phones). The Dell Streak at 5 inches seemed to have the largest screen in a phone, but they have stopped selling them. It seems that the largest screen available in a phone is about 4.2 inches. Probably the minimum that would be considered usable for development would be a resolution of about 1280*1024 and a screen size of about 14 inches, while opinion will vary a lot about this I think that the vast majority of programmers will agree that the bigger tablet computers and Netbooks (at about 10 inches and something like 1366*768 resolution) are well below the minimum size.

It seems to me that a possible solution to this problem involves using augmented reality to provide a virtual desktop that is significantly larger and which has a significantly higher resolution. The advantage of augmented reality over merely scrolling is that it should allow faster and more reliable seeking for the section of virtual desktop that is of interest, and seek speed is probably the bottleneck with small monitors. One problem for this would be turning corners when on public transport, but the camera button could be used to reset the current phone position to be the middle of the viewing area, if the process of resetting the angle is fast enough it wouldn’t be a great distraction.

I don’t think that a mobile phone will ever be a great device for software development and I don’t think that the places where a serious computer isn’t available are good places to work. But sometimes I get inspiration for tracking down a difficult bug when on the move and it would be really good to be able to read the code immediately.

I won’t have any time to work on such things myself. I’m just publishing the idea in case someone who likes it happens to have a lot of spare time…

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