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Seabird community-driven “Open Web Concept Phone”

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September 26, 2010

The Seabird Open Web mobile phone concept from Billy May

The Seabird Open Web mobile phone concept from Billy May

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As laptop computers continue to shrink in size and mobile phones become more and more powerful, can it be that long before the two merge into a device with the portability of a mobile phone and the functionality of a laptop? While it is just a matter of time before the power of a fully-fledged PC can be crammed inside a device the size of a mobile phone, our fingers aren't getting any smaller so overcoming the problems of interacting with such a small device will require some creative thinking. Creative thinking like that of designer Billy May who has come up with a mobile phone concept called the “Seabird” that is designed to address some of the frustrations people face when using such physically small devices.

May developed the concept phone as part of Mozilla Labs’ Concept Series, which asked people to share ideas and develop concepts around Firefox, the Mozilla projects and the Open Web as a whole. In early 2009, May, who also came up with the Hindsight concept glasses, developed a throwaway concept for an “Open Web Concept Phone”. In response to community feedback on that concept he developed the Seabird that explores what an Open Web phone might look like and how one would interact with it.

Virtual keyboard

The popularity of standard 3 x 4 keypads has declined as the popularity of smartphones has increased and the capabilities of mobile phones have expanded, to the point where QWERTY keypads – be they physical, such as those found on a BlackBerry, or onscreen, such as those found on the iPhone – are now the norm. Still, the size of these miniaturized keyboards is less than ideal, which is why May has opted for a full-sized QWERTY keyboard using a couple of in-built pico projectors.

Pico projectors on either side of the phone project a virtual keyboard

When the Seabird is placed down on a flat surface two pico projectors on either side of the device can be used to display a full-sized virtual keyboard with the full complement of keys, while an unmarked area below the base of the phone serves as an infrared touchpad area. Additionally, with the use of a dock the projectors would act independently, with one used to display the virtual keyboard and the other projecting the screen onto a wall.

A dock allows the projectors to display the screen and a virtual keyboard

Pico projectors are already appearing in mobile phones and there are already virtual keyboard projectors such as the VKB on the market, so it seems likely such an input system will be built into a mobile phone in the near future. Although such a system would be an improvement over the fiddly little keypads we use today, without the tactile key feedback of physical keyboards May’s suggestion that such a system would enable “netbook-quality interaction” might be a long bow to draw.

Bluetooth Headset/IR remote control

May’s Seabird concept also features a detachable Bluetooth/IR Dongle that fits into the back of the device that functions as a Bluetooth earpiece or as a remote control to move a cursor on the phone’s screen. An infrared camera array built into the phone would detect motion of the dongle in three dimensions, allowing users to zoom in and out as well as pan.

The Seabird would include features already found in mobile phones today such as an 8-megapixel camera, 3.5mm headphone jack and mini-USB port. It would also run Android and would also charge wirelessly – again, technology that is already commercially available in devices such as the Powermat.

The device would feature a flat face with no physical buttons, while the bulge at the top of the device’s back elevates the two side projectors to allow them to better project the virtual keyboard onto the surface it sits upon.

Although there are no plans for the Seabird to become a real-world device, the technologies that May has used in his concept either already exist or are within the realm of possibility. So it’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that we’ll see a similarly equipped device appearing from a mobile phone manufacturer in the not too distant future.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
6 Comments

It seems like it could use a flat surface and NO sunshine... IR doesn't work well with the sun around. Add the price tag and it's:

Doomed from the beginning!!!

Nitrozzy7
27th September, 2010 @ 08:50 am PDT

So he has provided keyboard projectors, but there is no mention of freeing the user from that tiny shirtpocket "screen!" USB link? another projector? Oh, watch the tediously padded viedo, there is a "dock" to provide a larger screen. Just what I want to go with a take everywhere, do it all device- accessories that I put in , ah my shirtpocket!!! This has some nice directions implicated but the usual suspects are again overlookd, IMHO.

While I'm disssing, let's look at look at old Qwerty, designed to minimize mechanical interference so typist had a chance, a thin chance, to be speedy like a telegrapher. We get a "haptic clicker" whatever that signifies (but it must be desirable, even maybe bleeding edge?) An Iambic paddle allows many to do 125-150 words per minute. True its a new thing to learn even after a century and half of telegrapghy, which is the grandady of it all, including compression shcema, Its also innately "digital" and with command line married to "predictive completion" as in texting, perhaps we could push the 200 "words" per minute with a simpledevice. Some one wanna tell me why not, except for the "learning curve" against the accumulated old traditions?

"73"

Facebook User
27th September, 2010 @ 11:27 am PDT

Because it runs Android and seems like a real advancement, even if just by sheer design and promise of newer and more useful apps, I'd get one!

Lupoi Alexandru-Nicolae
27th September, 2010 @ 11:41 am PDT

This is not innovative just progressive. Give me a phone that can read my thoughts and convert them to email. Give me a phone that can turn the music in my head into a recording and produce a piece of sheet music.

Oh yes and give me a phone that can read the other persons thoughts rather than what they are saying and you've got something.

Stop enlarging the possible and give me the impossible, I remain underwhelmed

Nick Rowney
29th September, 2010 @ 04:08 pm PDT

Hey Nick...

"Give me..." a magic wand, and we'll bypass all the incremental inventions.

RpD
9th November, 2010 @ 01:12 pm PST

give me give me give me... i would love this thing , probably as much as or more than my unlocked iphone.

Stop whinning about how unerwhelmed you are or how the concepts wont work and come up with some ideas of your own...your ideas might be better and more usefull,

Facebook User
12th November, 2010 @ 03:24 pm PST
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