Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Smart Watch Formats

In the Sep 20, 2009 edition of “Touch Panel,” in an article that I published titled, “The case for a flexible touch panel keyboard” I made this statement regarding mobile devices at that time, “This limitation in screen information content has produced a number of “unbalanced” designs where the computing power of the device addresses too few pixels to adequately support the intended functions of the device.” Of course that statement was shortly followed, in June of 2010, with Apple’s retina display where they effectively pushed pixel density to the limit. It has subsequently been followed by numerous large phone designs where screen sizes have grown from 3.5” to well over 5” with the actual screen now constituting almost the entire front of the device rather than 70%. And makers continue to add to the pixel density even though the retina display theoretically started already at the resolution limit of the human eye. Full HD resolution is now available giving 2 megapixels, about 13.5 times the number of pixels as the Apple 3G. Given this journey of the past few years, mobile device makers may be planning to start over, not with low resolution displays but with smaller displays in a watch format with the consequent reduction in pixel count proportional to the reduction in screen area.

Some time ago one of my cousins described a technique for flight simulator displays where the direction the pilot was looking was monitored. The center of his field of view was generated in high resolution while things in the pilot’s peripheral were generated in much lower resolution. An observer watching the pilot in the simulator could clearly see the high and low resolution areas of the screen. However, to the pilot, it appeared that the entire screen was in high resolution. This technique was adopted to maximize the use of limited computing power in rendering an image for the pilot. Although a smart watch may not have the same computing power limitations, it would seem that the screen area limitations could be addressed by a similar technique.

The current generation of motion sensors is very small and very precise. They could be used to create virtual screen area to compensate for very small screens. This is standard in “near to eye” applications but could also be useful on a wrist mounted device. But there is no real substitute for just using a larger display. The first wrist watches were pocket watches with a wrist band. They kept pretty-much the same size although they were eventually engineered to be much thinner. Given their single function, there was never much of a point to making them bigger. That is not the case with a smart watch. A large cylindrical display with the virtual screen area enhancement would have interesting 3D effects as well.