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With an Interface Like This, a Smartphone Might Replace Your Laptop

A new concept phone from Mozilla Labs suggests as much.

With an Interface Like This, a Smartphone Might Replace Your Laptop

Smartphones might one day replace laptops, desktop CPUs, and the like — except for the fact that the displays remain insufferably small. One designer’s solution, envisioned with community input through Mozilla Labs: project the interface clear off the screen.

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Seabird is a concept phone by Billy May (the guy behind Nike’s peripheral-vision shades, not the dude who sold the world OxiClean), and it’s designed to make it way more efficient to input data on a handheld device. So it comes equipped with two pico projectors that throw a sensor-controlled virtual keyboard around your phone like a pair of wings, half on the left side, half on the right — no more chicken-pecking tiny buttons or having to scroll through menus to find the exclamation point.

You can also set the phone in a docking station to project your keyboard and your screen, practically replicating the look and feel of a laptop.

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On the back of the phone, there’s a slot for a Bluetooth dongle, which works as both an earpiece and a sort of gestural control for panning and zooming around 2-D and even 3-D images on your phone.

The design is skinny and clean and almost dainty, which was precisely the point. Says May:

The form development took its cues from various aerodynamic, avian and decidedly feminine forms. Its erect posture intends a sense of poise while its supine conformity to the hand reconciles that with the user’s desire for digital control. The curvature of the back also serves a functional role in elevating the projector lens elements when lying flat.

Seabird isn’t meant to go into production — Mozilla doesn’t plan on entering the smartphone business anytime soon — but it’s a great provocation that could inspire some radical new thinking. Designers are already experimenting with digital displays that extend into the environment, blurring the divide between real and virtual worlds, as we reported earlier this month. And it speaks volumes that May developed the phone through crowdsourcing (lots more on how that worked here) — suggesting that ambient interfaces aren’t just the fanciful notion of a handful of designers.

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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