3D, fashion and the flat screen paradox

One of the insights already resulting from the MEX community’s work on Pathway #4 (‘Identify ways 3D can enrich the user experience with visual depth‘) is that the flat displays typically found on mobile devices are often a counter-intuitive way to deliver a 3D experience.

At the MEX event in December 2010, we heard about the confusion observed in young children when they see visual depth simulated on a flat surface. There was a particular example of a child wanting to physically look behind the device, searching for the source of the content. As in so many areas, a young mind can illuminate a general problem more vividly: it is contradictory to observe the illusion of depth in a single plane of vision and even more confusing to try to interact with that 3D illusion in 2D space.

As a result, several alternative display methods were explored at MEX, ranging from free space projection techniques to supplying digital information directly into eye glasses. In the working session on Pathway #4, the team developed a concept design for skiers, embedding a 3D display into ski goggles and marrying it with a gestural input system.

However, although bringing the display direct to the eye may be the most practical way to deliver a good 3D experience, a major stumbling block remains: vanity.

It is one of our most powerful drivers and is the single most important reason Bluetooth headsets have never become truly mass market. Despite the practical benefits, most people refuse to wear a Bluetooth headset because they don’t like the way it looks or what it says about them as a person.

Manufacturers of 3D eyewear face the same problem.

A recent article in Financial Times (‘An eye for the next big trend‘, Weekend FT, 8/9 January 2011) discussed some of the ways in which eyewear brands, including Marchon, Nike, Calvin Klein and Nautica are trying to address the stigma associated with technology-driven accessories. They are all working on ways to combine the polarisation required for 3D with the kind of standard, prescription eyewear we are already comfortable with. As a result, users would be able to view 3D displays without having to change into a dedicated pair of glasses and sport brands and designs indistinguishable from existing, non-technical products.

The video below has a small segment about some of these products (from 0:27 to 0:40).

The next logical step would be glasses where digital information could be displayed directly, either through projection or within the lens itself (the Sony Ericsson Experia Pureness already has a transparent display). Crucially, this would allow the display to separated from the input device.

With that separation established, it becomes much easier to use the physical position of the mobile device as a way of inputing 3D interactions as there is no need for the user’s eyes to remain focused on a fixed, flat screen. The user is free to swipe, rotate and move the physical device, knowing that the display will come directly into their field of vision through the glasses.

Although the technology components are likely to emerge from the consumer electronics business, fashion brands will have an important role to play in delivering it to customers in a way which overcomes our very natural aversion to the digitisation of human body image.

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