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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK


Future gadgets get mixed reaction

The CyberPhone projects a virtual screen

The ceaseless march of miniaturisation in electronics presents engineers with ever-increasing ways of combining gadgets.

Sarah Vauxhall investigates the latest concepts
IBM has unveiled its vision of the future which includes mobile telephones with full Internet access through virtual screens and a wearable computer controlled by your voice.

But the public's reaction is as mixed as it was for the first mobile telephones and personal stereos, for example.

IBM have produced a prototype of a wearable computer called VisionPad. The processor is housed in a cigarette-box-sized case. It is controlled using voice-recognition software and viewed through a small screen mounted on a head set.

[ image: The VisionPad is hard to miss]
The VisionPad is hard to miss
It certainly looks odd and when the BBC asked Londoners for their opinion, its appearance was a common thread: "If everyone was doing it, it would be normal. But now, it looks silly."

Others were not enthused by the idea of being constantly wired: "I'd rather be detached from my computer a good deal of the time."

However, some were attracted: "If it was cheap enough it would be a good idea."

IBM's CyberPhone received a more positive reaction. This mobile telephone concept has a miniature projection display built into the flip-out cover of the handset. When the gadget is held to the ear, the projector creates a virtual image which looks like an 11 inch screen.

John Karidis on designing the future
Users can surf the Net using their voice and a thumb-operated track-point.

But designing the devices of the future is not just about packing in as much as possible, says John Karidis, an IBM engineer.

IBM have a concept called WatchPad, in which a slim watch has a high-resolution screen which is the interface for a personal digital organiser and a pager.

"But trying to pack in Net access and telephone communication would mean it becomes like a hockey puck strapped to your wrist, which isn't very attractive," says Dr Karadis.

"If you combine too many functions you get products which do all things badly, rather than one or two things well," he says.

"There will be a lot of big ideas in the next few years and there will be a lot of big flops too," thinks Karadis. "But companies are going to have to experiment by bringing things to market to see how people react."

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