First it was games, then text messages, then video and audio capabilities, then the Internet. Once luxuries, these technologies have become standard cell-phone features that many people can not live without. And, if you think the cellular world has run out of innovations, think again – the next big trend could be cell phones with built-in projectors.
Microvision, a Washington company that holds over 115 patents, is developing the technology to make projector phones a reality. The company already has produced a pico projector, a pocket-sized device that can be used to display video, photos or presentations almost anywhere – from walls to pieces of paper to someone's shirt. Microvision displayed a prototype of the invention at the CTIA Wireless industry show recently, and they expect to have it on the market later this year. By significantly reducing projector size, the pico projector allows people to watch movies without a TV or display business presentations while sitting at a restaurant. The projector connects to a variety of different devices, including computers, gaming consoles and iPods, and its picture quality is reported to be very sharp – even when projected at fairly large sizes.
Unlike a standard projector, the pico projector shines red, green and blue lasers on a rapidly moving, 1-millimeter square mirror. This process creates rows of pixels so quickly that an image is formed, which is then projected to the user. The new technology used to power the pico projector requires no fans or vents (which are what make standard projectors so large and bulky). Microvision projects their first pico projector will have a battery life of about two-and-a-half hours, and will cost between $ 300 and $ 400. While the pico projector could easily become a hot gadget in the business world, it's the prospect of embedding the technology into cell phones that really has commercial potential.
Microvision is still tweaking the technology, but it fully expects to create a projector small enough to be incorporated into cell phones and other portable media devices (like iPods) within the next year. But Microvision is not alone. A number of other companies also are developing pico projector technology – including 3M, Texas Instruments and Alcatel-Lucent. While mobile devices that play video and display images have become a hot commodity, the small screens on these devices have been a limiting factor (the idea of watching a movie on a tiny cell phone is not really appealing). But the prospect of being able to project a movie from a cell phone onto a six foot screen, or even the back of a bus seat, could be a big draw. Whether it's teenagers displaying photos for groups of friends or businesspeople referencing charts in an instant, the technology would have across-the-board market appeal. And it's not limited to cell phones either – projectors could be embedded in laptops, digital cameras, gaming systems, and even eyeglasses.
While no projector phones have been officially announced yet, there's a good chance most major cellular companies will have them at least in production by 2009.