Compute power is relentlessly moving closer to the human “sensory” edge. The mainframe computer terminal of the 1980s evolved to a desktop PC and then became a smart device in your pocket, wearable glasses, a goggles-type device or possibly an in-body device. The potential "next step" in user interfaces — connecting you to the digital world — is augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) products that combine low-power, high-performance DRAM solutions and optimized power consumption.
In the 1990s, traditional telephones came off the wall and became “mobile,” and 2G network capability drove rapid growth in mobile communications. In the 2000s, 3G networks helped enable Apple and Android-based smartphones with a touchscreen user interface (UI). Today smartphones have become the default way to connect to the digital world, due to a relatively pervasive broadband, powerful compute onboard, an application-rich ecosystem and access to a wealth of data.
A crossroads in capability
Broadband access is expected, global connectivity is a given in most urban areas and the smartphone provides portable access and mobility. But the internet as we know it is evolving from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional view of information. The buzzwords are “spatial computing” and 3D “virtualization” of the internet. How do we even see 3D on a smartphone? I am tired of typing with my thumbs. What’s next?
Moving from 2D to 3D means the eyes have a greater role in the next-generation UI. It makes sense that interfaces would move closer to the head (where the ears and mouth are also located). With most of our key sensory organs collocated close to the brain, practicality dictates the user interface should be there too.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)
A key distinction in user needs differentiates AR from VR. In one case, users need to see the physical world around them while using apps, data and information. That’s AR. In the second case, users need to be immersed in a 3D virtualization and don’t need to see the physical world around them. I like to think of the difference as a person walking down the street who needs to see what’s going on around them, while a person working at a desk doesn’t need to know if the stoplight at the crosswalk is red. AR generally means glasses, a “see-through” version of physical reality with augmented inputs, perhaps a superimposed line on the sidewalk that tells a user where to walk to arrive at a destination, while VR means a headset that shuts out the physical world, replacing it with a full virtualization of the task at hand. Perhaps I need to see radio waves broadcasting from a cell tower. VR can make that happen by creating a 3D visual interpretation and making the invisible visible.
Opportunities for Micron
It’s incredibly complex yet, at the same time, simple and intuitive. As these great capabilities move from the pocket closer to the senses, some very basic user expectations create gaps that Micron can help solve. We wear VR headsets and AR glasses on our head, so as users, we want comfort, style, performance and ease of use. Yet cords constrain our movement, batteries are heavy and generate heat, and size and aesthetics are key. We likely won’t use goggles or glasses if they are hot, heavy and awkward or if they need to be recharged every hour. Glasses are glasses; there’s a predefined expectation. Most people won’t wear a hat that’s not stylish and comfortable. Same with glasses.
Micron helps bridge the gap between capability and user expectations by providing low-power, high-performance DRAM solutions that optimize power consumption. Our leading-edge LPDDR5 DRAM and UFS 3.1 storage solutions are onboard in leading VR products today. This means smaller, lighter and ultimately cooler batteries, along with longer battery life and the performance levels required for immersive uninterrupted VR applications.
On the AR front, Micron provides a “square die-based” ePoP solution of 16Gb LPDDR4 DRAM combined with 32GB eMMC storage that’s hard to beat and well suited for the tight space constraints of a “glasses” form factor. In addition, Micron’s collaboration with both key customers and leading SoC manufacturers to solve the common problems of power, performance, industrial design, aesthetics and customer expectations helps drive this next generation of consumer user interface. By working with our strategic partners, Micron is helping to define and enable the next generation of AR- and VR-based devices.
Fifteen years ago, we were just beginning to experience smartphones with touchscreen user interfaces. What will the user interface be fifteen years from today?