New projected smartphone display could make device size irrelevant

The new Lenovo Smart Cast concept phone demos potentially transformative display technology.

Projected smartphone display Lenovo Smart Cast
Credit: Lenovo

As regular TechWatch readers (hi Mom!) readers know, I'm a big "phan" of giant phablet devices. That's not because I like to tote around comically large slabs of metal and plastic, but because I find smartphones more useful the more screen real estate they present.

Last week, Chinese tech manufacturer Lenovo showed off its Smart Cast concept phone at its own Tech World conference in Beijing. Like a concept car, it's not clear if the Smart Cast phone will ever make it to production, but the technology has the potential to eventually shatter the connection between device size and screen size. By projecting the device's touch screen on to any convenient surface, smartphones may one day be able to have displays of any size. Critically, the Smart Cast technology lets you interact with the projected screen, so you can use it as a keyboard or other input channel, as well as a monitor. 

According to Lenovo, Smart Cast incorporates "the world's smallest" laser-projector, "focus-free" infrared motion detector, and special software:

"Users can project a large virtual touch screen onto a table to type with a virtual keyboard and work with specific productivity apps (calculator, drawing, note-taking and even edit in Microsoft PowerPoint). Using just the projector alone, users can transform their wall into a movie theatre to watch videos, give a presentation or even play games… For a transformative video chat, they can project content onto the wall while viewing different content simultaneously on their smartphone screen. At Tech World, noted pianist Lang Lang helped demonstrate the possibilities of Smart Cast with a rendition of The Entertainer played on the virtual keyboard with the full size sheet music displayed from the smartphone's projector."

More than a decade ago, I attended a Demo conference where a small startup made a smartphone add-on device that projected a keyboard onto a table top. Although the device apparently never made it to market, I thought it was an awesome concept then, and I'm even more excited about it now.

I'm sure there are lots of issues to be resolved before the Smart Cast becomes a practical solution: battery life, projector brightness, and screen resolution come to mind immediately. And it would likely cost plenty to add this kind of technology to a smartphone.

But the need to break the bonds tying screen size to device size is a key component of making smartphones capable of filling more and more roles in personal and business technology. Who needs a PC or a tablet if your smartphone can project a full-size keyboard and giant screen whenever and wherever you need it?

Lenovo isn't saying when (or if) Smart Cast will become a real product. And I doubt Lenovo will be the only company to address this issue with similar or other technological approaches.

But anyone who loves big screens, hates tiny keyboards, and doesn't want to put a phablet in their pocket has got to be excited at the prospect of making this technology practical. I know I am.

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