I tried an AR laptop. It is way ahead of its time

There is a small keyboard and trackpad on my lap. But there is no screen. You can’t see, anyway. For me, I have a curved wraparound workspace with dozens of windows open. I see it on a pair of augmented reality glasses (with prescription inserts) strapped to my nose.

I first tried Spacetop in Las Vegas in January, but the company that developed it, Sightful, is finally announcing an early access experience for the product now. I’ve seen plenty of AR and VR headsets, but very few unique peripherals designed to work with these and future goggles. Rather than games or social experiences, Spacetop’s main goal is to turn laptops into augmented reality-enabled devices with endless virtual screens.

If that sounds like an odd tune, consider that I actually lived it. I got close Meta Quest Pro for my laptop to extend its default Watching around my head, and a lot of solutions like this already exist using the apps available. Interfaces can be cramped, and devices aren’t entirely made to be portable. The base of the Spacetop keyboard, with a Qualcomm processor inside, acts as a spatially tracking anchor that the augmented reality glasses can track and the floating screens to. Tracking can work on the move in a car or plane, and a button on a keyboard can make floating displays disappear for an in-room conversation with someone, and turn virtual screens on and off.

This visualization of working on Spacetop is actually very similar to the experience of using it, except that at any time the field of view is smaller (imagine watching through a narrower window).


Spacetop comes with a pair of nReal light Augmented reality glasses as part of its package, which need to be physically attached to the keyboard for it to work. The founders of Sightful plan on wireless options eventually, but have found the tethered option to be more reliable for consistent tracking at this time. Also, the whole concept could eventually work with other augmented reality and mixed reality headset devices down the road.

Spacetop Keyboard. No screen, just a base. There is a cradle for augmented reality glasses.

Scott Stein/CNET

That would make sense, given how many devices must be in the way: Apple, to startwhatever Samsung, Google and Qualcomm Cooking done in the next year or so. NReal glasses are fine, but don’t work My own glasses. Instead, I had to use prescription entries, which Sightful will make available to device buyers. The entries I tried didn’t exactly match, but it was enough to appreciate that the display’s resolution was more than good enough for screen readings. However, the field of view is narrower than most VR headsets: It can project something like a 40-inch TV screen as seen across the table, but I have to turn my head to see other mini-browsers’ floating windows in Spacetop’s Chrome-like program interface.

Sightful co-founder Tomer Kahane is doing a Spacetop show with me. I worked on that too.

Scott Stein/CNET

Zooming in or scrolling around displays is done with trackpad and keyboard action. The keyboard itself is the interface.

The Sightful team has expertise in augmented reality: Founders Tamir Berliner and Tomer Kahan came from Magic Leap, and Berliner also founded Primesense, the Microsoft Kinect-enabled depth-sensing technology that Apple acquired as the basis for its Face ID TrueDepth camera.

As Apple’s headset begins to imagine how mixed reality might work with other devices — perhaps iPads or Apple Watch — upcoming glasses and goggles will begin to imagine working better with phones or laptops and other gadgets to come. It makes sense that new peripherals would also arrive — not just controllers, but track rings, wearable trackers, and a new wave of consoles designed specifically for mixed reality.

I think the Spacetop is a little ahead of the curve here, and while it’s designed as a basic PC with its own headset, the future may belong to smart accessories that evolve from that idea to work with more headsets to come. If virtual reality and augmented reality are more than just gaming venues, better business tools are bound to arrive. Spacetop is a very nice first step to what I imagine will be a lot more on this front.

#laptop #ahead #time

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