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Paradigm Shift from Atoms to Bits- Pico Projectors in All Things Digital by Sony

7/25/2015 Anant Goel


The subject of this article, paradigm shift from Atoms to Bits, is not only complex but is very broad in nature and it’s not my intent to discuss it here at any great detail in this forum. However, I do intend to discuss two major changes that are taking place right under our noses… and directly impact our investment in companies like Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Sony, and MicroVision.

Change #1

Smartphones are taking over and dominating the Laptop and PC world. Every year the smartphone adoption rates have grown dramatically over their laptop/desktop brethren. IDC predicts the number of worldwide mobile workers will reach 1 billion─ including nearly 75% of the U.S. workforce ─ by the end of 2011. Is your company prepared for this shift in the mobile workforce? 

Notebook Computers and Smartphones: It is well known that the screen size [of billion strong mobile workforce using laptops and smartphones] is one of the main determining factors in device form-factor design. Vendors and consumers alike are pulled in opposite directions: Make the device smaller, but improve screen readability. Adding mobile projection allows for smaller form factor design while providing a large screen display when desired. The market size for smartphones with pico projector and a virtual keyboard, therefore, is huge to the tune of over a billion units world-wide.

Change #2

We already know the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, the laptops and mobile phones around the world. However, what we may not know that there is yet another mega change taking place right under our noses…

The mobile phones have become ubiquitous globally on one hand… and on the other hand we have the smartphones taking market share from the mobile phones. The 2.5 billion or so a year mobile phone market has given way to the smartphones.

Smartphones are rapidly replacing the classic mobile phones and laptops around the globe

Smartphones are feature rich mobile devices that consist of a mini-laptop with built-in mobile phone and connected to a service provider [carrier] via a broadband mobile network like the 4G. Smartphones are feature rich mobile phones and one of the key features that have plans to be offered in the high-end smartphones is a pico projector… as an accessory unit initially… followed by the embedded version in 2016. Future smartphones are expected to include, or offered as an option, a pico projector with a virtual keyboard as a standard unit just like the digital camera is today.

It is my belief that in the coming short 2 years all sorts of video devices and services will dominate our communications, collaboration, networking, entertainment and learning world.

• Pico projectors are being developed as an embedded feature in all things digital


The next popular categories that integrate pico projectors would be mobile computing [laptops] and communication [smartphones] devices, and a whole range of multi-functional consumer electronic products such as personal media players [iPod], tablets, digital cameras, digital camcorders, and Mobile TV with pico projector─ call it PicoTV.

Why pico projectors are such a rage all of a sudden… you may ask?

That’s a fair question and can be answered in four parts…

Part 1: Pico Projectors can add Big Screen Experience to Small Devices

In 2009, In-Stat has forecast in its research report titled, “Embedded Pico projectors Ready To Break Out” that the pico projector revenue stream will cross the $ 1.1 Billion mark by 2014 with mobile hand held devices and accessory projectors accounting for significant market shares.

 “As mobile devices add more multimedia capabilities, embedded pico projectors can add a big-screen experience to a very small device,” said David Chamberlain, Author of the report and Principal.

Part 2: Rapidly Evolving Illumination Technologies like LEDs and Green Lasers

In-Stat found that illumination technologies are rapidly and continuously evolving by the day with manufacturers able to produce and supply Light Emitting Diodes (LED’s) and green lasers, and that the demand for such gizmos integrated within other devices will be so huge that the volumes will easily drive down modular costs to the extent that Pico projectors will become part and parcel of relatively low cost cell phones, media players and other digital consumer electronic devices.

“Technological advances in miniaturization, signal processing, and light sources—including green laser—are making pico projectors a realistic feature for small battery powered devices like cell phones, media players, computing devices, and other consumer electronics,” said Chamberlain.

Part 3: Powerful & Always Connected. Functions Rich Devices with Enhanced Visual Experience

Today, the mobile devices are ubiquitous and if you were to project out the current trends another five years…

“You will be carrying with you, on a 24x7 basis, a very powerful, always connected, functions & sensor-rich device with enhanced visual experience… called the Smartphones. And the cool thing is, so will everyone else. So what are you going to do with it that you aren't doing now?

Before we consider the possibilities, let’s first address the ubiquity of the mobile devices and extrapolate the current trends towards the mobile phones of the future for everyone on this planet. In other words, the mobile phones of to-day will pave the path to ubiquity for smartphones of tomorrow… and that tomorrow may be here as early as the next 2 years. And what’s good for smartphones of tomorrow is indeed good for pico projectors as an accessory of as an embedded unit.

Consider this…

• There are currently about 3.2 billion mobile subscribers in the world, and that number is expected to grow by at least a billion in the next few years.
• Today, mobile phones are more prevalent than cars (about 800 million registered vehicles in the world) and credit cards (only 1.4 billion of those).
• While it took 100 years for land line phones to spread to more than 80% of the countries in the world, their wireless descendants did it in only 16 years.
• Fewer teens are wearing watches now because they use their phones to tell time instead. So it's safe to say that the mobile phone may be the most productive and ubiquitous consumer product ever invented.

However, have you ever considered just exactly how powerful these ubiquitous devices are and if the current trends were to be extrapolated… what future mobile device will look like? Whatever the name [or logo] on the cover, under the hood these mobile phones of the future will be the smartphones that will be very smart [pun intended] and very powerful.   Today they seem to have converged and pretty much offer the same power, functionality, connectivity, long battery life and ease of use etc.

As more and more consumers switch to smartphones globally, the Galaxy and iPhone are picking up market share at the expense of foreign competitors such as Nokia. However, the good news is that the overall smartphones market is growing faster than ever. In 2014, a total of 2.4 billion mobile phones were sold worldwide, according to IDC, of which some 660 million were smartphones. IDC predicts that 50% of the 2.4 billion mobile phones sold will be smartphones, or 1.2 billion.

Currently, we know what smartphones like Galaxy and iPhone offer. What we don’t know and, therefore, we can only speculate what additional functionality and features the future smartphones may offer.

Here’s a list of what the future may hold in store for the consumers…

Smart alerts: Your mobile phone will be smart about your situation and alert you when something needs your attention.

Augmented reality: Your mobile phone uses its arsenal of sensors to understand your situation and provide you information that might be useful.

Crowd sourcing: Your mobile phone is your omnipresent window to the world, a way to publish pictures, emails, texts, Twitters, streaming videos and blog entries. When everyone else is doing the same, you have a world where people from every corner of the planet are covering their experiences in real-time. That massive amount of content gets archived, sorted, and re-deployed to other people in new and interesting ways.

Sensors everywhere: Your mobile phone knows a lot about the world around you. If you take that intelligence and combine it in the cloud with that of every other phone, we have an incredible snapshot of what is going on in the world right now.

Tool for development: Your mobile phone may be more than just a convenience; it may be your livelihood. Already, this is true for people in many parts of the world: in southern India, fishermen use text messaging to find the best markets for their daily catch, in South Africa, sugar farmers can receive text messages advising them on how much to irrigate their crops, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa entrepreneurs with mobile phones become phone operators, bringing communications to their villages. These innovations will only increase in the future, as mobile phones become the linchpin for greater economic development.

The future-proof device: Your mobile phone will open up, as the Internet already has, so it will be easy for developers to create or improve applications and content. The ones that you care about get automatically installed on your phone.

Safer software through trust and verification: Your mobile phone will provide tools and information to empower you to decide what to download, what to see, and what to share. Trust is the most important currency in the always connected world, and your phone will help you stay in control of your information. You may choose to share nothing at all (default mode), or just share certain things with certain people─ your circle of trusted friends and family.

Enhanced Visual Experience:  Not too long ago, a mobile phone offered only a one-to-one viewing experience with little room for personalization and lacking the cool factor. Soon MicroVision’s PicoP display engine technology will change the DNA of the phone, making it more visual, interactive and unique to the user. Taking this a step further, your cell phone will become a “one-to-many” tool, allowing us to share mobile content with groups of friends, family and colleagues. In the not-too-distant future, road warriors will be showing presentations to a room full of colleagues via a pico projector accessory [PicoAir and PicoPro] for their mobile phones. We have only begun to unleash the mobile visual experience.

Now, let’s take it a step further and gather some information from real life consumers that will eventually become user of enhanced communications products…

• Video vs. Other Forms of Communications: Research has shown that users prefer video communication over other forms of communication [sound, smell, touch] and video will continue to be the preferred means of all human communications.

• Users Preference for Image Quality: Research has shown that users prefer wide screen, high definition, 2D/3D video with fast refresh [without motion blur] and always in focus images for all forms of video [static, streaming, and broadcast] communications.

• User Preference for Mobility: The entire world [users and service providers] is getting into the instant gratification mode and going mobile in all forms of communications and entertainment across the globe.

• Product Features Leading to Technological Convergence: Technological convergence is the tendency for different technological systems to evolve towards performing similar tasks. Today, we are surrounded by a multilevel convergent media world where all modes of communication and information are continually reforming to adapt to the enduring demands of technologies, “changing the way we create, consume, entertain, learn and interact with each other”.

Convergence in this instance is defined as the interlinking of computing and other information technologies, media content and communication networks that have arisen as the result of the evolution and ubiquity of the Internet as well as the activities, products and services that have emerged in the digital media space.

• Customers Requirements: Customers desire all digital/video devices to be low power, low cost, multimedia enabled, multitasking, integrated & all inclusive, easy to use, low maintenance, professionally supported and warranty serviced.

• Consumer Defined Shared vs. Private Information: Consumers desire the option [in product models or optional features] or built-in switch able flexibility in these digital/video devices to be able to switch between “shared” vs. “private” mode.

Having established the huge market size [and consumer preferences] for pico projector; let’s move on to identifying the leading technologies that hope to fulfill the consumer needs…

Laser based Pico display technology is superior to what’s out there right now… compared to DLP by Texas Instruments, LcoS by 3M and FLCOS by Micron Displaytech. The competition believed that green lasers wouldn’t be ready for years and its cost would be excessive. They also had concerns about laser projection “speckle” and laser safety issues. It is for these reasons, in my opinion, that they did not pursue the laser pico display technology path and essentially left the laser pico technology to MicroVision uncontested.

MicroVision on the other hand believed in the green lasers as being the differentiating technology that would make pico display engine as superior to LED based pico projection technology… and also as a serious contender, in terms of quality and brightness of images, to the lamp based projection technology.

There were several hic-ups along the way. However, after six years of hard work, anxious wait for green lasers and sweating it each passing day, and 500 issued patents later, the world’s first laser based HD PicoP projector was
commercially launched on January 9th, 2015.

Not only that, another announcement was made [on March 10th, 2015] of a major oem [SONY] licensing agreement as a major milestone accomplished in the history of MicroVision. The stakeholders of MicroVision [investors, partners and consumers] can finally take comfort in this announcement as a milestone that…

·       MicroVision (MVIS) has "signed a multi-year license agreement with its Fortune Global 100 partner SONY" for its MEMS-based PicoP projector technology.

Now Sony is Getting Ready to Launch: several digital devices with embedded PicoP projectors by the end of 2015.

If you’re in the market for an impressive piece of visual equipment, look no further than Sony’s 2,000-lumen short-throw projector that offers tack-sharp 4K images in tight spaces. But here’s the bad news: It costs $50,000.

However, if you’re looking for something more affordable ($350) and portable—a little PicoP projector for your business meetings, large screen home theater, watching TV or a movie on your bedroom ceiling, or movie out in the backyard—there’s a smartphone-sized HD model coming out in October.

For a pico projector, the pocketable SONY MPCL1 has some impressive traits. It’s a laser projector, which helps make it slimmer, quieter, and sharper than competing LED and DLP pico projectors. Still, it’s not quite full HD resolution—this little unit has an odd resolution of 1920×720—but that’s still pretty high-res for a pico projector. Even in our age of technological wizardry, most pocket projectors top out at WVGA (800×480) resolution.

But the coolest trait is that this pocket laser projector focuses itself unlike traditional DLP, LED, and LCoS models. Sony says that even if you project an image on an uneven or curved surface, all parts of the picture will be in focus. That’s due to the nature of lasers and the PicoP laser-beam scanning system, developed by MicroVision, being used in the MPCL1. The projector uses red, green, and blue lasers as light sources for the image, and those lasers hit a constantly moving MEMS mirror to reflect images toward your wall or another projection surface.

That means you only have to move this projector closer or farther from a wall to adjust the image size without having to tinker with focus controls. According to Sony, it’ll project a sharp 40-inch diagonal image from four feet away and will give you a 120-inch picture from 12 feet away.

The projector has a brightness rating of just 32 lumens, which seems laughable compared to the 200- to 500-lumen portable DLP projectors already on the market. However, that’s where the lasers and the sharper resolution come into play: Lasers have a low luminous flux (measured in lumens), but they have very high luminous intensity (measured in candelas).

It’s not the first pico projector of its kind on the market that uses MicroVision’s PicoP Display technology. In fact, the Celluon PicoPro, which received an Editor’s Choice award from and accolades from CultOfMac, has the same brightness rating and the same PicoP laser-scanning system. Sony’s image-slinger has similar overall specs, including mini-HDMI in, a battery life of around two hours, and the ability to stream video from a phone, tablet, or laptop over Wi-Fi. You can also use the projector’s 3,000mAh battery to charge your phone.

As small as it is, the upcoming laser projector—which will go on sale on Amazon in October—is still another thing you’ll have to carry around in addition to your phone. But it’s also a glimpse at the near-term future, when mobile devices are likely to have their own built-in projectors. Sony wouldn’t divulge just how big the current laser-projector module is, but shrinking it down small enough to fit into a phone seems like a logical next step. And like its image sensors, which are used in the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, it could be another profitable product line for Sony’s component business.

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