I’m working with a laptop that has no screen.
That’s not strictly true, because I can actually see a dozen or more of them, using a dedicated pair of glasses.
But there is no physical screen. Spacetop, billed as the world’s first augmented reality laptop, looks like the keyboard to a standard 13-inch laptop, minus the 13-inch screen.
To see the screens I’m wearing what looks a heavy pair of sunglasses that are wired to the keyboard.
As I turn my head, I can see them floating like a curved wall in the air. But I can also see the office around me, as virtual world blends with reality.
I can toggle between the individual screens, re-size and re-position them at will, zoom in and out.
And all of this with 20 seconds of training. If you’re familiar with a standard laptop, all you need to know is how to operate the two extra keys that manage what you see.
Sightful, a Tel Aviv-based startup, launched Spacetop last month, describing it as a “100-inch laptop that fits in your backpack.”
Most laptops today look and behave more or less as they did 20 years ago, says Tamir Berliner, the company’s CEO. But we expect them do far more.
“Just look at how many applications you have open on your laptop,” he says. “It’s probably between seven and 15.
“Everything we do requires multiple apps. It’s not like 2010 when you would open Microsoft Word and just write one document for a couple of hours.”
He says Spacetop makes for far greater efficiency, because you can keep all your applications open, instead of constantly switching between them, and failing to find the thing you want.
Having said that, he accepts it can take a while to get used to.
Berliner says he carried a standard laptop until recently, as well as his Spacetop, while he was getting to used to working with it.
One day he forgot his laptop, found himself flying solo, and says he’s never looked back.
“I think every month I’m improving by 20 percent,” he says, as he considers how much more productively he works with a dozen screens all open at the same time.
“I have everything that generates actions on the left – email, Slack, WhatsApp, Discord, LinkedIn – and on the right side, I have the tasks that I was asked to accomplish.
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“So when someone asks me to review a document I just open it and put it on the right side. Think of it as my inbox.”
So far there are only about 50 Spacetops in existence. Those keen to get their hands on one have been applying in recent weeks, since the company emerged from stealth mode.
It will be supplying the first 1,000 to customers in the US only some time next month, priced at $2,000. Early adopters will be screened (no pun) to make sure they’re “suitable.”
Sightful is very open about the fact that Spacetop is aimed at what it calls “web-forward” users.
“Potential customers looking for a hard-core gaming rig or a video-editing monster machine would be better served to wait for a future generation,” the company says.
Feedback from the early buyers will be used to improve both the hardware and software for the first full-access version, Spacetop V1.
I couldn’t take one of the early Spacetops home (sadly) to fully road test it and see what it’s like as a proper work companion.
But I did get a brief glimpse into the Spacetop world, through their augmented reality glasses. Simulations of what the user sees (above), provided by Sightful, are true to life.
I struggled a little because I’m very short-sighted. The glasses are designed to accommodate optical inserts for those with corrected vision, but they don’t quite reach my -9.5 prescription.
So I squinted a little through the -8 lenses they provided, then tried fitting the augmented reality glasses over my own glasses. Not great.
But I was able to move my head around and see the screens follow my line of sight, I could see my surroundings (somewhat tinted because of the dark glasses, but clear lenses will follow) and I could use the keyboard to navigate the screens.
I was also able to sit back and enjoy the view, rather than being hunched over my laptop, head down, neck strained, as I am now.
So why has nobody created a screenless laptop before? Until now, augmented reality glasses, and even VR headsets haven’t offered the high fidelity needed to make the text clear and readable across all the screens.
Sightful has combined these cutting-edge glasses – developed by US-based Xreal with super-powerful hardware that can process huge volumes of data in real time, and their own specialist software.
The company says Spacetop has been painstakingly redesigned “from the ground up” with no off-the-shelf components.
Everything is custom-made and works on Spacetop OS, a proprietary operating system, designed by Sightful.