Sci-fi. Be it in novels, games or some other art form, sci-fi has been remarkable at predicting future technology which once-upon-a-time seemed completely impossible. One of my old posts last year had been asking for a makeover in light of new technological developments and so this is the nice and shiny updated GamesBeat version. Perhaps for my next GamesBeat article I can use my brain and come up with something new and terrifically thought engaging for the community. I can do that, yes. Today however we are going to look at Mass Effect’s omni-tool. I will get to that in a moment right after I discuss…
Funnily enough in the original blog I speculated that Apple would create the “iArm”. If rumours are anything to go by, Apple now have a huge project to develop the iWatch. This is still no way as cool as an iArm (what sort of silly name is iWatch?!), but if Apple plan on this being their next big thing then chances are it will be very good. To clarify, I mean good in the sense that it will be a new intuitive way to access the data you want. We all know the iPad is simply a larger iPhone without the phone, and yet simply by having a larger screen gives it an entirely new user experience. Likewise the iWatch will likely be not that much different to the iPhone (regardless of whether it streams from iDevices or runs its own full iOS) and yet the ability to check directions, do a google search and, er, check the time by looking down at your arm is very likely to work. No, I do not think Apple are the Gods of technological innovation, but they are good at taking something which already exists and making it user friendly. This time it does feel like they are jumping on the bandwagon a little bit. The huge support the e-ink Pebble watch got from crowd-sourcing demonstrates an existing eager market for such devices. The reason not everyone yet has one is indicative to me that such devices have not yet been perfected for the mass-public. Cynically we could also say that no such device have yet been given a large enough marketing budget. You can make a great product but without the marketing it just won’t sell. Yes I am looking at you HTC!
I am here to read about the omni-tool!
Eh yes, let us get back on track. The focus of this article is the omni-tool; the piece of kit which is used repeatedly in the game Mass Effect. These devices are a computer microframe packed with holographic display, sensor analysis system, the ability to modify remote equipment, and the latest version of Powerpoint, thank you Mass Effect Wikipedia. Well, perhaps it didn’t have Powerpoint but you get the idea. If all this sounds familiar that’s because smart-phones are practically just as functional for the needs of yourself, member of the public. Let us get one thing straight though. People, or at least gamers, want the omni-tool. If you played the Mass Effect games and never felt you wanted one, well I state that this is an impossibility and that you do not exist.
Above: The main benefit is that the omni-tool makes you look badass
One aspect making the omni-tool so nifty in Mass Effect is that holographic projection for the display. This means you would not need a huge screen strapped to your arm, nor squint at something watch-sized. Now even though almost everyone by now knows that 3D is a declining fad and should probably be kept away from smart-phones and TVs, it could be a substitute for the hologram. What would be necessary to include would be a hand and finger recognition system – akin to an even more miniaturised Leap Motion – allowing you to interact with the 3D display rather than jabbing your fingers on the screen like it’s 1999. Throw in the rapidly developing voice recognition and the iAr- I mean omni-tool isn’t quite as obscure as you first thought.
The only spanner in the works is due to scumbag Google (just kidding, I love Google) who may disrupt the mobile-wrist market before it even takes off. Google Glass is the headset/glasses device with a small screen which allows you to record, search and share both what you see while having full access to the internet. This is a clear step beyond what smartphones and wrist-devices can achieve, with the same advantage of the latter in that you do not have to fish your device out of your pocket whenever you want to do something. My main issue is how one controls Google Glass; speaking to your glasses in public would not be comfortable for many and touching your head to activate it would feel equally awkward. Perhaps where the future lies is actually an arm device and a visual device working in harmony. But I digress.
When it comes down to it, our equivalent of the omni-tool is simply a smartphone attached to your arm. If the idea is peculiar to you, again consider how the pocket watch was transformed with the simple addition of the strap. Given the increasing reliance on smart-phone technology having the device strapped to your arm might actually be more convenient than fishing it out from your pocket. Wirelessly controlling mentioned Powerpoint, transferring money across device accounts, playing angry birds: you name it; all achieved with greater access. It is worth mentioning that the omni-tool is a military device, and as such has abilities unnecessary for us common folk. The point rather is that it is fit-for-purpose for the user. So while I would not need to administer medi-gel, I would like to use it to, say, compliment my gaming experience. Lo and behold these sorts of features have also been introduced to us in the last year, such as Microsoft’s Smartglass. So while I play Bungie’s Destiny I glance down at the 3D map projected from my arm to track my location, quickly tracing my finger to inform my team-mates the route I plan to take. Ultimately of course is to just make the omni-tool cool with orange 3D effects for us gamers. We need that for our calibrations.
Let me know what you think. If an omni-style device was released with voice and gesture recognition, PC and console compatibility, and as a replacement for your smartphone – would you buy it?
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!