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The phrase “augmented reality” tends to evoke holographic imagery — visions of computer-generated overlays and objects floating in real spaces — but there are more subtle potential applications for AR, as well. U.K.-based consultancy Special Projects has come up with a concept called Magic UX, using a mobile device’s sensor data to create a virtual workspace viewed one app at a time.

Magic UX lets a user “pin” multiple apps within a real-world space, automatically shifting between the apps as the device is moved. Picture a physical desktop with a photo album on the left, a computer with an email app open in the center, and an encyclopedia on the right. Using device motion data to facilitate dragging and dropping, Magic UX lets you seamlessly move items from the album and encyclopedia into an email message just by selecting the items and moving the phone.

“In the real world,” explained Special Projects cofounder Clara Gaggero Westaway, “we use our desk space to organize ourselves — our computer, pen, paper and so on — but we rarely use this physical space to navigate the digital world. The way humans behave can really enrich our digital interactions, and that’s what inspired us to create Magic UX.”

One especially compelling component of the concept is that it can be differentially triggered by geographic location data. Picture having one virtual workspace that’s ready to be used when you’re at your favorite coffee shop, and a separate one for your office. According to Special Projects, “every time you bring your device to that space, your chosen apps will be laid out in front of you virtually — just like setting up and organizing your real desk.”

Although Magic UX’s concept may seem basic, it could become fundamental, given AR’s current trajectory within the enterprise sector. The limited augmented fields of view offered by Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap’s One headsets already lend themselves to pinning multiple small app windows within real spaces, and AR software development tools offered by Apple and Google are made to display one app on a device screen at a time. Magic UX would provide intuitive connective tissue between multiple apps — a good solution for multitasking productivity.

Special Projects’ challenge, of course, is getting any of these companies to adopt its concept at an operating system level. The company says it has patented the technology and is “in talks with several leading technology companies with a hope to integrate it into every smartphone operating system.”


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