Last year I had several posts about a company called Light Blue Optics and my suspicions about their press announcements. It seems that they have yet another neat new product for the press to rave over.
Someone left a comment on one of my previous posts to tell me that Light Blue Optics had a live demo at CES 2010. I didn't bother investigating it at the time, having lost interest in the subject, but now LBO has made the big-time with an Instalink to PopSci. Now they've got my attention again.
So I engaged in some sleuthing. In other words, I googled for "CES 2010 Light Blue Optics". First, kudos to them for answering one of my biggest criticisms. Previously, I was not able to find any articles about LBO where it was clear that the writer of the article had actually seen the products and demos that they were writing about. I even sent emails to a couple of these writers to ask them, and got no replies. LBO had a habit of private demos, only for investors and insiders --people who had an interest in promoting their products. Now LBO has turned its cards and we can see if they really do have what it takes to fill out that straight.
The latest gadget is not a cell-phone-sized device that can project an image several feet across as in their 2003 announcement, nor is it matchbox-sized like their 2006 product that never shipped, nor is it the even smaller device announced as part of their "product line" back in 2008 which never shipped, but it does have touch detection. In other words, you can interact with the projected image as if it were a touch screen.
In the Engadget review the reporter, Thomas Ricker, actually notices that the light level is very low during the demo and bothered to ask about the brightness. You can see from Engadget photo that reality doesn't look much like the publicity photos. It turns out that the projector only produces 15 lumens which renders it of limited use except in very dim lighting. If you read the PopSci article you will see that all of the competitors are smaller and brighter.
If all of the competitors are smaller and brighter, why the excitement over the LBO projector? Clearly their only claim to fame is the touch-screen functionality. This is a neat feature and one that I'd like to see repeated in similar products, but it is not especially revolutionary. I don't remember when the KBD virtual keyboard first came out, but it must have been around ten years ago. It projects a laser image of a keyboard and lets you type on it using the same sort of technology as LBO is announcing.
So is LBO actually going to ship this time? The cards don't look good. They claim to be looking for an OEM for the product, but really, even if all of this is above-board, why would any consumer buy this device? The actual projector is very bulky and dim compared to the competition. The idea of a projectible touch screen is cool, but the main advantage of projectors is that you get a large image from a relatively small device. From the photos it is clear that for the Light Blue Optics projector, the projected image is really not much larger than the device itself.
An Apple iPad give a slightly larger touch screen in a slightly larger device, and since both devices are too big to fit in a pocket, the slightly smaller size doesn't gain much. The iPad can be held in any position --you don't have to be sitting at a desk. The iPad can be used in a much larger range of lighting conditions. Given all of that, what is the upside of the LBO touch-screen projector? I have to confess that I don't see much of one and I doubt that any manufacturers will either.