What we consider a “computer” will likely change even faster in the next decade than the previous, but the computers we use everyday are likely to still have some sort of display and utilize a GPU for many years to come. When Windows XP was released in 2001, it touted a more intuitive user interface and expanded multimedia capabilities among a list of benefits. And happy indeed was the new Windows XP user in 2001 lucky enough to get the latest NVIDIA GeForce 3 graphics card with their new OS. Not so happy are those still using the now unsupported Windows XP. I bet Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe isn’t using Windows XP today. While it isn’t exactly clear what Brendan or his soon to be new boss Mark Zuckerberg think the intuitive user interface of the future will be, it clearly will be more graphics rich and cloud-connected than today’s phone, tablet, laptop, or PC.
We might hear a bit more about the Oculus-Facebook vision next week at Disrupt NY 2014 when Brendan speaks. But here are a few thoughts of my own on next generation computer interfaces.
Your computer interface will continue to become more cloud-connected. Already today, a large percentage of the data you interact with on your computer is coming from or going to the cloud and exists only ephemerally on your phone/tablet/laptop/PC computer. Games are streamed from the cloud, office documents live there, as well as your photos, videos, voicemail messages, and troves of other data.
Not only will your data live in the could, but the display image you see on your display will increasingly be rendered in the cloud. Oculus goggles offer a great virtual reality experience, but not very practical today for walking around town. Even the much smaller and much more limited features of Google Glass are too imposing for most non-techies. But the battery power of any mobile device ultimately limits its graphics performance. So moving the number crunching part of graphics back into the cloud makes a lot of sense. Google Glass relies on servers in far away Google data centers for major parts of their functionality. This is already happening today in the enterprise as well, using technologies like NVIDIA’s vGPU virtual GPU technology to deliver high-end 3D graphics to almost any computer display. VMware’s recently announced plans to support vGPU will only accelerate enterprise adoption.
GPUs and CPUs will continue to co-exist as graphics demands of ever more visually rich consumer devices continue to grow faster than Moore’s Law. A general purpose CPU needs to be good at doing small bits of work very quickly. CPU memory architectures are thus optimized to move relatively small amounts of data from main memory into processor cache memory, eventually be used by the processor. GPU memory architectures are optimized to move large amounts of data from main memory into the GPU, and bandwidth is more important than absolute speed. A simple comparison is race car can speed 200 MPH around a track. But eight cars moving at 50 MPH down an 8 lane highway have a combined speed of 400 MPH. Both have their uses.
Larger displays require more graphics processing power. On a 15″ laptop, a roughly 1000×1000 pixel display is fine. On a 50″ TV, so called 4K technology, or roughly 4000×4000 pixels, is the new high end standard. But if you want to display a 180 degree field of view, you need the equivalent of many 4K displays. You can get by with fewer pixels by moving the display closer to your eyes, as is done with with goggles or other head mounted displays, but even at a 1″ distance, the human eye can still distinguish between millions of pixels.
Computer displays are fairly boring if you don’t have a lot of content to display on them. Vice versa, a terabyte of data isn’t too interesting if you can’t display it, manipulate it, and interact with it. If your data sits in the cloud, then it will be a lot more efficient to generate your display in the cloud, versus copying all the data to your local computer to generate the display.
How all this translates into future displays and interactions with the digital world remains to be played out across Silicon Valley and other high tech centers of the world. So while many question the logic of Facebook’s pending acquisition of Oculus, it makes perfect sense to me. It has very little to do with the current Oculus goggles, but it has everything to do with the future of computer interfaces and how we interact with all the world’s data.
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