Seabird concept phone designer talks about need for better interfaces

Designer Billy May, 25, is looking for work (see Seabird video, slideshow below)

Designer Billy May's concept smartphone, the Seabird, might never be produced. But the underlying concepts in the phone -- and inside May's head -- are a wonder nonetheless.

"Anybody expecting full fruition of Seabird will be disappointed, I think," May told Computerworld on Friday, a day after the concept phone appeared on Mozilla Labs' Concept Series Web site.

The concept phone (see slide show) was developed over the past year with heavy input from the Mozilla online community, with an emphasis on open source for software and hardware elements, May said. It would run Android, which is also open source.

Even so, Mozilla has no plans to produce it.

"I've talked to designers of concept phones who didn't get them built, but a few said they saw their work come out as a phone in China," May said. "So check in China in a couple of years."

The most striking feature of the smartphone is dual pico projectors, one on either side. When the phone is docked, one projector projects a full-size virtual keyboard and the other projects the phone's display on a nearby wall for easier viewing.

May said the idea for the projectors derived from his work in lighting and visualization design, as well as the strong sentiment from Mozilla contributors, who believe that the interface on phones needs to be made easier to use.

"What grabbed me more than anything was working with the limitations of the interface [in today's phones]," May said. "It was intriguing to see the projectors distort light outwards. I love seeing function play out.

"I like the medium of light, so you see my own affinities coming out in Seabird," he continued. "Projectors are so malleable, depending on the orientation and context and surroundings, so you can create all sorts of interfaces, depending on where you are."

Designer Billy May's Seabird concept smartphone. (Click arrow button to play video. Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers may require two clicks to start the video.)

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