Valve’s New Hardware Plans: Deus Ex Vision?

For weeks now the world of nerddom has been on edge as rumors of a Valve console wouldn’t die swept the Internet. Valve denied any such console was planned, even after images purporting to be of the new console surfaced, but the rumors were brought back from the dead like, um, rumor zombies after news broke a few days ago that Valve is actually hiring hardware developers. So what the hell are they working on, anyway?

We still have no idea for certain, but a post to Valve’s blog by Michael Abrash suggests that Billionaire Gabe Newell’s earlier comments about wearable computers weren’t just the crazed ramblings of one of the world’s richest men. Speaking at length about his time with Valve (and his obsession with Neal Stephenson), Abrash talked about what he’s working on now. “That, and conversations with various people around the company, kicked me into a different mode of thought,” he says, “which eventually led me to a surprising place: wearable computing.” Oh do, please go oooonnn…

By “wearable computing” I mean mobile computing where both computer-generated graphics and the real world are seamlessly overlaid in your view; there is no separate display that you hold in your hands (think Terminator vision). The underlying trend as we’ve gone from desktops through laptops and notebooks to tablets is one of having computing available in more places, more of the time. The logical endpoint is computing everywhere, all the time – that is, wearable computing – and I have no doubt that 20 years from now that will be standard, probably through glasses or contacts, but for all I know through some kind of more direct neural connection. And I’m pretty confident that platform shift will happen a lot sooner than 20 years – almost certainly within 10, but quite likely as little as 3-5, because the key areas – input, processing/power/size, and output – that need to evolve to enable wearable computing are shaping up nicely, although there’s a lot still to be figured out.

But before we assume this is what they’re working on, calm down. “To be clear,” Abrash says, “this is R&D – it doesn’t in any way involve a product at this point, and won’t for a long while, if ever – so please, no rumors about Steam glasses being announced at E3.” (Emphasis mine.) So, consider the question of why Valve is hiring hardware developers now unanswered. We’ll stick with “because they’re making a console nanny nanny boo boo” and wait to see what happens at E3. In the meantime, why yes, I would like Deus Ex vision.

Rock Paper Shotgun

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