One of the more frustrating aspects of modern communications technology is that, as devices have miniaturized, they have become more difficult to interact with – no one would type out a novel on a smartphone, for example. The lack of space on screen-based displays provides a clear opportunity for screenless displays to fill the gap. Full-sized keyboards can already be projected onto a surface for users to interact with, without concern over whether it will fit into their pocket. Perhaps evoking memories of the early Star Wars films, holographic images can now be generated in three dimensions; in 2013, MIT’s Media Lab reported a prototype inexpensive holographic colour video display with the resolution of a standard TV.

Screenless display may also be achieved by projecting images directly onto a person’s retina, not only avoiding the need for weighty hardware, but also promising to safeguard privacy by allowing people to interact with computers without others sharing the same view. By January 2014, one start-up company had already raised a substantial sum via Kickstarter with the aim of commercializing a personal gaming and cinema device using retinal display. In the longer term, technology may allow synaptic interfaces that bypass the eye altogether, transmitting “visual” information directly to the brain.

This field saw rapid progress in 2013 and appears set for imminent breakthroughs of scalable deployment of screenless display. Various companies have made significant breakthroughs in the field, including virtual reality headsets, bionic contact lenses, the development of mobile phones for the elderly and partially blind people, and hologram-like videos without the need for moving parts or glasses.