Macworld 2010: Hands-on with Microvision's SHOWWX laser pico projector

I'm still skeptical about laser projectors -- while the technology is impressive, the practicality is still a little limited. And unfortunately, Microvision's demo of their SHOWWX projector here at Macworld 2010 didn't do much to change my mind. It's a nice little device -- it's almost exactly the size of the iPhone, and the rep told me that most of the unit is actually the battery -- and there are some good applications for it. But for the consumer market that Microvision really wants, the $500 unit (that will go on sale in March) is still a little too small in terms of scale and usability.

Just using the device, which will project clear images and video from an iPhone or iPod on a wall about three to four feet away (more or less depending on ambient light), you can tell that the idea of a microprojector is almost at the level where it could be really successful. As the rep said to us, the iPhone is a 1:1 device, and while many of us do use it to show pictures and video to each other, it's really only meant to show one person at a time. But the projector goes to a "1 to few" relationship instead, and that's a prospect that will be appealing to anyone who wants to show off business presentations, video, or pictures of family members to anyone else.

There are a lot of other good things about the projector as well: since it's a laser projector (the specific technology is called "pico p," and Microvision is looking to sell not just these retail units, but the tech itself to anyone willing to pay), there's no focal requirements -- you can basically point it at any surface shape, and it'll project in a visible way. It's a piece of cake to use -- just plug it into the iPhone and go.

There are enough issues that the unit isn't perfect yet, and not all of them are Microvision's fault. For one thing, that battery -- it only lasts two hours (enough to watch a movie, but not much else), and it basically doubles the size of the iPhone. For another, the capability -- Apple hasn't yet enabled developers to project screenshots or actual app screens from the connector port, so while this might be a great device for showing off apps to friends and business groups, no dice. And the price is still a bit high -- at $500, business users may be interested, but not many regular people will pay more than they paid for their iPod touch just to project pictures from it.

Personally, I think we will see projectors more and more -- eventually, they'll be included in a successful device (maybe even an Apple device), and consumers will enjoy projecting their favorite content on makeshift larger screens. But the technology just needs to get a little smaller, less power intensive, and a little cheaper. Microvision's projector will be available in the US in March, and you might even see the sales guy bring one around the next time he arrives at your company for a pitch.