Noses To The Glass: Will Wearable Devices Replace Smartphones?

The dream of having special offers and "sponsored listings" pop up into your heads up display when approaching a merchant on the street will have to wait a while. In an interview with Google Glass lead Babak Parviz, he tells IEEE Spectrum: "At the moment, there are no plans for advertising on this device." Nevertheless, the Glass team is aiming to get prototypes to developers in the early part of this year.

In fact, a great deal about Google’s wearable computing device is in flux, although the company started showing off prototypes months ago. Parviz explains the concept behind a portable heads-up display as an attempt to create a device that communicated principally via images and video. Parviz says augmented reality is likely a part of the Glass future, but for now there is a greater focus on basic apps like snapping and sharing images and developing an appropriate style of input.  

“So we wanted to have a device that would see the world through your eyes and allow you to share that view with other people,” he says. “The second big goal was to have a technology that would allow people to access information very, very quickly. So when you have a question, you can very rapidly get to the answer.”

One existing Google technology that seems tailor-made from wearable computing is Google Now, which pushes to the user information that it believes will be relevant to the specific user, based on location as well as personal history and stored personal information. As with AR, Parviz warns that Google Now is enticing for this platform.

Google appears to be relying on developers to innovate off of the basic technology. Parviz says that internally the company has developed search, image-sharing and video apps, but expects third parties to figure out additional uses. He warns that Glass is not merely a laptop or smartphone but an entirely new platform. “So how people interact with it and what people do with it is totally new territory,” he says.

Indeed, the interface challenges are considerable. While voice is a natural kind of input theoretically, in practice one has to wonder about a world full of Google-heads chatting up their headwear on streets across the globe. To be sure, we have grown accustomed to people talking into thin air in the mobile age -- but not necessarily to machines. How many of us use Siri in public?

But one thing Parviz did confirm is that Google is working on voice-call enabling the device. And that leads wearable computing to its ultimate function and greatest impact on the mobile ecosystem -- a replacement for the smartphone.

Coincidentally, Piper Jaffray Apple-watcher Gene Munster had a research note this week on the role of wearable computing in mobile’s future. He spins an interesting scenario. Quoted by Apple Insider, he says:  "We believe technology could progress to a point where consumers have a tablet plus wearable computers, like watches or glasses, that enable simple things like voice calls, texting, quick searches, navigation, etc. through voice control. Longer term, screens in glasses or projectors could replace the necessity of a screen from a smartphone or tablet."

What a curious evolution this suggests. The mobile phone spawns a smartphone in the mid 2000s and grows around it interactive features. But then the core functionality of that original phone, voice communications, jumps off the handheld device entirely, leaving behind for handhelds the more intricate interactivity once seen as an add-on for mobile.  

But an interesting shift in thinking here involves truly persistent computing. Always-on and always-there computing via desktop or mobile still involves a user change in mode -- a focus shift to a screen in a burst of activity. Google Glass could be more of a true intimate companion that you may have to teach to shut up.

In addition to having to figure out the right inputs for this platform as well as use cases, a key element will have to be designing the damned thing to keep quiet much -- perhaps most -- of the time. If this platform really is integrating computing and connectivity so deeply into one’s very view of minute-by-minute experiences, then politeness -- machine etiquette, if you will -- will have to be paramount.   

1 comment about "Noses To The Glass: Will Wearable Devices Replace Smartphones?".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, January 7, 2013 at 12:47 p.m.

    The real use case for wearable computers is not Google search, but to instantly share what you see with friends and family. And the big problem to overcome is not technical, but legal.

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