I’m currently somewhat obsessed with the idea of wearable computing. It still feels like such a futuristic, sci-fi concept, and yet every week it seems there’s a new announcement of a company throwing their hat into the wearable ring. Samsung recently announced the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Google Glass is still rolling along in its Explorer program and new apps are announced all the time. Even nontraditional players are getting involved: Nissan just announced a smartwatch of its own that will pair with select vehicles.
These aren’t concepts hiding out in the future; these devices are here. They exist.
My favorite analogy for wearable tech is the story of the wristwatch. As technology and manufacturing techniques evolved, the clock went from a large, stationary object to something that went into our pockets to, eventually, something we wore on our wrists. The information provided didn’t change; rather, the accessibility of that information went from static to portable to ambient, always-available awareness. At the moment at least, that seems to be the path that wearables will take. Your smartwatch or smart glasses won’t necessarily provide information that your smartphone can’t, but will rather present it in more unobtrusive, contextually-relevant way that’s there when you need it without requiring you to dig into your pockets or stare down at a screen and ignore your friends.
I don’t think the majority of the population is ready for the wearable revolution, just like a few years ago the majority of the population didn’t need the internet on their cellphones. Rest assured, however; eventually, wearable tech will have its “iPhone®” moment, where a category of devices is defined in such an innovative and attractive way as to drive mass adoption. Consumers and businesses will turn to wearables for more productive and efficient information sharing and consumption.
Of course, the privacy concerns are already creeping in, particularly with a device like Google Glass. Establishments have even begun preemptively banning the device on the grounds that it will be used to record or photograph patrons without their knowledge. While it’s a little too early to completely allay these fears (and we don’t even know what features and functions the consumer version will have), there are a couple of practical issues to keep in mind. With the way the device currently works, any potential voyeur would have to tilt their head or touch the side of the device (read: their face) and then stare at you for from a relatively close distance for the duration of any recording or photograph, with the device’s screen clearly illuminated. Not exactly a covert operation. When you consider that we’re all carrying GPS-equipped audio and video recorders in our pockets these days that are in many ways easier to use for discreet recording, wearable tech doesn’t exactly seem like an effective espionage tool.
Ultimately, I believe that we’re in the beginning steps of what has the potential to be the next definitive technological trend. Even if the consumer case hasn’t been made yet, use cases already abound for a variety of industries and professionals. As more apps are developed, hardware continues to evolve and manufacturing techniques improve, the possibilities of these devices are going to expand exponentially. Eventually, the features, functionality, aesthetics and price point will converge at a point to drive consumer and business adoption.
Let the sci-fi future begin!
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