It’s no secret that mobile technology has revolutionized the way the world lives, works, communicates, and travels. Everywhere you look, people are walking down the street, racing through airports and sitting in meetings with their phones, tablets, and even “phablets” in hand, responding to urgent texts or emails, accessing their boarding pass, and even growing killer plant weapons to defend your home from attacking zombies. But have modern mobile devices become just too bulky and inconvenient in the era of instant, always-on communication?
Earlier this year, Google unveiled the first iteration of Google Glass. Glass is a device that you wear on your head like glasses, but which provides you with information in a floating display that only you can see. You can scan through texts and emails, take pictures and video and even see the latest sports and weather updates just by saying “OK Glass” and then telling it what to do. Still in beta, we’ve seen this product used in some interesting ways. Because it is integrated with Google Now, which I wrote about this spring, imagine racing through the airport and getting a proactive message on the status of your flight without having to slow down to pull out your phone, or getting an urgent email that you need to see while walking into a business meeting. The possibilities of a device like this are pretty limitless.
Not everyone thinks that the eyes are the best place to wear your communications device, however. This week, both Samsung and Qualcomm introduced smart watches, which integrate with Android smartphones to provide you with the latest information – emails, texts, etc. The wrist seems to be a logical spot, as people are used to checking them for information. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear promises a slew of apps, from photos and video to fitness apps that track your steps and workouts. Although not announced yet, Apple is rumored to be developing a wearable computing platform of their own.
In most cases, to get the most out of your wearable device, you’ll need a smartphone or tablet connected to mobile data or WIFI. Your old smartphone may or may not support wearable devices either. The technology that makes most of these wearable devices work is Bluetooth Low Energy (LE). Apple has supported LE for several years but many other smartphone manufacturers are just starting to implement it into their hardware. Although not explicitly stated, there may be other restrictions as well. For instance, the Samsung Galaxy Gear will likely only work with newer model Galaxy devices. It is also a sure bet that a wearable Apple device will only work with iOS.
With screen sizes on phones getting larger and larger, a small “second screen” that sits on your wrist or your head is a logical idea, but there is still a stigma associated with wearable technology. Google Glass looks clunky, and requires some refinement before a mass audience will be willing to adopt it – it was even famously mocked by Fred Armisen last season on Saturday Night Live. The new smart watches are slightly less noticeable, but some of them are still fairly sizable, and bear a slight resemblance to the infamous Casio calculator watch of the 1980s. It may take some further design refinements before wearable computing devices really take off.
What do you think about wearable computing? Would you use Google Glass? What would you use a smart watch for? How would it help you while traveling? Leave us a comment. We’d love to hear what you think.