Apple is rumoured to be making a watch; Google is working on a pair of heads-up sunglasses. That much we know. But I just heard that Apple has also patented sunglasses and Google has patented a wristwatch.
What the devil is going on? When did Google and Apple suddenly become fashion conscious? Last time I checked, Gok Wan hadn’t joined the Apple development team.
The answer is this year’s buzzword: ‘ubiquitous computing’. Gadgets will get smaller, easier to use, more instinctive, and less visible. Computers go from big obvious things that sit in rooms, to smaller things that fit in pockets, to things we wear all the time, and then – presumably – come the implants.
Walking around like some sort of hipster Cyberman may appeal to the hardcore, but convincing regular folks to wear technology is a tough sell.
History hasn’t been kind to wearable gadgets: there’s the Casio calculator watch (worn by geeks when geekdom really wasn’t in vogue); the Bluetooth headset (worn by a strange breed of person that doesn’t mind looking like a pr**k in public); and MP3 playing hats and jackets worn on the snow slopes where you can dress up like a clown on acid and not get laughed at.
The iWatch: a socially acceptable bluetooth headset
The Bluetooth headset is the interesting one. It’s typically only worn by suits, and as-such, has fostered a reputation with aggressive and-not-particularly-competent or likeable businessmen. Think The Apprentice.
This may be because anybody dressed normally, and not barking business deals into the headset appears to be talking to themselves. Commonly known as the first sign of madness. Most people don’t want to appear to be insane in public so only the suits are left using an otherwise perfectly useful piece of kit.
The societal failure of Bluetooth headsets suggest that getting from where we are now; to wearable computers with general consumer acceptance requires something of a leap of faith.
But the tech industry is cranking forwards regardless. Aside from prototypes in both Google and Apple’s R&D labs, there are initial public tests like the Android-powered WIMM One wristwatch.
The WIMM One aptly demonstrates many problems with a wrist-mounted operating system. Mostly that a 2.5cm touchscreen display isn’t an effective substitute for a phone display.
Having said that, talking to a device on your wrist is somehow marginally less odd than talking to the invisible person in your head via a Bluetooth headset. It’s not a commonplace sight, for sure, but I can see it becoming one.
Which brings me to the iGlasses. Heads-up displays are manifestly ‘less normal’. But the heads-up display from the sunglasses will complement the watch nicely. If they don’t make people look too ‘Borg-y’ then the iGlasses could transform driving, tourism and commuting. I could happily watch a virtual television projection on the way to work.
The iWatch: Siri on your wrist
But how do you interact with your iWatch and iGlasses? There is a solution called Siri. Don’t laugh! Siri is in beta for a reason. We all know Siri is fun, and sort of impressive, but not really a replacement for the touch-screen display. But it will be…
Voice interaction is going to become transcendentally good over the next few years. There’s this Microsoft Research video to see where they translate from English to Chinese in real-time while imitating the original speakers voice. It’s incredible…
The iWatch provides a Siri activation button to push and something other than thin-air to talk to. I think that’s psychologically important.
If it happens: the watch will probably come first. It’s the easier device to create and from the point of a consumer easier to swallow. It’s a voice controlled iPod touch on your wrist that bounces audio wirelessly to your ears. Got it! Then a couple of years later… hey, how about these iGlasses so you can watch video as well as audio. The iWatch sells the concept of wearable computing prior to the bigger jump: computerised eyewear.
Nothing is likely to happen before 2014. This year is, by all accounts, going to be the year of the television. The watch and sunglasses will have to wait a bit for Siri to pick up. But I do think this is a really good vision of the future.