Wearable Computing

Computing has gone through some amazing transformations since it’s inception. There have been distinct paradigms in the form factor of the computer relating to its processing power and user interface. It is about to undergo another major shift – into wearable computing.

The smart-phone revolution is in full swing and has provided the blueprint for the next computing transformation. Many readers may have the reaction that this is not a difficult prediction to make, and clearly I agree, but it is therefore worth exploring the impact of this transformation. The smart phone unleashed a new platform for software innovation called the app store and it changed the nature of work and play by enabling an “always on” mentality for email, text and twitter.

The leap that we can already see comes with the announcement of Google Glass. However, this was not the first, and perhaps still not even the best display. There are notable players that have already been in this space including Lumus, Vusix, and DoCoMo. The wearable display has been a topic of interest in the military and with defense contractors for some time.

There is an air of inevitability around the wearable display. Sometimes it is called a head-mounted or head-up display (HMD, HUD), but there will of course need to be a cooler name at some point.

Right now there are several companies that have prototypes, but nothing has really hit the market, and will probably not for some time. We are not yet to the Palm OS  equivalent that is OK, but not great. There is an entirely new Operating system that must be invented, and a way for users to navigate this interface. So what will happen next?

In a year or two google will release google glass to developers and then to consumers, but it will not be very good. Two years after that Apple will come out with a much better product. Some may say that Apple has stopped innovating because their successive generations of iPhone don’t look much better. No one should have any doubts that Apple is seriously looking into a wearable display system. Once apple has a product on the market, Samsung will copy it and sell basically the same thing with a bigger display. Every other tech company will also be in the chase thinking that they can land the “next big thing” since they missed out on the last round.

The biggest barrier though will be consumer adoption. Wearable screens face serious issues of comfort, user interface and processing power. Even when there are productivity gains, it will have to avoid going the route of the blue-tooth ear piece or the cell phone belt clip; clearly functional, but not cool enough. The other likelihood is that the adoption will be generational. Get ready for this to be the advanced tech your kids are using that you just don’t get, and continually try to get them to un-plug from: “stop looking through that darned screen all the time… are you even listening to me?!?

Wearable displays will massively enable another key technological revolution, which is the topic of a separate post – Augmented Reality.


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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