We have been carrying mobile phones around with us for decades 1. Prior to the digital convergence created by smartphones, users carried a myriad of devices: phones, cameras, and any number of portable music devices. We have effectively been trained to always have some sort of electronic device with us at all times. Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s nearly every cell phone sold had an available plastic or leather holster. For those that don’t remember, the phones back then were a little too big to fit comfortably in pockets. While smart glasses and watches are revolutionary and will take some time to adjust to, we have a long history of dragging our technology around with us. The real question is which of these emerging technologies will become the dominant force in the market of smart wearable tech.
The argument for Smart Watches:
We have been wearing watches forever 2. Smart watches like those being offered by Sony 3 and Samsung 4 offer users the ability to have access to quick information directly on their wrist. In much the way that watches provide people with a quick check of the time, a smart watch can offer a nearly limitless amount of on demand information from email, tweets, Facebook updates, and all of it is available at a quick glance. For now, this technology is designed as an “on arm” extension of an “in pocket” phone.
The ability to quickly check an important update without having to dig out a smartphone is going to be very attractive for many people. A quick glance at a watch is much less distracting than picking up or taking out a smart phone. For this product to really get off the ground Samsung needs Apple to introduce their much rumored iWatch 5. The more manufacturers you have making the same argument for an emerging technology the better it is for everyone.
It is a relatively small field right now, but Sony is currently making the best argument for adoption. While the Galaxy Gear from Samsung works with some of the most popular smartphones in the world, Sony’s smart watch will work with any Android enabled device. Devices like Sony’s that are designed with broad compatibility in mind will make the transition to this technology all the easier.
The argument for Smart Glasses (Heads Up Display):
Google is currently the only major manufacturer that has produced a market ready version of smart glasses. Google Glass, 6 as it is called, offers users the ability to have true hands free access to smart technology. The advantages offered by this new line of products is immense, but where it will be useful first, is in capacities where it will be beneficial for users to have both of their hands free. This could include anything from doctors to technicians. It is estimated that this hands free technology could save firms an estimated $1 billion from increased efficiency 7 .
Where this product will be very successful initially will be with people interested in capturing their outdoor adventures. The GoPro 8 line of cameras has already proven this to be a very lucrative field. The difference being that Google Glass is nowhere near as tough a camera as the GoPro line, but this seems like a natural fit for the product.
What really makes Google Glass exciting though, is that the list of events or methods that the product could be used for is endless. Not to mention the addition of augmented reality possibilities of Google Glass. The fact is, that at some point in the future it will be possible to walk down a street, simply look at business and call up it’s information and website without ever reaching for a mobile device. Bird watchers in the future might have an app that can identify the bird they are looking at by sight and sound. A customer who is looking at a piece of real estate can take a virtual tour of the house simply by being in front of it. The possibilities are truly mind boggling.
Challenges for Smart Watches:
While smart watches will offer users all of their information at a glance, the small screen size is likely going to prove a challenge for some. This is not an impossible hurdle for this technology to get over, but it will take some adjusting for people to understand how to use this device and what their expectations should be.
The lack of apps specifically built for watches are another issue as of right now. That will go away as the products are on the market longer, but when the Galaxy Gear launched there were only 70 Apps 9 available in the App Store. Lack of availability of apps is one of things that drove Black Berry 10 to where it is today. Mobile web and apps are king and the companies involved in smart watch production will need to figure this out early to be successful.
The current crop of smart watches are also tethered devices. Meaning that they are not independently functioning products on their own. They have to be within a short distance of a smartphone. The watches are still able to keep time and there are a few features that they are likely able to handle natively, but any of the true smart technology, like reading a tweet or checking an email is impossible if the device is not connected to a smartphone. This lack of independence means that until some improvements are made, people will have to carry two devices around with them. This is far from a death sentence for smart watches and it is likely an issue that will be addressed in the near future as more competitors come into the field.
Challenges for Smart Glasses:
In a previous article we mentioned a criminal case where a woman was ticketed for wearing Google Glass while driving. There have also been numerous bars 11 that have outright banned patrons from wearing Google Glass inside of their businesses. These are typical challenges for any technology that people might initially be afraid of but later come to adopt.
There seems to be some unease in the general public surrounding privacy and security concerns that Google Glass will have to deal with. Beyond this, there is also the fashion side of glass. CEO of Apple, Tim Cook said of glasses, “I don’t know a lot of people who wear them because they don’t have to.” 12 This is a major hurdle for smart glasses that Google has been working on since the conception. Google understands that in order for them to gain wide acceptance, they are going to need to be fashionably appealing and as minimalist as possible which is why they partnered with LensCrafters to make the frames interchangeable for regular glasses and Google Glass wearers.
Short Term Winner: Smart Watches
At this point it appears that smart watches are ahead. Our collective history of using watches as a device for providing information makes them a natural fit for smart technology. Glasses are historically linked as devices designed to improve vision. In fact, people’s desire to be glasses free was the motivation behind the contact lens industry. If smart watch manufactures are able to overcome the challenges they face it is very likely that smart watches will become another important facet of the mobile technology market.
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