Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why Wearable Tech is Here to Stay

Lately the news has been buzzing with the latest in wearable devices.  Devices such as Google Glass, integrated watches by Samsung, Apple and other vendors, Vuzix Goggles (a Rochester, NY company) and Oculus Rift are starting to enter mainstream vocabulary.  Prototypes and beta software are starting to roll out and consumers and developers are getting to start to play with these devices hands on.  Some companies are even looking at creating heads up contact lenses!

This has all happened before of course - we've seen everything from surround vision helmets to heads up displays.  But never before has the actual technology really met the expectations of potential users -  whether it's limited use scenarios, bulky or cumbersome form factors, or poor integration and adoption by other platforms - many such ventures have started and fizzled.

So why is this time different?  Well there are a few reasons:
  • Between advances in optics, small screen and flat panel displays, and miniaturization of essential components the visual aspect of the interfaces have gotten smaller, more useable, and more convenient.
  • The ubiquity of extremely powerful cell phone devices means that processing and communications can be offloaded to that device, rather than needing to be integrated into the wearable platform.
  • The improvement in wireless communications reduces  the size, and increases the range of components.
  • People's addiction to ever-present ever-accessible media, through the use of always on and always connected internet devices has increased to the point where people crave the convenience of making that as quickly accessible as possible.
  • Current interface methods through products like phones require hands-on interaction and attention distracting form factors.
  • Voice recognition - by uploading to the cloud and analyzing in real time - has improved dramatically.
  • Battery technology is improving dramatically making use of such devices more convenient.
  • Movie media has started to prepare people for this reality.  We see fanciful interfaces in movies that mimic the interfaces that these devices give us - and we want them.
So are the new wearable devices perfect yet?  Not by any means.  While the hardware is starting to catch up there are software and social aspects that must be overcome.  How will having an always on and available camera change the way people interact?  If anything you say might be recorded and uploaded to the internet in real time - how will that change society?  There is significant social resistance to people using products like Glass and those issues will need to be addressed if it's to succeed.  And there are still plenty of technological issues to overcome.

I say to you though - these advances are inevitable.  Rather than railing against them your time might be better spent determining how to make best of use of them. Outside the personal use of such devices - the business uses are outstanding.  Imagine a tech having all his manuals and instructions available at will, and having both their hands free.  Imagine being able to shop or price compare by just looking at the bar code on a product.  Record a meeting for playback later rather than taking notes.  Video your professor in class.  Imagine your UPS or FEDEX person abandoning their scanner and just snapping a photo of the package barcode, and recording the GPS coordinates of the delivery.  These are all very real and very doable scenarios without any significant improvement in existing technology.

The advent of prescription wearable tech from Rochester Optical (another Rochester Company) for heads up display is particularly exciting - since the wearers of that tech are already used to having glasses, adding a heads up display is no leap for them - they are used to the idea.  Fashion designers have been pushing glasses as fashion accessories rather than for vision correction - paving the way for the addition of Google Glass and other displays into the world of non-prescription glass wearers.

So with wearable tech being inevitable - how are you planning to leverage that with your new products?  Is there a way you can enhance the use of your product with wearable tech?  Provide an alternate interface or display screen?  Integrate heads up vision?  Are you ready for this revolution and tapping it's potential fully?  OS-Cubed is - ask us how!