In Google and Apple’s labs, they’re inventing a new market

“Okay Glass – show me the distance between the right-side bunker and the pin.”

… alright, that’s not something I’ve ever heard at my local golf course in Cambridgeshire. Ask me again this time next year though! Google Glass, which was released to developers this year, is the start of a huge new trend in consumer electronics: wearable computing.

Google Glass looks pretty much like an ordinary pair of glasses. The trick is, it includes a tiny transparent display which sits over the user’s right eye. It responds to eye movements and is voice activated. It can do a lot of the bog-standard smartphone stuff like take pictures or video whatever you’re looking at. But its ‘augmented reality’ features are much more interesting.

‘Augmented reality’ layers digital information over your ordinary senses. What does that mean exactly? Well, it could draw over the golf course, showing you the optimal spot at which to aim your ball given the wind. Or it could instantly translate the foreign script at a Vietnamese restaurant. Or it could potentially ‘subtitle’ conversations for deaf people, in real time.

Of course you can already do a lot of this stuff using smartphone apps. But it’s a lot more inconvenient. Apple was successful in large part because it took what was possible and made it easy. The goal of wearable computing is to take that a step further.

Apple isn’t leaving the market entirely to Google. It’s widely rumoured to be working on its own wearable computer – the ‘iWatch’. So is 2014 going to be the year of wearable computing?

Big data meets wearable computing

The next step is a computer which anticipates what you want. By wearing the device all the time, you’re giving it a lot of information. Walking down the driveway on a Tuesday morning, it might helpfully suggest the traffic news. And lots of clever companies will be looking for ways to profit from this data – for more on the profit opportunity in this bigger story, click here.

Wearable computing comes with serious privacy issues. The information Glass generates could be a lot more invasive than just, say, your web browsing history. And there is also invasion of the public’s privacy by Google Glass – how might the Chinese government feel about millions of cameras walking the streets, feeding video back to NSA-hacked Google servers?

Or what about using augmented reality to identify people using facial recognition software? I find this aspect of the data revolution fascinating, and frightening, and hope to return to the topic in future Sleuths.

So will Google Glass be a commercial success? Business Insider forecasts an $11bn market by 2018. I have to say, I find it hard to judge. There will be a clear ‘wow’ factor and gimmick value, but I’m not yet sure whether wearable computing will become mainstream. If it does take off, we should expect plenty of controversy – and government regulation (we’ve already had the first traffic ticket for a driver using Glass while at the wheel!). But mainstream or niche, regulated or not, wearable computing is on its way in 2014. Golfers, take note.

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One Response

  1. 12/12/2013, Changing Man wrote

    The temptation to design underwear that tells you when it needs changing will be too irresistible for the boffins to pass on! Google pants are coming! From the investment point of view, UK company, Imagination Technologies is ideally placed with its wireless chips to benefit from the “internet of things” and wearables. Happily they are a bargain right now!

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