Google Glass and the wearable computing revolution

Go back far enough and any major development in how we handle data seemed like it would never catch on. Computers? Those are the size of large rooms. How are you going to fill an office with those? Tablets? We’d had abortive attempts before, but the announcement of the iPad was greeted with scepticism.

Now the talk is that the next big deal will be Google Glass, which will bring all the mobile information services that Google provides through Android and its iOS apps to a voice-controlled interface projected onto a set of glasses.

Google Glass

Imagine the kind of data provided by Google Now being available in your field of vision the whole time. Train times when you get to the station. Warnings of accidents on the road ahead when you’re driving to work. Think about what ubiquitous cameras on phones has done for things like journalism and extrapolate that to a world where people don’t even have to pull out their phone to snap a photo or capture a video. Some might say creepy, but it’s certainly intriguing.

But think about how this technology could revolutionise the way we do business. The applications for a HUD are innumerable, from a mechanic working on your car with the schematic overlaying the engine as he looks at it, to the stock picker being guided to a customer’s order with a real-time floor map that only she can see. No more tedious archiving and retrieval of reports from your database system when you can ask for them and have them appear right in front of you. Doing business abroad becomes much easier when signs are translated into English just by looking at them. All of this powered by apps running in the cloud.

It’s like something out of Star Trek already. Compare the kinds of iPhone apps we were getting at the launch of the App Store in 2008 to what we have now, and think what software developers will be making on Google Glass in a couple of hardware generations.

The concern, however, is the same thing that’s kept 3D televisions from becoming anything more than a passing fad, a gimmick: people don’t like wearing glasses.

People spend huge amounts of money every year to not have to wear them, from contact lenses to laser surgery, and glasses-free 3D has been the holy grail of TV production as manufacturers give up on convincing people to wear glasses to watch a film. The asking price of $1,500 on Google Glass development units – the consumer version will be cheaper, in fairness – is a lot for people to pay to do something that many are happy to pay to avoid.

For that reason it’s difficult to imagine Google Glass being the product to revolutionise this field, but we’re still going to be watching with great interest. Remember having your mind blown when mobile app developers came up with the likes of Word Lens for iOS and Android? It was like something from the future, and just transplanting that experience to your field of vision will feel like a revolution. When third-party software developers get their hands on Glass, imagine what they’ll come up with.

Wearable, ubiquitous computing is coming, though, and it’s going to revolutionise the way you and your business interact with software. The fact that anyone could be using their own little computer at any time brings with it a raft of new issues of legality, etiquette and not looking like an idiot, and those who are already annoyed by their friends being unable to put down their smartphones really aren’t going to like it, but the benefits are potentially phenomenal.

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