The current rate of innovation is astounding and exciting for all fans of technology. One specific product-type that I’ve become increasingly interested in is wearable computing devices. These products are capable of recording videos, taking pictures, delivering content directly into a screen in front of a consumers face, all while being location-aware and personalized to the user.
If I was a betting man, I would place a big wager on the future of wearable computing devices like Google Glass and similar products. Despite countless critics dismissing it as a niche product for geeks and nerds, I take the opposing stance and believe its future more closely reflects that of mobile phones. I would argue that the value to consumers and society are largely obvious, just yet unrealized by much of the public.
However, there are significant hurdles that could prevent these innovative concepts from becoming part of our every day life. Beyond the technical challenges faced by these innovative manufacturers, I think there are some obvious and non-obvious challenges on the road ahead. The bottom line is that there are certain and very specific things that will need to occur in order for wearable computing devices to become widespread and prevalent.
Here are a few:
1. Diminished public concern for privacy
Privacy is likely among the top concerns for the general public with regards to Glass-like products. Most people don’t want to be recorded without their explicit knowledge and that is one of the more fundamental features of such technology.
Yet, as been evident over the past decade, the concept of privacy in American society is evolving (and arguably degrading) to the point where people care less about privacy and more about access. Younger generations appear more willing to sacrifice privacy in the name of other things (safety, communication ability, etc). The growth of social tools are an example of this. As people become less concerned about privacy, the fear/uncertainty that comes with widespread wearable computing devices will diminish as well.
2. Wider acceptance of geeky/nerdy style
Style is so deeply ingrained in every culture or group, regardless on how you define the word style. A huge challenge to the growth of Glass-like devices is the manner in which they move from a geeky-looking design (which is where the current version is closer towards) to a more inconspicuous and sleek looking design.
Fans of the Star Trek style can easily relate to the current form factor of certain wearable computing devices, but it doesn’t quite yet resonate with soccer moms, students and everyday people. However, as with most technology advancements, society will likely become more comfortable with it because of the ‘coolness’ of the technology itself.
3. Working versions for people with glasses or contact lenses
Over 60% of Americans wear some form of prescription glasses or contacts. In order for wearable computing devices to reach the scale that I’m expecting them to, people with vision issues must be served.
My instinct tells me that manufacturers of these innovative devices have already put serious thought into this and will likely create a form factor that works for this. I think the release of these ‘enhanced’ versions will be clear in versions 2, 3 (etc) depending on how demand plays out.
If a contact lenses or glasses-friendly version isn’t created, I don’t think these devices will be able to reach the threshold necessary to have the impact that is anticipated.
4. Consumer-friendly price
As of now (May 2013) it is difficult to speculate what the price of Glass-like devices will be for end consumers.The initial price for early developers was ~$1,500. Logic would indicate that the average consumer wouldn’t pay anywhere nearly this amount quite yet.
As the supply/demand curve for this product normalizes, I suspect that the price will reach a point where the avid yet common technology consumer will be comfortable and able to purchase it. Whether that figure hovers closer to ~$500 or ~$1,000 is yet to be determined. But in order for these wearable computing devices to become truly widespread, the price will have to be a figure that people are comfortable paying.
If and when these hurdles are overcome by the manufacturer, I’m strongly inclined to believe that we will commonly see students, mothers, young professionals and even senior citizens wearing complex devices on their face that perform all the actions that we will come to accept.
Will everyone own one? Clearly not. What will be the more likely outcome is that someone will walk down the street wearing one and you won’t take a second look. Time will tell.